Large corporations have been testing a new device that can generate power on the spot, without being connected to the electric grid.
Here is an excerpt from the video, if you prefer to read instead of watching the video - the video is about 15 mins. in length.
On "60 Minutes" on Sunday, CEO K.R. Sridhar invited "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl for a first look at the innards of Bloom Energy's Bloom box, which he has been working on for nearly a decade. Here's a partial transcript from the very start of the story:
Stahl asked, "What could this power?"
"This could power a U.S. home. Average United States home." he said.
"Something that small?" she asked.
"The way we make it is in two blocks. This is a European home. The two put together is a U.S. home," he explained.
"'Cause we use twice as much energy, is that what you're saying?" Stahl asked.
"Yeah, and this'll power four Asian homes," he replied.
"So four homes in India, your native country?" Stahl asked.
"Four to six homes in our country," Sridhar replied.
"It sounds awfully dazzling," Stahl remarked.
"It is real. It works," he replied.
He says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist.
"This invention, working on Mars, would have allowed the NASA administrator to pick up a phone and say, 'Mr. President, we know how to produce oxygen on Mars,'" Sridhar told Stahl.
"So this was going to produce oxygen so people could actually live on Mars?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Sridhar replied.
When NASA scrapped that Mars mission, K.R. had an idea: he reversed his Mars machine. Instead of it making oxygen, he pumped oxygen in.
He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. K.R. feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. No need for burning or combustion, No need for power lines from an outside source.
It's obvious how promising Bloom Energy's.. Bloom Box would be. You could put two fuel cells at each U.S. house and rather than having transmission lines, generate electricity right there.
Japan is already pushing a sort of alternative idea: solar power in homes. In fact, solar power capacity in Japan rose to 483,960 kilowatts in 2009, 2.1 times more than the 2008 total. Some 88.6 percent of solar battery shipments in 2009 were for home systems. The new installations cover the power needs of more than 100,000 households at current consumption rates. Clean energy is an emerging market segment, and would be worth billions to the company or companies that can succeed.
How does Bloom Energy's Bloom Box work, without (in proposed production quantities) costing an arm and a leg to produce? That is a big question, and K.R. Sridhar let Stahl into some of the secret, though naturally, not all.
Sridhar said he bakes beach sand and cuts it into squares that are turned into a ceramic. Then he coats it with green and black "inks" that he developed, which is of course, the secret. "And you take that and you apply that. You paint that on either side of this white ceramic to get a green layer and a black layer. And that's it." The finished product is shown above, a skinny Bloom Box fuel cell. You need a stack of them to really get effective power.
One cell powers a light bulb. Between each cell is a metal plate. Unlike other fuel cells, rather than platinum, Sridhar uses a cheap metal alloy. "The stacks are the heart of the Bloom box: put 64 of them together and you get something big enough to power a Starbucks."
Sridhar gave Stahl a sneak peek inside the Bloom box, the first ever given to the public.
"All those modules that we saw go into this big box. Fuel goes in, air goes in, out comes electricity," he explained.
What is the fuel, however? Most recently, the fuel cells intended to power cars required hydrogen. That was an issue, because hydrogen is difficult to transport. In this case, the fuel can be a variety of choices.
"Our system can use fossil fuels like natural gas. Our system can use renewable fuels like landfill gas, bio-gas. We can use solar."
Of course, using fossil fuels is a dead end. Eventually that will run out. Renewable fuels as a power source is very encouraging.
Additionally, Sridhar already has 20 large companies using Bloom Boxes in California. They include FedEx, WalMart, Staples, eBay, and that power-sucking company known as Google was their first customer. Google is trying anything it can think of to reduce its power use.
One reason California companies have signed up is California subsidizes 20 percent of the cost, and there is an additional 30 percent federal tax break because it's a "green" technology. The total cut is therefore half.
Bloom boxes, many think, are not the be-all and end-all. After all, there is so much power used by the world, no one technology can cure our ills. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who joined Bloom Energy's board of directors last year, put it this way, when asked if Bloom boxes could be the fix for our our energy needs.
"I have seen the technology and it works," but, "I think that's too big a claim to make. I think it is part of the transformation of the energy system. But I think the Bloom boxes will make a significant contribution."