The weather still looks amazingly quiet for the next 7 to 10 days. The heaviest snow in central Wisconsin during this period will fall today. Some spots could pick up an inch accumulation. In the far north there will be some lake effect snow tonight and tomorrow. A LAKE EFFECT SNOW WARNING is in effect for Iron and Ashland counties from noon today through 6pm Wednesday. There is no warning or advisory in effect for Vilas county at this time but I still expect 2 to 4 inches accumulation in the typical snowbelts. Even though not much snow is on the way in the near future, there will not be any significant warm weather. High temps will be in the 20s tomorrow and Thursday and then rise into the lower 30s by early next week. If you are hoping for some 40 degree weather you will likely have to wait until the 1st or second week of March.
So, how about some energy news. Some of you might have caught wind of a new revolutionary energy device that will be officially unveiled tomorrow. It is called the Bloombox and produced by a company named Bloom Energy. I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but it is not a “revolution” in energy. What it could be is a significant step in the right direction toward cleaner and more efficient energy generation. So what is the Bloombox? It is a fuel cell. That’s it. Fuel cells have been around for decades and many are in operation in niche markets. You are probably most familiar with the hydrogen fuel cell and the proposed “hydrogen highway/economy”. Hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen in a reaction that produces electricity and water as byproducts. Many people hope to use hydrogen fuel cells in cars because it would be very clean. There would be no emissions out of the “tailpipe” but water. For the astute reader, you will immediately ask, where does the hydrogen and oxygen come from? The oxygen will just come from the atmosphere. The hydrogen will have to be produced somehow and this is one of the big hurdles for mass adoption. The best/cleanest way to produce the hydrogen would be with solar panels (or maybe wind turbines), but then you have to wonder, why convert electricity into hydrogen just to convert it back into electricity in a car fuel cell. Why not just use electric cars?
Where I am going with this? The Bloombox has the same requirements. It needs a fuel source in order to create electricity. This is not some box you put in your basement and it magically produces electricity. In the form described in this article, you would have to hook it up to a natural gas line, like your furnace. The Bloombox would be for electricity what your furnace is for heat. So what is all the hype about? Early estimates indicate the Bloombox can deliver electricity 50% more efficiently than it can be generated and delivered through traditional natgas power plants and wires. If true, this would be very good for the environment. Anytime we can produce electricity more efficiently we should. Some large companies such as Google have been testing out the Bloombox over the last year and claim to have saved up to $100,000 on energy costs. That might sound like a big number, but Google’s energy needs are astronomical so it likely represents a fraction of a tenth of a percent of their total bill for any one data center.
What about this talk about getting “off the grid” with the Bloombox? If you had one in your basement running off of natgas, you would be most likely trading one grid for another, the electricity grid for the gas grid. If you produced your own natural gas somehow, then you would be off the grid. I am unsure what other hydrocarbon fuel could be used in the Bloombox, but it is likely flexible enough to use other gases like methane. However, natgas is the most readily available gas for most of us.
What about the cost? The initial model runs about $800,000. Two of these refrigerator-sized units could run a typical American home (according to the article). Thus the price is waaaaaay out of the range of mass market adoption. If bought a couple for my house it would take at least 1,000 years to recoup the cost in energy savings, but that would depend on the price of natural gas of course.
What about other issues? Given that the Bloombox has been tested with some well known large companies I would tend to think it is fairly reliable and will not physically/chemically breakdown over the course of a couple years, but what about 10 or 20 years. Also, what about the waste? I am unsure what becomes of the carbon that is left over after the Bloombox reaction that produces electricity. If it is just carbon dioxide then it can be easily and safely emitted back into the atmosphere.
So the Bloombox looks like a nice improvement in fuel cell technology from an efficiency standpoint, which is great, however, I don’t see it as “revolutionary” as might be portrayed in some media outlets later this week.
Have a good Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Alternative Energy
This post was written by jloew on February 23, 2010