Social Question

BoBo1946's avatar

Can a power plant in-a-box provide enough energy to run your home?

Asked by BoBo1946 (15285points) February 22nd, 2010

Last night on Sixty Minutes, Leslie Stahl, interviewed the inventor of a devise called a “Bloombox!”

Please watch the interview and give me your feelings on this invention.

Can this work…will ever be afordable?

Very interesting.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6228923n&tag=api

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37 Answers

frigate1985's avatar

With two desktops, a laptop, three mobile/ipod chargers, two fridges, one washing machine, one dehydrator, two TVs, and some 4 desk lights, not a chance…

BoBo1946's avatar

@frigate1985 did you watch the video? Ebay has purchased these boxes and saved over $100,000 last year on electricity. Would love to buy some stock in this venture, but not on the market yet.

john65pennington's avatar

I have alway kept an open mind to new inventions. where would we be today, without the wheel? i say this from experience of decades ago and the invention of the airplane. no one believed that man could fly, except a select few. one was a relative of mine and his patent number. the Bloombox appears to be an item thats heading in the right direction. my main concern is a continuing supply of clean air and fuel to make this invention work 24/7.

BoBo1946's avatar

@john65pennington good point…but, it is worth watching for investment purposes.

john65pennington's avatar

Ebay appears to be very satisfied with their results with using the Bloombox. the inventor never mention maintenance or replacement costs of a single plate. i assume all of this will be presented to us in the future. i am actually a little excited about this invention. i feel the inventor is on the right track.

BoBo1946's avatar

@john65pennington what was really wild, the source to make the plates comes from sand…they did address those questions, if my memory serves me correctly, and it is not expensive.

ETpro's avatar

I saw that segment, and it certainly looked fascinating. It’s no pie-in-the-sky dream. The systems are already in place and working at 60 corporations in the Bay Area. Google was the first to begin testing the Bloom Box feul cell. It’s a small (a box about the smaller than a toaster will power a large home) feul cell that is made of inexpensive materials and uses natural gas or bio-gas instead of hydrogen as fuel. The idea has real merit.

BoBo1946's avatar

Also, they discussed the affects on utility companies, and the inventor pointed out that utility companies would buy this product also!

@ETpro going to keep an eye on this one. Looks like something real exciting for the future!

grumpyfish's avatar

@BoBo1946 I’d be happy to have my power company provide one of these to me on a subscription service. They install, maintain and fuel the thing, and charge me $X.XX/kWh. As long as that’s less than my current cph, seems like a good deal to me!

BoBo1946's avatar

@grumpyfish yeah, think it is something worth watching. Can you even comphehend the money you could make if this thing hit the stock market. Even a small investment would pay big.

LuckyGuy's avatar

He is a very clever marketer. She asked how much will it cost and he answered “A unit should cost $3000.” Right now they are more than $200,000 with 50% matching . (He might have said 400,000.)
That beach sand reference is funny. You can say the same thing about any silicon chip. Ceramics are tricky and have problems with expansion and contraction.
The units need fuel. Natural gas. Where do you get that? And what is the cost of that?
Fuel cells have been around for along time. This looks like the GM/Delphi solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that costs a fortune to make.

john65pennington's avatar

I am looking into my crystal ball and i see mega bucks coming for this inventor.

BoBo1946's avatar

@worriedguy Ebay, a very successful company, it okay with it…

lilikoi's avatar

It would likely be MUCH more efficient to produce power centrally at a power plant than to decentralize and produce power in individual backyards. Not to mention that in dense cities – which is really the most sustainable planning solution as opposed to sprawl – there are no backyards.

They say in the video it requires fuel and oxygen as inputs. You still need to produce that fuel and oxygen somewhere, somehow. There goes your efficiency. He said they can use solar, but converting energy from form to form like that is highly inefficient, and the video cut out what he said after that, which judging by the expression on his face at the moment was some kind of caveat.

They did not provide a number for efficiency so I am very skeptical. They are also quiet on the cost.

Using “biogas” from landfill waste is not an ideal solution since landfills are symbols of waste themselves and should not be looked at as a renewable source, rather a reduction challenge.

I think it is good for technologies like these to be explored, but I am not holding my breath on this one.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lilikoi loll..whatever!

lilikoi's avatar

@BoBo1946 Please see my revised response above. I do have a mechanical engineering background so, no, I’m not just a random internet monkey spouting off about something I know nothing about. EBay is okay with testing the product out – that is not the same as buying it and relying on it fully for power. They were likely paid to agree to do the test, and they most definitely have a back-up power system in place should the boxes fail. This product is in the R&D phase so you’d be a complete idiot to say it’ll work for sure at this point – even the investor they interviewed had spread out his “clean energy” investments across several different companies. He knows how big the risk is.

lilikoi's avatar

Whatever the “clean energy” technology that revolutionizes the world turns out to be, I’m pretty sure it will involve central power production and transmission through the existing grid. Anything else will have a hard time being cost-competitive because of the new infrastructure required to be installed and the political vice grip that power companies have on power production.

I would personally like to see someone figure out solar. It is obviously the most elegant solution.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lilikoi Ebay is not testing it, they are using it. So, the owner of Ebay, is a complete idiot. ummm..interesting.

BTW, did you watch the interview with the inventor?

lilikoi's avatar

@BoBo1946 No one said EBay is an idiot. They are testing it – watch the video again. This is how technology is tested often times. The boxes are producing 15% of the energy use on EBay’s campus according to the video, and I can guarantee that they built redundancy into the system so that they have back-up power for that 15%. They are using it yes, but it is still a test – they are still in the testing (R&D) phase after all!

BoBo1946's avatar

This product is in the R&D phase so you’d be a complete idiot to say it’ll work for sure at this point –

lilikoi's avatar

Yes, exactly.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lilikoi you want to debate…not my thing! Just thought it was an interesting idea. The other member and myself, were just discussing it. Not debating. Cool…you made your point. And, if you saying, I’m a complete idiot…cool again. That is your opinion. Your opinion certainly does not change my day.

lilikoi's avatar

I think I see where you’re trying to go – EBay is most likely getting paid for the use of its big name. They are not saying it will work. They don’t really care. They probably just like to support neat ideas, and so agreed to do a trial run. If they had converted their entire system to those boxes so that everything were being run on the boxes, that would be EBay committing to this technology and EBay saying that they know with certainty that it will work. This is not what they are doing. Don’t you see the difference?

I don’t want to debate, rather help you understand the issues here. I don’t know what your expertise is, but I’m sure it is in an area I know nothing about. This is something I know, and so I feel it is my duty to set the record straight. It is what I’d want you to do for me on topics within your expertise. There are tons of these “novel” ideas floating around, and the media loves them because they make great stories, but 99% of it is always hype. Someone that understands the basics of physics can cut through all the media BS and see these things for what they are – a long shot at best.

I’m not saying you’re an idiot… where do you get that from? I agree that it is a neat idea – one take on fuel cells out of many – and it is worth exploring. I fully support cutting edge research, I just don’t think we should assume it will pan out and bet our lives on it because 9.9 times out of 10, the investor loses. For every Google there are hundreds of failures. Considering everything he said, the odds are not in the start-up’s favor.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lilikoi don’t need help to understand.

Sure, it is in the beginning stages, but it seems like a great idea. Sixty Minutes must have thought highly of it also..

again, did you watch the video?

lilikoi's avatar

YES I WATCHED THE VIDEO!! Did you???

60 minutes thought it was a great story that people would watch. 60 minutes isn’t paid to understand physics, they are paid to pull in viewers. I could see the skepticism in the interviewer’s face as well.

Sure, it is a great idea, one of many.

BoBo1946's avatar

loll..what is your problem? It was my question.

Think we have discusss this enough.

lilikoi's avatar

You are the one that started this whole conversation by saying “lol whatever” in response to my commentary on the video. I was simply posting my answer to this question and you called me out. Now I have made rock solid points that you cannot diffuse and you are asking me what my problem is? My problem is that you are not seeing the logic here, or you don’t have the balls to admit it. Read my comments again when your head has cooled, then rewatch the video. I hope you eventually get my points.

BoBo1946's avatar

loll well, you used large caps too shout your answer….you said, (paraphrased), I AM NOT WATCHING THE VIDEO! Then, you revised your comment, after I said, whatever.

My friend, i don’t need to know the process….i’m going to keep a eye on this new invention for investment purposes.

Have a nice day!

grumpyfish's avatar

Another one, a bit closer to real market: http://www.plugpower.com/products/residentialgensys/residentialgensys.aspx

This is a 1mx1.2m box that can generate up to 5kW (that’s around 40A at 120V) and runs off natural gas. Also, it uses the waste heat to heat your home.

“The high-temperature GenSys is expected to deliver a 20% to 40% reduction in home energy costs and 15% to 25% reduction in home CO2 emissions compared with incumbent technology.”

Not designed for being off-grid, designed for supplementing your grid connection, although you could if you were careful about power use in your house.

lilikoi's avatar

@BoBo1946 Why would you invest in something you don’t understand? Consider the hundreds of other start-ups in the clean energy market, too, if you’re going to invest. Unless you’re a venture capitalist or otherwise well-connected, I’m not sure you can get in on these kinds of things until the company goes public. Good luck.

@grumpyfish I’m curious to know how they got those numbers and what the upfront cost will be. The whole point of going off-grid is to be self-sufficient and not consume fossil fuels I would think. If you are reliant on natural gas, it doesn’t make much sense to me to be off-grid…you’re still reliant on petroleum based fuel. In many places, electricity is generated from natural gas so you’d effectively be using the same thing in a different manner. The only draw would be if the fuel cell can provide cheaper energy and it is more efficient.

ETpro's avatar

With all the chatter about eBay, I just wanted to note that Google was the first company where a test system was installed. Google and eBay are just two of more than 60 installations running around in the area. Also, the talk about infrastructure changes is misguided. It can run on either natural gas or bio-gas, and most homes and cities are already equipped with a natural gas piping system.

It may yet fail to pan out, but investors have put in $400 million betting it will. So it isn’t some backyard science project that is being done with trickery like some old-time rainmaker and snake-oil salesman might push. Time will tell. I certainly hope it can deliver on its promise.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lilikoi you misunderstood my comments, “looking” at their product for investment purposes. It is NOT even on the stock market yet.

@Etpro Very good info…will be watching to see where this goes…

grumpyfish's avatar

@lilikoi Agreed—but the BloomBox also runs on natural gas (or methane, I think). Both of them are fuel cells, meaning rather than burning the fuel to make heat to turn a turbine (as conventional powerplants do), they directly strip the electrons off the molecules. Because you’re skipping a few steps, you gain hugely in the efficiency.

ETpro's avatar

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article today titled, ”Bloom Box: What 60 minutes left out”. While it is worth reading, I didn’t feel it lived up to its provocative headline. If you’re interested in the technology, see what you think.

BoBo1946's avatar

@ETpro very interesting…personally, think there is a market for this energy source. Will be watching the results Wed….opening day!

lloydbird's avatar

@BoBo1946 Great Question. I’m looking forward to how this progresses.
However, moves towards self sufficiency tend to compete with providers, and especially with powerful providers. I wonder if something will arise to make this stall.
But I hope not.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lloydbird not positive, but think the company will go on the market this week. Sure will be real interesting.

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