Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Bloom Box featured by Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" on Feb. 21

from CBS News prior to the presentation of the "60 Minutes" story on 21 Feb. 2010:

Stahl is the first journalist to be allowed into the Bloom Energy lab and factory where currently one box a day is built. The boxes create electricity by a chemical process that utilizes oxygen and fuel, but involves no combustion. Bloom's founder and CEO, K.R. Sridhar, insists all the materials in the box are cheap and available in abundance. Bloom says each large box - which can power about 100 homes - currently sells for $700-800,000. They hope within five to 10 years to roll out a smaller home version for about $3,000 a unit.

Bloom Energy was the first clean energy start-up Kleiner-Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, invested in. They currently invest in about 50 clean tech companies. Sridhar confirms the company has received over $400 million, making it one of the most expensive startups in history.

John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins partner who invested in Bloom, has high hopes. "The Bloom Box is intended to replace the [electric power] grid for its customer," says Doerr. He thinks existing utility companies should not be threatened or have a problem with Bloom Energy. "The utility companies will see this as a solution.All they need to do is buy Bloom Boxes, put them in the substation for the neighborhood and sell that electricity," he says.

But there is another hurdle says Michael Kanellos, editor-in-chief of the Web site GreenTech Media. Even if Sridhar can mass produce his boxes and sell them cheaply enough, "The problem is then G.E. and Siemens and other conglomerates that can probably do the same thing. They have fuel cell patents," he tells Stahl.

Note published US patent application 20090269626 , titled Method of optimizing operating efficiency of fuel cells. with claim 58:

A method of operating a fuel cell electrochemical system, comprising:operating a fuel cell at a first operating efficiency and a first throughput;receiving at least one of a cost of electricity and a cost of fuel; andadjusting at least one of an operating efficiency and throughput of the fuel cell based on the at least one of the received cost of electricity and the received cost of fuel to operate the fuel cell at a second operating efficiency or a second throughput different from the first operating efficiency and the first throughput; andwherein the at least one of the operating efficiency and throughput of the fuel cell are adjusted based on the received cost of electricity and on the received cost of fuel.

Also 20080124592, Combined energy storage and fuel generation with reversible fuel cells

Lesley began by mentioning the holy grail of energy. Of Bloom, she said it has a lot of sharp people believing. There was an allusion to Sridhar producing oxygen on Mars. He reversed his Mars machine and invented a new kind of fuel cell. John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins was featured (who earlier had backed Netscape, Amazon, Google). This was his first clean energy investment. New fuels from algae were mentioned in the "60 Minutes" story.
Bloom got $400 million. Michael Kanellis was listed as skeptical.

Stahl: Actually I feel like I'm on a cooking show and you're Martha Stewart. They started with beach sand, cooked and then coated with green and black inks. 64 stacks could power a Starbucks.

Doerr: The utility companies will see the Bloom boxes as the solution.

As to fuels, fossil fuels can be used.

Of installation in CA, 20% of cost subsidized by California AND a 30% federal tax break. Google uses natural gas as a fuel.
At eBay, the boxes fuel about 20% of the power needed. eBay's boxes run on biogas.

Colin Powell is on the board of directors of Bloom.

IPBiz notes that back in the beginning Edison wanted power generated from a local power station. Using DC (not AC), Edison could not have a long-distance grid. Thus, the concept, in some sense, goes back to Edison.

From the 2007 IPBiz post Work criticizing classic paper by Merges/Nelson in Columbia Law Rev. 90, 839 (1990) -->

In 1876, Brush developed a
generator or “dynamo” to convert the mechanical energy
of a rotating shaft to electric energy. Two years
later, he perfected an arc lighting system for outdoor
use. After approval from an intrigued Cleveland city
council, Brush scheduled a demonstration of his dynamo
and arc lighting equipment for April 29, 1879. That
night, at 8:05 p.m., thousands witnessed for the first
time an American city square illuminated with electric
light. The favorable reaction encouraged Brush and
other inventors and marketers to establish central
power stations in Boston, New York and Philadelphia
over the next three years

The Pearl Street power station[of Thomas Edison] went into operation in
1882 in New York City and is considered the world's
first central electricity generating station. [IPBiz: ?] It was
built and operated by the Edison Electric Light Co.,
founded by Thomas Edison. After Pearl Street was
opened, Edison waged a full-scale intellectual and
market-based war with Nicola Tesla and Westinghouse
over the benefits of delivering power via DC (direct
current), which Edison promoted, or AC (alternating
current), which Tesla invented and which was promoted
by Westinghouse. Eventually AC won out over DC
because it is a more efficient way of transmitting
power over long distances

In a post titled The Bloom Box: What All the Fuss Is About, Katie Fehrenbacher of Earth2Tech has
some embedded videoclips of the Stahl piece.

Of the comment thread, IPBiz notes yes, the hydrocarbon fuel
of the Bloom Box fuel cell will produce CO2, but because
the fuel cell operates at a lower temperature, its thermal
efficiency is higher, and it will produce more usable energy
per unit of fuel. The immediate product
of the fuel cell is direct current (DC), just as in the case
of Edison's Pearl Street station.

**Vis-a-vis a comment below, one presumes that the Bloom Box operates
at a LOWER temperature than combustion. The word "lower" is not a synonym
with "low".
has been pointing out the relative efficiency advantage of
fuel cells over combustion for years and years. Nothing new here.

IPBiz would agree that important details of the Bloom Box have NOT been
fleshed out.


Blogger Scott said...


This article is mostly a recite from the 60 minutes episode - but I'm writing to highlight a flaw in your last paragraph. You mention that the Bloom Box fuel cell is a low temperature device. This is not true. It is a high temperature device. Plus, the general equation for thermal efficiency is:

Teff = 1 - TL/TH
where TL is the low temperature and TH is the high temperature.

Yes, it is mostly used for Carnot cycle engines - but it is also blindly applied to many applications. The point is that higher temperatures produce higher efficiencies.

Now, there are fuel cells that operate at low temperatures - but these are the fuels cell that use the expensive catalyst materials to assist in the chemical reaction producing electricity. Since the Bloom Box is using inexpensive materials, it has to produce high temperatures for the fuel reformulation and electro-chemical reaction.

Okay, I've beaten the dead horse. Best wishes with your blog!

10:33 AM  

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