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It's Electric!
Author: BobR    Date: 02/26/2010 13:11:35

For those who might have missed it, there was a fascinating story on 60 Minutes earlier this week. It was about a new product from a new company that could be the death knell for coal and nuclear power, while providing another option for cleaner power. It's not as clean as wind or solar, but it has some advantages over those which makes it a good addition to the electric power generation toolkit.

The name of the product is the Bloom Box™, produced by Bloom Energy. The story is textbook genius taking lemons and making lemonade. Dr. Bloom had created a device that used electricity to create oxygen and water for NASA. When they canceled the project, he reverse engineered it to create electricity and water from methane and oxygen. While that doesn't sound revolutionary, it is leaps and bounds above standard methods.

It is essentially a fuel cell that uses an electro-chemical reaction to create the electricity. That means it doesn't actually burn the gas, so no energy is lost to heat, making it extremely efficient. It does generate some heat, but that is recycled and reused in the process. It also uses water, which again is recycled within the system. This means the net efficiency is exponentially better than traditional methods.

The end result of this is that it puts out very little carbon dioxide, and negligible other pollutants, and their specs indicate that if "bio-gas" is used, the system is essentially carbon-neutral.

It is also a "stand alone" system, which means that you can put the device outside your house (next to the A/C, for instance), hook the input to your gas line, and the output to your fuse box, and you can disconnect from the power grid - permanently. Your overall bills will go way down, because you are not paying for the inefficiencies of burning coal and transmitting the power across the state (and all the man-power overhead that goes with it). Worrying about power lines during a storm will be a thing of the past - you essentially already have a "generator".

Still - under normal situations it uses natural gas. As mentioned, it can also use bio-gas, which is technically a renewable resource. Imagine if farms and sewage treatment plants were set up to maximize decomposition to produce methane, which was fed into a Bloom Box to generate electricity? It's a double-win for the environment, and allows us to get maximum usage from our waste stream.

What about cars? Would this work in cars? It seems appealing because a natural gas tank could be refilled pretty quickly. From what I've seen - I don't think so. They are too big and bulky to be practical for that application (although they might work for ships). Thinking about the possibility, though, does illustrate that the only thing keeping electric cars from widespread adoption is the amount of time it takes to recharge them. That's why we keep seeing hybrids, fuel cell cars (using hydrogen), and other approaches. No one wants to wait 6 hours to charge their car every time their battery runs low on their road trip to FL for a beach vacation.

That's why the capacitor technology from EEStor Technologies is so exciting - IF they can get it to work, and can build it reliably in a cost-efficient manner. I've probably referenced this company and their reputed technology several times in my years writing for this blog, and I keep hoping I'll hear something concrete from them.

The main benefit is that an electric car could be recharged in 3-6 minutes, which is about the length of time it takes to fill a gas tank. All gas stations already have electricity, so adding some "electricity pumps" would be simple.

Imagine the possibilities: A station with a big propane tank and a Bloom Box could be located anywhere, with no need for gas lines even or electric lines. The main factor for the success of these technologies is consumer demand and making them affordable. I think the Bloom Box is poised to meet that criteria. I hope EEStor can do so as well.

The carbon footprint each of us makes would be greatly reduced, and it wouldn't even take an act of Congress. A market-driven solution to the greenhouse gas problem, with potentially "green jobs" created to boot. Republicans everywhere should be drooling...

50 comments (Latest Comment: 02/27/2010 00:27:06 by velveeta jones)
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