Electric motorcycles are very clean vehicles, they give off zero emissions, but every time I write about them someone is sure to point out the power came from a generating station which is itself, not so clean. The problem isn’t eliminated, it was just moved. Suppose you could recharge your bike at home with fuel cell generated electricity from a unit sitting next to your air conditioner, a unit that could power your entire house and recharge your electric motorcycle or car, too. Would the bike be clean now?
Bloom Energy is a silicon valley company that’s been operating in secret for 8 years but is just beginning to pull off the covers, with a 60 Minutes segment and an official introduction this Wednesday. They’ve developed a fuel cell that is currently operating on the campuses of several major corporations, delivering electricity at a cost that saves them money plus the Bloom Box is not on the grid. A unit at your home would take you off the grid, too. Google was the first to install the system, with Boxes now operating at eBay, Fedex and Walmart, to name a few. The eBay system, delivers 15% of their power and saved them $100,000 in 6 months.
The Bloom Box is a very nice bit of engineering. Ceramic wafers are made from ordinary beach sand and coated with a proprietary green and black ink on opposite sides They are then exposed on one side to a fuel like natural gas, biogas or landfill gas, oxygen on the other, a chemical reaction takes place and produces electricity. No combustion is involved. The ceramic wafers can be stacked, with an inexpensive metal alloy between the wafers, to scale the unit up as needed. They’re still keeping some details to themselves, obviously, but this looks pretty sweet.
60 Minutes had a segment on the company and the units look relatively compact. The major question mark is price which is still quite high, but if, as founder and inventor, K.R. Sridhar, formerly of NASA, predicts, a home unit in the future could be around $3000. Predictions from startup companies are often notoriously optimistic, but, if this unit delivers what the company intends, and you can recharge your electric vehicle at home from clean, non grid power, they may be on to something, … something very very big. Clean home electricity for recharging your vehicles and running your entire house sounds good to me, but, as with any invention like this, we’ll have to wait and see if the promise matches reality.