No good for houses but...
could be excellent for electric vehicles...
A Silicon Valley startup backed by the rainmaker who got Google off the ground is about to formally announce a miraculous, shoebox-sized device capable of powering a house - "anywhere, with no emissions" according to the BBC. BBC speculation on the Bloom Box No, actually Of course that's just Beeb Twitter-journalism …
Thorium can be bred into fissionable Uranium, which would ensure the world's energy supplies for the next 5000 years, based on current demand. No CO2 involveld, except for obtaining the Thorium.
If it were not for the Soviet cockup, we would probably be running more than one Throium Breeder here in Germany. This was not a demo machine, but yielded 300MW of power, about 1/4 of the largest current nuclear reactors.
I am waiting for the Russians to turn off Gas in the winter, which will finally silence the Greentards.
Also, there is a huge amount of U238 available, which could be bred into a fissionable Uranium nucleus. More than 99% of natural Uranium is U238. We currently only burn U235. The americans use U238 as ammo for tank-busters; it is so abundant....
Mabye time for Freedom Reactors ? (France is making 70% of their leccy by nuclear. And these are only U235-based).
Greentards, can you hear me ?
It may have went past your ears but some greentards were already talking about nuclear fission. But the problem with building nuclear reactors is not so much the greentards. It is on the one hand the general public which is, at least in this parts of the world, not very much in favour of new nuclear power plants. On the other hand it's finance: it is rather difficult to find investors for such plants simply because of the costs involved. Each part of the life cycle of a nuclear plant, ie planning, building, operating and decommissioning (incl. storage), is a costly high risk venture on its own.
I'm not a greentard but heard you anyway. But before promoting nuclear fission do us all a favour and try to apply some economics.
Is one word.
U238 is bred into Pu239 in a reactor. Fortunately for all of us, so far FBRs have been stupidly expensive, stupidly inefficient and stupidly unreliable so almost all countries have given up on the splendidly pyrotechnic mix of superheated plutonium, molten sodium and hot water.
We're already scared witless over the possibility of plutonium getting out of the fuel cycle and into the hands of the sort of people who shouldn't be trusted with a box of matches. And that's just with our existing light water reactors. Building reactors that are explicitly designed to make more of the stuff doesn't seem to be likely to end well.
The current treaties on the peaceful uses of nuclear power would give any country the right to make as much plutonium as they like in fast breeder reactors. They'd have to have reprocessing technology to recover the plutonium from the spent fuel and there is effectively no difference between bomb-grade and reactor grade plutonium if all you want is a relatively crude deterrent.
The thorium breeder has a similar problem. U233 is fast fissionable and as Operation Teapot showed in 1955 it makes for a delightfully pretty city buster.
Electricity is two things: quantity of electrons and flow of electrons. Generating quantity has traditionally been fairly easy, with fuel cells, but generating flow has traditionally been a problem. You can convert large amounts of fairly slow electrons into a thin flow of very fast ones, but simply saying you can generates lots of volts does not amount to useful work, unless that translates into a real torrent of amperage.
And the truth will set you free (or at least prevent some type of indigestion):
The large unit delivers 100kW from 0.661 MMBtu/hr of natural gas. The report from "60 Minutes" showed a small bundle for US homes (double for UK, based on VAC, i assume...might be reversed though). Looked like about 10-12 of the individual fuel cells in a bundle to produce 1kW (so roughly 4.5A per cube?).
To me, the technology is the still somewhat short-term, based on the need for a fuel component. I will say this presents the best idea I've seen so far, as I can't imagine anyone wanting a mini-nuke sitting in their backyard or attic. Still need someone to figure out an upgrade for Solar or XRay panels...that will destroy all the conventional energy discussions for a very long time.
The 100kW unit won't be sold to the average home buyer, though I would expect to see it rolled into apartments, condo, office parks, and the like, where folks might need that kind of draw. I mean, it's not like I've got 480V, 3 phase running to the house for shits and giggles (if you do, seek professional help).
The tech might help with fuel-cell batteries as well, given the size of a single cell is about half the volume of a typical laptop battery (no idea about the weight per cell). The 10 tons figure includes several other components beyond just the cells. Not sure about the heat output of a cell either, as that could be the downfall of the whole idea where most battery-powered devices are concerned.
BTW, for those unfamiliar with such Yank speak, biggins is Southern slang for "big ones".
"The large unit delivers 100kW from 0.661 MMBtu/hr of natural gas. "
That works out to slightly less than 52% thermal efficiency, compared to 60% for the latest combined cycle plants. OTOH, if there's a good use for the waste heat, it would be an improvement over a combined cycle plant.
The one advantage a compact fuel-cell system like this would have for home and office installations would be to provide heat as well as electricity -- it's what most of the British gas distribution system is designed for, firing combi boilers for central heating and hot water. At the moment the central generators waste most if not all of their low-grade heat to the atmosphere or into rivers and the seacoast. It's uneconomic to run steam pipes dozens of kilometres from the generating stations into urban areas to provide "free" heating and moving the generating stations closer to inhabited areas is seen as a health and pollution problem.
There are other downsides -- how long do these units last without maintenance or parts replacement? What are the levels of NOx pollutants they emit (using air rather than pure oxygen in fuel cells will always produce nitrogen compounds although there are methods of minimising these). The one big upside is there are no moving parts in a fuel-cell so it is likely operational costs will be significantly less than rotary generation systems already in use.
A fuel cell does not generate any significant heat - well at least an order of magnitude down on what a boiler/turbine would generate.
the huge benefit of fuel cells is the theoretical efficiency - close to 100% vs 35% any other way.
So, this device does have significant benefit regarding emissions.
I'm pleased they have some real samples out there developing real kilowatts; power density and expensive platinum group metals are the problems with fuel cells - not to mention catalyst poisoning - i.e. service life. We all knew some clever bugger would find a better cheap catalyst.
Hype aside, this does look genuinely promising.
Other articles about this technology report a temperature of as much as 1000 degrees C at the reacting surfaces. There's a lot of heat generated by these devices -- fuel-cells work by combining oxygen and carbon-based fuel (or hydrogen) and that always a lot of heat. The improved efficiencies come from generating the electrical potentials directly rather than going through a series of lossy steps such as boiling a working fluid and converting the steam pressure to rotary motion to drive a generator of some type. They're still not great (maybe 60% efficient) but having the waste heat to hand to use for domestic heating, hot water, process heat in factories etc. might well make them a viable option.
I was speaking to a chemist (the kind with a PhD in chemistry) friend at lunch today and we briefly discussed the Bloom box. Apparently these units are NOT traditional hydrogen exchange membrane units (like the kind the space shuttle uses), but are some sort of new composite/ceramic material which operates at several thousands of degrees.
Apparently there is also some concern that they may produce a lot of Nitrous Oxide because of the heat which may make them unsuitable for use in areas without suitable ventilation. Might be a useful feature for hybrid street racers though...
Based on the inteview I saw, these things use some cheap, common alloy instead of platinum, zirconium, or other standard fuel cell materials. The substrate is also supposed to be nothing more than a baked piece of sand, as the ink used on each side is the "secret sauce" involved.
Also, the efficiency numbers for these things are not exactly as perfect as typical fuel cells (estimated as > 50%, FWIW).
First of all, a gas grid with high-efficiency generation at the consumption point will probably have an overall efficiency higher than transporting electricity generated from gas via an electrical grid.
Second we have so far only exploited underground gas. That is a very small fraction of the gas we can get our hands on. There are other sources of gas that are so far untapped like gas-hydrates. There is also all the gas from landfill, sewerage works, etc. The problem with all of these is that the gas there is very dirty with very high percentage of hydrogen sulfide and other impurities. Burning it is not an option. A fuel cell however may be able to utilise it in a manner which does not produce all the nasty stuff you get when you simply burn it.
So if this will make us more addicted to gas I am all for it provided that it is that _OTHER_ gas we cannot currently use.
While I agree we shouldn't be pinning our hopes on more fossil fueled tech, surely one benefit of CHP and maybe this shoebox thingy is that generation happens at the point of consumption, so avoids some of the transmittion loss associated with moving electricity around the country?
My understanding was that the national electricity grid is less than 40% efficient.
bolted to the back end of a cow - free methane fuel.
We are also deeply addicted to milk/cheese etc, so cows will be around for a long time (maybe longer than the gas pipelines). Those that don't produce milk we can always eat, and using the methane reduces greenhouse gases.
Trebles all round.
(N.B. a "nadger" is northern UK dialect for a clever and ingenious device/implement, of any kind)
The landfill driven gas turbines I have heard of are int he MW class. Big by individual consumers but about 1/500 or less the size of the typical GW power station. They are *expected* to last about 30 years on a site and it's true the UK has *lots* of landfill. However it's not clear how many of these sites have the right construction (IE impermeable lining to trap it and an impermeable cap to lead the gas to the turbine.
OTOH it would be (more or less) carbon neutral.
However were more farmers and meat processors to take up anerobic digestion (as reported in El Reg a while back) this *could* cut gas requirement by 50% (Likely an *absolutely* best case but 25% off the UK gas bill would be a good idea) and of course it would make HMG less vulnerable to Russian err politicians.
Personally the best thing you could do would be to power your a central heating circulation pump and the controller from the gas supplied to the boiler. Otherwise you need *both* services just to make one work.
It's one of those ideas that looks *very* good, promotes independence, less reliance on central resources etc. Tickss all the right marketing boxes. But actually not very good at all, except for businesses.
On a similar theme, Lewis has argued before that wind is awkward because you still have to have backup capacity in gas, but switching gas generation on and off all the time is extremely inefficient (and bad for power stations). So if these boxes are comparable with gas for efficiency but can come one and off line easily, then isn't that a major benefit that might make transient sources like wind more palatable?
Your absolute best efficiencies come from when you use pure Hydrogen and Oxygen gases; however, storage of these gases is considered difficult for "normal" residential use. A couple tens of cubic feet of Hydrogen is considered to be an extremely hazardous thing for residential use.
This is why most fuel cells for "commodity" use have targeted hydrocarbon fuels, as they are more easily stored and people already (mostly) know the risks involved. Also, as they don't have to be stored at any kind of pressure, this reduces other possible issues due to environmental changes or somebody simply knocking a pipe loose cleaning/storing/etc. in the utility closet or shed.
..are nothing particular new. There is lot of talk about powering cars with hydrogen and fuel cells (generating leccy which drives an electric motor). Only problem in this case "where is the economic source of hydrogen ?".
The innovation here seems to be that these guys claim to have made a very cheap fuel cell.
Thanks for the first rational reporting on the box I've seen. I looked a while yesterday, and everyone was repeating nonsense like saying the box could use solar and wind energy as fuel to generate electricity (?!?!?). Bottom line is at best it's an efficiency improvement on converting hydrocarbons to electricity, which can be a significant advance, but nothing revolutionary, and certainly not zero emissions. Clever implementation, including waste heat utilization for secondary generation or direct use would help a bit, but we're still talking an incremental efficienty improvement, not revolution.
And it amazes me that this stuff continues to get grafted along, and supported/reported by "technology" groups. When exactly it the "technology" area exclude basic science?
Whilst they may not be of use for most of us there are alot of people with diesel generators for various reasons. If it dose work as promised then it could replace alot of these.
But then we all know Lewis never let a bit of lateral thinking get in the way of a good rant.
It could also be alot of use for local micro power plants, for example http://www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/Microgeneration-Technologies/Wood-fuelled-heating-Biomass. Better than burning.
Then you need to live longer.
You would be quite correct in stating that third-party errors are not the responsibility of the inventor, nor do they affect the value of the invention. However, there are too many claims and too little time to investigate them, so any reasonable person uses a set of quick-and-dirty "filters" to assess the potential merits of a claim.
One of the most effective filters is whether the claim is being hyped-up or not. Any inventor with a clue knows this and will stomp on the hype as best they can, so even the level of third-party-hype is an indicator.
The SUN and the WIND combine to grow PLANTS, which you harvest + ferment to make GAS which goes in the magical box that converts hydrocarbons to electricity.
Alternatively you could wait for the plants to be eaten by animals, die, degrade into fossil fuel and use that, but that's much lengthier and controversial for some reason.
This micro-generator or micro-fuel-cell would come in handy at the house. The electrical system in my city is crap and we have day-long outages. I've debated getting a whole-house generator, just to avoid the nuisance.
The power company that (sometimes) serves us used to be lovingly named "Communist Edison" for their legendary service levels and electricity prices.
Several comments, none related to the reality/unreality of the Bloom box.
1. Ethanol sources: Lewis, surely you are aware that non-crop biomass production of ethanol is coming soon.
2. Electric grid losses are ~40%. If the Bloom box works at all, it need not be very efficient to do better than the grid. Being colocated with the consumer, it automatically has a 40% efficiency advantage, depending on the losses in the gas grid. What ARE the losses in the gas grid?
3. Again if the Bloom box works as advertized, gas need not be its only fuel. Certainly the vast herds of cattle on the Salisbury plain can be harnessed to supply much of it. Erm... Please ignore that last. Bloom claims the box can take in electrons and produce fuel (I'd like to see THAT!), perhaps completely changing the equation.
Otherwise, a good article, with a reasonable dose of scepticism. More power to you, Lewis!
individual houses, but it could be very handy at a neighbourhood level. Rather than having a substation that draws all of it's power from the grid it could largely or totally cut the need for grid power, cutting transmission losses and increasing efficiency (large gas turbine power plants run at less than 60% efficiency - less again when you include transmission losses -, the Bloom is supposed to be in the 80%+ range). There should also be a reduction in other emission products.
The big target though would be in electric cars. There's already a network of LPG filling stations with which to fuel them. Combine a Bloom fuel cell with a super capacitor storage unit (to even out peak power demands) and you'd have a clean, low carbon solution with fast refuelling times and long range. CO2 should be less than 1/2 of that produced by current cars, there'd be no NOX, hydrocarbons or particulates emitted (the components of smog) and it sounds like the technology is going to be more affordable than Lithium Ion battery packs.
If these worked and every home used them to generate electric from their gas supply then you would only need electricity at peak demand, or if they failed.
So the electric company couldn't balance selling cheap baseline load 90% of the time and peak expensive load for 10% - it would all be peak expensive load, so your electric cost/unit would have to go up 200%.
I thought this was going to be fusion-in-a-shoebox, and on the strength of that ordered my gas and electricity disconnected pending clean, cheap, home-generated power. Now all my pipes have burst and there's nothing hot for tea.
*When* will The Register begin presenting the important information *clearly* in its articles?
Re: "zero emissions". Basically hype, but the second component to this is some US'ians still don't consider CO2 to be an emission -- if this doesn't emit carbon monoxide, NOx or unburned hydrocarbons it's "zero emissions" by that standard.
And I agree with Nick22's point, a big efficiency gain here could be from reducing grid losses. Electricity here in the states can travel a looooong way before it is used; even if these ended up being a little less efficient than an efficient power plant, they could end up with the upper hand due to grid loss. I should add, parts of the US *do* have a natural gas grid; I have a gas line running to my house. That's another part of the equation though.... 1) Does the gas grid have the capacity it needs to fuel these units? (It's gotten down to -40C here a few times, and -15C is not uncommon... the gas distribution points REALLY start to hiss when it's that cold making me wonder how much extra capacity is left in them) 2) In areas without a gas grid, trucking in gas really could change the efficiency equation.
When he invented the (coal-fired) electric generator, Edison originally envisioned it as a device to be sold to individuals and companies for their own electric consumption. This is not how things turned out, of course. Westinghouse envisioned large centralized electric generation companies that sell kilowatt-hours instead of machinery, and the company developed the A/C-powered electric grid required for that vision. The rest is history.
The electric grid won out because there are economies of scale with the heat engines used to generate our electricity --- and those economies of scale are large enough to justify the expense and inefficiencies of the electric grid. Or to put it the other way, small-scale heat engines (such as Diesel generators) are an expensive way to generate electricity.
There is nothing sacrosanct about the electric grid, it is a necessary evil. Energy production and consumption must be exactly matched at every point in time, and there is NO practical way to store electricity, not even for a little while. In comparison, the gas grid is much more efficient and easier to manage.
If we now have a technology that allows for high-efficiency local-scale electric generation, then it really could radically alter the way we produce and consume electricity, just as cell phones have radically altered the way we yak on the phone. If these boxes are ultimately more (economically) efficient than a generator+grid, then we might (over time) see the electric grid go the way of the land line.
"When he invented the (coal-fired) electric generator, Edison originally envisioned it as a device to be sold to individuals and companies for their own electric consumption."
That's because Edison was a businessman and Tesla was a visionary genius.
invented the (coal-fired) electric generator? really? Are you sure he didn't just put two existing technologies together in an obvious way?
Somebody correct me please if I'm wrong, but isn't it more efficient on the whole to burn gas for heat at the point of consumption than it is to generate electricity from that gas and then convert the electricity to heat?
I know the whole gas/leccy power usage thing is one of our Lewis' favourite tubthump topics, and I'm with him when he uses it to argue against idiot proclamations of "total" household power consumption that don't take into account the huge amount of energy we get from gas, but if my assumption above is right then Lewis' allusions to our "nasty gas habit" in this article seem more than a little disingenuous.
"Somebody correct me please if I'm wrong, but isn't it more efficient on the whole to burn gas for heat at the point of consumption than it is to generate electricity from that gas and then convert the electricity to heat?"
It is, but that's not the way a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, like Bloom's "Box," works (or at least not intended to be used).
SOFCs operate at extremely high temperatures, generally in the range of 500-1000 degrees C. This allows them to oxidize fuel without using an expensive catalyst, like the platinum typically used in low-temperature fuel cells. No expensive catalyst means, in theory, that the unit is less expensive to build.
Because the unit operates at such a high temperature, there's a great deal of waste heat. This waste heat can be harnessed to drive building air conditioning (heating and cooling; more on that below) and boiler systems *in addition to* the electricity generated. By reclaiming this waste heat, the total efficiency of the unit is increased. Various numbers get bandied about, mostly because different solutions are capable of differing peak/maximum efficiencies. Bloom reports greater than 50% electrical efficiency, but reclaiming heat can push overall efficiency numbers into the 70+% range.
As for cooling using waste heat, there's a very old technology called "adsorption" cooling, which uses heat to drive a chilling system. It is not very efficiency compared to electrically driven compression-based air conditioners, but when you already have an over-supply of heat that would otherwise go to waste, it makes sense to use it. Whether there's enough waste heat from Bloom's (or any other) SOFC to drive an adsorption chiller, I do not know.
CHP - Combined Heating and Power
CCP - Combined Cooling and Power
CCHP - Combined Cooling, Heating, and Power
Good info there, although when I said "isn't it more efficient ... to burn gas ... than it is to generate electricity from that gas.." I was referring to electricity generation by a power station rather than by an SOFC, which is I think where Lewis was coming from also when he was banging on about our "gas addiction".
Still - all interesting to know!
You're not wrong. If *heat* is what you're after, it is probably around twice as efficient to distribute the gas and burn on site rather than burn in a power station and deliver the leccy.
However, you are missing the environmental point that leccy can be generated without releasing fossilised carbon. There are various methods, but none of them really scale *down* well. Therefore, the ideal solution would be for society to power all *fixed* installations (like buildings) using electricity and simply make sure that said electricity is generated in a clean fashion.
The thermodynamic efficiency is irrelevant (environmentally, if not economically) because global warming is not caused by the release of heat (which disappears into space) but rather by the release of CO2 (which changes the fraction of heat that disappears into space).
"However, you are missing the environmental point that leccy can be generated without releasing fossilised carbon."
I'm not, I just didn't make reference to it ;o) ... If we were all to stop using gas right now then - discounting the fact that there wouldn't be enough generating capacity to cope - the electricity that would instead be used to provide heat would not be coming from a zero carbon source. My point being that us all being "addicted" to consuming gas for heat is less harmful for the environment than the only currently available alternative which, until we either build more nuke plants, make fusion work, find out the earth's crust lies on a huge bed of hydrogen and not steaming hot magma as we'd previously thought, or get all that power via renewables*, is to burn more fossil fuels in power stations.
*Note I have listed these in order of likelihood.
"global warming is not caused by the release of heat"
You don't say! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Well, it would be an advance if a fuel cell could use a wide range of hydrocarbons, alcohols and ketones.
Also, there is actually quite a lot of CH<sub>4</sub> that can be generated from farm wastes and seaweed. 1 million tonnes dry weight of seaweed grow each year along the western coasts of Scotland and Ireland.
I burn natural gas for central heat and hot water.
If I could get some electricity from that gas AND the heat of combustion, I would be ahead of the game. The electricity is then almost "free", resource-wise.
But remember that fuel cells run on hydrogen. If you "burn" natural gas (methane) in a high temperature fuel cell, the heat cracks the methane into hydrogen and carbon. The hydrogen runs the electricity generating fuel cell and the carbon simply burns to CO2. The carbon combustion produces only heat, just like burning the gas in a furnace.
So if I use the electricity produced to save me some money on power line delivered electrons and use the waste heat for my domestic needs, I am ahead of the game. BUT, the fuel cell has to be cheap enough to be paid for by the electricity it produces. Maybe it is. I have no information on what it costs to make one. So we wait and see.
There are a number of companies that use natural gas and diesel generator systems. I read about a plastics company that went to a local generator system due to the local power grid being knocked out whenever there was an electrical storm. An efficient fuel cell-based generator would be an effective replacement for these systems.
I'd also like to see hard data on the fuel cell system compared to conventional turbine installations.
One of the more difficult aspects of power generation is smoothing out the peaks of demand. That's where local generation of electricity from gas could be handy because there are safe, cheap and easy ways to store gas and the distribution system is already built.
Microwave pyrolysis can turn waste wood or organic waste into syngas, bio-fuel and charcoal. If this process can be run intermittently it would be a good way to use the cheap waste power that wind turbines will be making much of the time they are turning and store the energy for use at times when it's needed.
" It is on the one hand the general public which is, at least in this parts of the world, not very much in favour of new nuclear power plants. On the other hand it's finance: it is rather difficult to find investors for such plants simply because of the costs involved. Each part of the life cycle of a nuclear plant, ie planning, building, operating and decommissioning (incl. storage), is a costly high risk venture on its own."
I do not have the slightest doubt that behemoths like RWE or BP or Exxon can finance those 5 billion Euro it costs to build a nuclear station, if they could get the permission to build. It costs about 8 cent/kWh to generate leccy with a nuclear power station of the 1GW class. There are lots of proven designs around and you can pretty easily calculate costs and the revenue you are going to make.
IF you have the permission to build AND the confidence the greentards won't close it down in three years, a nuclear power station is a foolproof money machine.
London, New York and Frankfurt finance will be happy to find the billions. New Equity or special Bonds can easily do it. My guess is that RWE or EDF could fund it out of their deep pockets w/o going to the bankers.
Currently there are lots of nuclear stations in construction, so the finance argument is not valid.
"However, China plans to build more than 100 plants,"
Dubai, Finland and the US announced also. Only the Euro greentards rather like to buy the Gas from the Tshekists of Russia.
And IF it wasn't for my failure to reliably predict the future I would have been millionaire long time ago and not posting comments on El Reg. It is exactly the "ifs" where your argument stumbles.
I agree with you, there are proven designs around of reactors which can be operated quite safely. That's why I didn't mention the design as high risk. I'm also aware that China is currently building dozens of reactors. Just a guess: there are less "ifs" around in China than there are here. And I'm glad I don't live in China. (Though I'm also quite happy with the existing reactors around here.)
Let me elaborate a bit. Planning starts long before you've got permission to build. You have to find a suitable place on stable ground, which you will probably find in reasonable time. When you try to get permission to build your plant at the place you found you'll face appeals, lot's of protests, etc. i.e. delay, which will make the permission process long and cumbersome with doubtful outcome. In one word: expensive.
Once you've got permission and want to start building your reactor you are likely to face more protests which may interfere with your plans (delays again). Besides, it is a large construction project with it's own risks.
Operating the reactor might be rather safe. You may, however, have to deal with a "black swan" event, which might crumble your investment. In a worst case your reactor could face a meltdown. Or politics decide a phase-out of nuclear reactors long before your reactor reached it's end-of-life. Again: expensive.
Decommissioning is a large deconstruction project and then you have to deal with long-term storage of your nuclear waste. Correct me if I'm wrong but as far as I know there is, worldwide, not a single terminal storage in place for nuclear waste. Here again, you have to deal with high risks and high costs in planning, building and operating the storage. You already know what word follows: expensive.
Now I want to make clear that the term "expensive" as used above always refers to the opportunity costs of the investment. So the question is not whether the potential investors you mentioned have the assets to finance a nuclear power plant but what they could do otherwise with their wealth. It seems likely that other investments are more favourable with regard to outlay, profits, risks.
On a side note: do your 8 cent/kWh include the costs of decommissioning/storage? I doubt it.
They need to offload the clean-up costs to be fair. Who do you think is picking up the tab for coal, oil and gas clean up costs? Hint: it's been in the news quite a lot for the past decade or two.
And in complete fairness, the *really* dirty nuclear facilities are generally the ones they used to make bombs or do the original research, not the civilian power stations. Sellafield and Dounreay are a much bigger job than Sizewell, for example. The fact that we did all the research, created the long-term expense, and then stupidly refused to reap any of the long-term profits by building power stations (as the French have done with such evident success) is down to politics, not physics or chemistry.
I think you have been reading too many tabloid newspapers Mr Page.
90% of corn production is for use in animal feed, and ethanol production doesn't even remove this product from the market place.
Ethanol is produced using only the corn kernel's starch, and what you have left with is 'distiller grain'. This, in turn, is a highly concentrated protein/nutrient rich food that animals are happy to chomp on.
You seem to forget that some of us have a corn-based diet. That "corn for animals" surplus is actually sold to Latin American countries... and the idiotic ethanol biofuel push actually screwed over the corn prices south of the US border. It was even mentioned here in El Reg if I remember well.
The only countries that benefit from ethanol biofuel are those who get it from sugarcane, and have a surplus in sugar cane production.
Life is normally the problem with this type of fuel cell. They are used for power backup instead of batteries in a number of remote sites (Think cell phone base station for example). The problem is that the units tend to only have a life of about 2000 hours.
I like the idea of something shoebox sized that can power my house. At the moment I have a box bigger than that where the power comes into my house, and it doesn't even generate it. This could save me some space!
Also it says that it is make from cheap materials like sand. Well solar cells and microprocessors are made from sand too, but cheap it ain't!
I understand how CO2 sequestration works at a major power plant, but how does it work for shoeboxes in houses? Will we need to build another pipe network to take away the CO2 that was produced from the gas piped in?
Where is the "100% marketing hype" icon?
There's a handy graph of where electricity in the US comes from and goes to. As you can see in the foot note, about 7% of total generated capacity goes to transmission and distribution losses. That's not a huge amount, especially compared to the much larger "Conversion Losses" bit, which would be all those pesky laws of thermodynamics.
It's a low temp (~600 or so) SOFC .. That said it's still interesting from a 'green' standpoint.
Firstly there's no transmission losses from the grid. This improves the overall efficiency of the power network. Second is that by moving to local generation we're actually more likely to adopt 'greener' options in the future. Let's face it, no-one is going to replace multi-GW powereplants with solar/wind whatever and compelling as nuclear is, politically it's unlikley to happen. So if we stick with central, massive powerplants they ain't gonna be green anytime soon. If however, people get used to generating their own electricity using a SOFC then you could either replace the gas with a hydrogen feed or replace the fuel cell with a CO2 neutral alternative on an individual household basis ... a much easier (albeit slower) sell ....
Lewis - I think you need to investigate a little more - the US generates about 25% of it's electricity from natural gas (recent gov figures here ...http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/epm_sum.html) - that's a shit load of gas (technical term defined as the traditional way of generating methane). More than the UK uses? The gulf of mexico has some *very* wide pipes coming out of it - some of which find their way to the left coast.
nuclear: "you can pretty easily calculate costs and the revenue you are going to make."
Don't be so silly.
No one knows what Olkiluoto in Finland will cost or when it will open.
No one knows how much it will cost to finance any particular nuclear reactor (finance costs, interest, etc, being a major part of the economics of a nuclear station).
If the costs and profitability of nukes were predictable, Obama wouldn't just have needed to announce $8billion in loan guarantees. Without the $8bn subsidy (that's what it is), "the markets" won't touch nuclear with a bargepole.
No one knows how much revenue a given nuke will make over its predicted lifetime because no one knows how much electricity will sell for in the future.
And therefore no one knows whether a given nuke will be profitable or not in any given year or over its lifetime. Therefore "the markets" have avoided them like the plague, and that's before we get into the PR issues such as safety, waste management, etc.
"a nuclear power station is a foolproof money machine."
Anyone who believes that probably also believed the claim when Calder Hall opened that nuclear electricity would be so cheap that there'd be no need to meter it.
...is not killing people.
"U238 is bred into Pu239 in a reactor. Fortunately for all of us, so far FBRs have been stupidly expensive, stupidly inefficient and stupidly unreliable so almost all countries have given up on the splendidly pyrotechnic mix of superheated plutonium, molten sodium and hot water."
The worst weapon of World War 2 was definitely not the nuclear one. It probably was a simple toxic substance named "Zyklon B". Second probably was plain-old HEX like TNT. Maybe #2 was just the phosphor that burned down japanese and german cities. Recently a million people were killed by Machetes in Rwanda. Outlaw Machetes ??
The technologically easiest route to the bomb clearly is U235, and that is the consensus in the scientific community. The Plutonium argument is a greenie's BS argument modern nuclear technology.
Methinks Lewis is a bit off on American residenttial natural gas usage. If gas is available, houses almost invariably use it for water heaters, furnaces and pool heaters. Gas clothes dryers and stoves are common. Other uses are for gas fireplaces (actually illegal to burn wood in a few localities), outdoor gas lights and grills.
Tokyo Gas is pushing those kind of systems pretty heavily. Granted, it's not shoebox-size, but rather a small shed, but it's on the market.
They even have the guts to sell it as "green". Except that pretty much all gas that's used in Japan is shipped in from the Middle East. (Japan has some gas fields that are closer, but most of them are in disputed waters, either with Russia or with China).
It's a question of choose your poison. If you go gas, you have the carbon emissions and you finance the war in the middle east, if you go grid electricity, it comes from huge dams that were built by the yakuza-infested construction industry or nuclear power plants in one of the most earthquake-prone regions of the world.
I can only hope for some sanity in Japanese energy politics, which would be more geothermal energy or offshore wind farms.
One thing that has been forgotten is that in the last days of B.G. they had forseen the day that N.G. ran out and they had designed (invented?) a method of using coal again but to produce a gas that was similar in characteristics to natural gas and would thus avoid all the cost and disruption that was involved in the move from town gas to natural gas. As it becomes more and more obvious that AGW is wrong then we could return to self-sufficiency.
I remember thinking back in the 80's that closing the british mines down may have been a smart move in the long run
imported coal was cheaper than we could dig it out ourselves (despite having plenty of it).
once there is a way of converting coal to a cleaner fuel we can open up the mines again to get back to not relying on other countries for gas.(yes it will be expensive to do) but for the most part its only the surface features that have been removed from the original mines, most of the equipment & machinery is still down there.
as for the gas infrastructure in the uk while it is widespread it is far from 100% coverage and is never likely to be due to the prices transco charge to connect outlying / rural areas,
where I used to live we had 3 high pressure gas pipelines within 1000m of the street I lived on (90 houses), when the third line was being put in place the residents enquired about the possibility of gas being supplied to the street, the price they came up with was an initial payment of £17,000 from each household and they would only supply gas if every house in the street took the supply (1.53 million to supply 1 street)
is that running *pretty* hot ( historically they *did* run 700-1000c, but newer ones are targeted in the 500-650c range, making the sealing tech a *lot* easier) they can crack more complex HC containing materials (Methane and Propane being obvious, but also Methanol and Ethanol) down to Hydrogen, which is ultimately what *all* these designs use.
So you *potentially* a multi-fuel cell with *potentially* useful amounts of heat you can use to run a domestic hot water, clothes drying or cooling system.
All the electricity for an average sized merkin's home in a shoebox. I'll believe it when I see it. The devil in this is the construction and the catalyst at the price point you need.
BTW The thing I saw in Popular Science (A *long* time ago) was a ceramic honeycomb with IIRC alternating channels for fuel, air and cooling.
Were they to get big wins off US dairy farmers (who generate *lots* of slurry ready for digesting) this might be quite a good idea. But *zero* emissions is BS *unless* you're one of those nutters who doesn't think CO2 is a pollutant
Oh wait, neither did shrub.
You do better in cost, efficiency and reliability with an internal combustion engine and a generator. Plus, SOFC's have the nasty problem that they can only be cycled from room temperature up to their operating temperature a very limited number of times as the stresses due to the various materials having large but different coefficients of thermal contraction causes microcracks ion the charge separation membrane which for SOFC's, is almost always made of YSZ (Yttria-stabilized zirconia). Those microcracks cause gas shorts, which cause the SOFC to consume its fuel in a manner that prevents electricity generation.
Anyway, there are many many SOFC companies out there, all very limited in their markets by the simple fact that an internal combustion engine and a generator beat fuel cells in every metric that matters except noise.
I am someone who has a little knowledge in this area, as I used to help make fuel cells for a UK based company.
Some of the SOFCs do have problems with cycling up and down, and just before I left, there were plans for one of their customers to use a couple of 250kW generators in conjunction with a large sodium/sulphur based battery to shave the peaks off the demand.
It seems that either the technology has advanced a great deal over the past 3 years, since a 250kW unit was about the size of a couple of portacabins and was around US$5000 a kW.
I don't know why the article states that Americans are not heavy users of natural gas. True, the infrastructure is only in the cities, but there it's pervasive. As anyone will tell you, it's better to heat with natural gas than electricity. As for rural Americans, as I am, the local propane company stops by once a month to top up our tank. We use it for heating and cooking.
Re the zero emissions, it's true that CH4 (methane) plus O2 (oxygen) creates only CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H20 (water). But...and this is a big but...real natural gas has impurities, as does the very air around us. How do these fare in the fuel cell?
"No one knows what Olkiluoto in Finland will cost or when it will open.
No one knows how much it will cost to finance any particular nuclear reactor (finance costs, interest, etc, being a major part of the economics of a nuclear station)."
That probably is because the companies involved haven't build a nuclear power station for the last 20 years (Tchernobyl etc). The Koreans are much better, because they have more recent experience.
Look at this nice little calculation:
Wholesale price = 8cent/kWH
Power: 1500 MW
Cost: 5 Billion Euros
Useful Operating Time: 30 years
Cost of Capital: 8 %
That results in
Revenue: 1.051.200.000 Euros / year
Interest Costs: 400000000 Euros (first year !)
Repayment: 166.666.666,67 Euros/year
That leaves you with the tidy sum of 484.533.333,33 Euros/year out of which you must pay
I am not working in the Energy sector, so I cannot say how expensive fuel is, but it looks like a money machine to me. It is also getting better at the rate of 13 million/year as you pay back on the initial price each year.
The consumption and price of leccy is only going up, so the numbers are probably getting even better !
"Some of the SOFCs do have problems with cycling up and down, and just before I left, there were plans for one of their customers to use a couple of 250kW generators in conjunction with a large sodium/sulphur based battery to shave the peaks off the demand."
the Sulphur battery bit sounds very like the Rolls Royce Marine solution they were offering.
On a side note a *lot* is made of the chief developers NASA links to their in-situ propellant programme. AFAIK this involve electrolysis of Carbon Dioxide (from the Martian atmosphere) to Carbon Monoxide and Oxygen. This background implies a controlled pyrolysis of the fuel to a CO (and H2) rich gas before the catalytic cell. In principle a neat sidestepping of the whole strip-the-hydrogen-out-of-the-hydrocarbon-first business.
But I don't think it was very efficient, merely that it could avoid a failure prone mechanical pump.
..can sustain a Thorium Fuel Cycle without high temperature operation, requiring neither Helium nor Sodium as a coolant:
CANDU is an acronmy for Canada Deuterium Uranium. Thorium is that abundant stuff that can power the world for that 5000 year period until we get fusion power realized.
"..can sustain a Thorium Fuel Cycle without high temperature operation, requiring neither Helium nor Sodium as a coolant:"
Unfortunately the high temperature is quite a nice feature oft these designs for efficiency reasons.
I rather like the CANDU design. Its neat sidestepping of the whole enrichment problem in particular. Easier to build (in principle), easier to reprocess the fuel.
It's 2 biggest problems are it seems to be quite proliferation resistant (making it unpopular with anyone who would at least like the *idea* that they could become a nuclear power) and it's Canadian. I cannot help but feel that it has suffered when people like GE, Westinghouse and General Atomics promoted their designs heavily.
Don't sodium sulphur batteries have their own problems with temperature cycling?
Lucas Chloride Electric Vehicles developed an apparently technically and economically practical sodium sulphur powered vehicle in the late 1970s (a Transit-class van based on the Bedford CF, aimed at the same kind of market that the lithium-powered LDV Electric Maxus was targeting till Lord "Two Resignations" Mandelson of Ill Repute signed their death warrant a few months ago).
Sodium sulphur batteries. They're hot.
It seems to be becoming fashionable in certain quarters to slag off the transmission losses incurred by using Grid-based supply.
This is really quite silly for more reasons than I have time to document, but here are some starters.
The grid losses are small enough to not worry about in comparison with other losses. The US numbers have already been mentioned, Mackay says the UK numbers are similar: "For the UK as a whole, the total losses of energy in the transmission network are only 8% of the generated electricity, and almost all of that loss is in the local network. Only about 1.5% of the generated electricity is lost in the long-distance network."
The energy wasted by ignoring the laws of thermodynamics (by ignoring opportunities for combined heat and power) far exceeds the grid transmission losses (factor of three, maybe?). CHP is tried tested and proven technology which the idiocies of the market have ignored; these same market-driven insanities led to decades worth of natural gas being wasted on the post-privatisation electricity industry "dash for gas", and now the UK is reliant on the nice people in Russia and Libya for our natural gas (and the US is in Afghanistan to protect its natural gas imports).
The grid gives us resilience, and long distance transmission so we can use power in places far away from the power source. The long distance aspect is particularly valuable for electricity from pumped storage, from nuclear power away from population centres, UK electricity imported from France, and maybe one day European electricity provided by Desertec (solar power generation in North African deserts, delivered to Europe by a long distance grid, backed by companies whose names you may even have heard of, unlike the BloomBolox).
Without some worthwhile kind of grid, every electricity user needs their own local microgeneration, and they may need their own local electricity storage and their own methods of resilience against failure. Without the grid, everybody needs enough capacity to supply their own maximum demand. With the grid, the resources for generation and (limited) storage can be shared, and the total installed capacity can be much less than if resources weren't shared by the grid (because not everyone uses their maximum demand at the same time, and because "interruptible" contracts become an option, and so on).
The grid makes feed-in tariffs possible, though not everyone is convinced they make sense; if they don't, it's not the Grid's fault, if they do, without the Grid they wouldn't exist.
That'll have to do for now.
The long distance grid. It's an asset, not a waste.
Electric grids 75
UK Water main 50%
Despite the UK water supply network loosing as much water per day per household as it supplies to the *same* household this (to water companies) is considered acceptable.
Fixing leaks is overhead.
Replacing pipe is overhead.
Thames Water (the top of the leaking league table) is owned by the German Eon, and made several hundred million pounds profit last year, like they do every other year.
But building a new reservoir (to make up the losses) is an asset. They can get bank loans, tax write offs and (probably) government grants for the work.
And there is *no* consumer choice. You cannot change supplier. There is *no* national grid for water or even an independent infrastructure supplier.
On that basis I'd say 7% losses (and their effects on electricity prices) are anywhere *near* the level needed to justify on site generation.
In the UK it would be better to roll out the legislation to allow local addition of Methane made by anaerobic digestion of meat and fruit waste into the gas supply. Something a *lot* of people would like.