The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough?

The Bloom Energy Server (commonly referred to as the Bloom Box) is a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) made by Bloom Energy, of Sunnyvale, California, that can use a wide variety of inputs (including liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons produced from bio sources) to generate electricity on the site where it will be used. It is highly efficient, low cost and has low polluting emissions. This type of fuel cell can withstand temperatures of up to 1800°F, which would cause many other types of fuel cells to break down or need maintenance, and is highly advantageous for its smooth operation. According to the company, a single cell (one 100 mm × 100 mm metal alloy plate between two ceramic layers) generates 25 watts.

Bloom stated that two hundred servers have been deployed in California for a number of corporations like eBay, Google, Wal-Mart and many more.

Review taken from Wikipedia

Technology

The Bloom Energy Server uses thin white ceramic plates (100 × 100 mm) which are claimed to be made from “beach sand” . Each ceramic plate is coated with a green nickel oxide-based ink on one side (anode) and another black (probably Lanthanum strontium manganite) ink on the other side (cathode). According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Bloom’s secret technology apparently lies in the proprietary green ink that acts as the anode and the black ink that acts as the cathode–” but in fact these materials are widely known in the field of solid oxide fuel cells(SOFCs). Wired reports that the secret ingredient may be yttria-stabilized zirconia based upon a 2006 patent filing (7,572,530) that was granted to Bloom in 2009; but this material is also one of the most common electrolyte materials in the field. US US20080261099, which is assigned to Bloom Energy Corporation, says that the “electrolyte includes yttria stabilized zirconia and a scandia stabilized zirconia, such as a scandia ceria stabilized zirconia”. ScSZ has a higher conductivity than YSZ at lower temperatures which provides greater efficiency and higher reliability when used as an electrolyte in SOFC applications. Scandia is scandium oxide (Sc3O2) which is a transition metal oxide that is sold between US$1400 to US$2000 per kilogram in 99.9% form. Current annual world wide production of scandium is less than 2,000 kilograms. Most of the 5,000 kilograms used annually is sourced from limited former Soviet era stockpiles.

To save money, the Bloom Energy Server uses inexpensive metal alloy plates for electric conductance between the two ceramic fast ion conductor plates. In competing lower temperature fuel cells, platinum is required at the cathode.

How a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Works

A fuel cell is like a battery that always runs. It consists of three parts: an electrolyte, an anode, and a cathode.

For a solid oxide fuel cell, the electrolyte is a solid ceramic material. The anode and cathode are made from special inks that coat the electrolyte. Unlike other types of fuel cells, no precious metals, corrosive acids, or molten materials are required.

Next, an electrochemical reaction converts fuel and air into electricity without combustion.

A solid oxide fuel cell is a high temperature fuel cell. At high temperature, warmed air enters the cathode side of the fuel cell and steam mixes with fuel to produce reformed fuel… which enters on the anode side.

Next, the chemical reaction begins in the fuel cell. As the reformed fuel crosses the anode, it attracts oxygen ions from the cathode. The oxygen ions combine with the reformed fuel to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of carbon dioxide.

The water gets recycled to produce the steam needed to reform the fuel. The process also generates the heat required by the fuel cell.

As long as there’s fuel, air, and heat, the process continues producing clean, reliable, affordable energy.

Over the last 2-3 years we have seen the price of energy rising ever steeply while hardly any alternative solutions have been introduced into the markets. This video was shown on CBS in 2010. So it has been at least 2-3 years since this technology was developed and many of the giant companies in the Information Technology sector have used it for their offices as well. Then how come this has not become common place till now? Who or what is stopping such technologies from being adapted all across the world?