Blooming Idiot Boxes

Another green technology scam with no increased benefits.

The Institute for Energy Research writes:

In 2010, fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy unveiled its “Bloom Energy Server.” The unveiling and subsequent press attention claimed that these “Bloom Boxes” were green, efficient and represented the future of energy production. But three years later it appears that Bloom Energy’s success can be attributed to savvy PR and government subsidies—not a superior product. After reviewing Bloom’s products in the real world, it appears that not only are Bloom Boxes functionally the same as natural gas power plants, but they are less efficient.

It Started with a Fawning Media

Bloom Energy generated buzz in 2010 after 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl became the first journalist to tour the Sunnyvale, California headquarters and look inside the top-secret “Bloom Box”. Stahl’s piece, however, was much closer to advertising than journalism. For example, Stahl starts, “In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention.”

Bloom’s good PR extends beyond Apple. A number of well-known companies have purchased Bloom Boxes, including Adobe, FedEx, Staples, Google, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart. One reason these companies signed up is because of government subsidies. As 60 Minutes explains, “In California 20 percent of the cost is subsidized by the state, and there’s a 30 percent federal tax break because it’s a ‘green’ technology. In other words: the price is cut in half.” Getting the price cut in half definitely makes expensive energy technology look appealing, especially if it has the veneer of being “green.”

While Bloom Boxes aren’t green (unless you consider natural power plants green), the most important question is whether Bloom Boxes are efficient. According to 60 Minutes, Google has some Bloom Boxes that “use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant.” The claim that Bloom Boxes are efficient does not stand up to scrutiny.

Is Bloom Green: Unboxing Bloom Energy’s Costs

A couple of engineers in California decided to compare Bloom’s energy efficiency with a cogeneration facility running on natural gas. These two engineers, Bob Spitzka and James Hall, have worked on the feasibility and design of nearly 100 cogeneration facilities and wanted to see how Bloom compared in terms of efficiency. After all, as 60 Minutes noted above, Bloom Boxes received subsidies because they are perceived as “green.”

Spitzka and Hall find that conventional cogeneration, which also produces usable heat, can achieve better CO2 reductions than Bloom Energy fuel cells when operating on the same fuel. The following chart compares a cogeneration unit to a Bloom Energy unit, each rated at 100 kw and operating 90 percent of the year:

cogen

As the chart shows, a conventional cogeneration unit would cost $500,000 less annually than a Bloom Energy unit. Moreover, the Bloom unit actually increases CO2 emissions by 98.2 tons per year, despite Bloom Energy’s claims that Bloom Boxes are better for the environment. Moreover, cogeneration is nothing new; the technology has existed for more than a century, yet these old units cost less and are more efficient than Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box.

more here: http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2013/06/18/the-bloom-is-off-bloom-energy/

57 thoughts on “Blooming Idiot Boxes

  1. This is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison; not all installations are going to have a use for the recoverable waste heat the cogen plant makes.

  2. denniswingo – that’s blooming hysterical. Wonder what kind of generators those ‘tourists’ were refurbishing.

  3. Coal can use cogen too. Efficiency can go from 45% to 80%, a 77% improvement, or a 44% reduction in fuel use for the same power delivery. That’s a 44% reduction in CO2 emissions as a bonus (the rest of us will be happier with lower energy costs).

    Of course, a 44% reduction in coal use is still considered “dirty energy” by the Climate Industrial Complex. Dirty energy makes dirty weather, of course. If you’ve had a lobotomy.

  4. I imagine waste heat isn’t always desirable in hot places like California, even when used to heat water, though I can see its utility in colder climes during winter. So it depends on where you’re installing it.

  5. Taking as a given Leslie Stahl’s conclusion
    [leaving aside the bogus math that she alleges got her there — $800,000 – (.2 x 800,000 cost + .3 x Fed. tax on the Bloom unit) = $400,000 — I-don’t-think-so!],

    even assuming her conclusion, the Bloom at $400,000 is still $100,000 more per unit than the Cogen. AND the Cogen generates thermal heat while the Bloom does not.

    Q. Is the reason businesses prefer the Bloom that the Cogen requires about double the Fuel Input and those particular businesses find that the thermal heat benefit of the Cogen is far outweighed by the cost of that Fuel Input?

    That is, while the purchase cost is higher, is the operating cost of the Bloom lower?

    ********************************
    All I can say is, REGARDLESS of the above actual costs and benefits, tax payers should not be funding anyone’s costs of production directly or, as here, paying people to buy their products (this is even WORSE, for it lets the producer charge a higher price regardless of cost of production!) — let the market sort out the winners and the losers!

    Way to get the truth out, A-th-y!

  6. And they are 2-tone drab to boot.

    Maybe they could produce some in nice colors – green, blue, pink, or camouflage based on the site, such as pine trees, sun flowers, or derelict alleyways. That ought to be worth a few bucks.

  7. Any electrical generator takes in fuel and produces heat and electricity. If you give yourself a credit for the waste heat, with an efficiency markup, then an inefficient generator is bound to score better than something that generates electricity without waste heat.

    The bottom line here is that the Bloom gets almost twice the electricity per unit fuel. That’s not bad.

  8. That table seems designed to deliberately confuse.

    For Bloom – 193.6 kW gas input = 100kW(e) output

    For CoGen – 375 kW gas input = 100kW(e) output + 205.1 kW (heat)

    IF you’ve got a complementary heating requirement, CoGen is a no-brainer.

  9. There are many problems with Bloom Solid Oxide Fuel Cells but the biggest:
    1. SOFC excessive cost per KW(e) installed is $8000 while a magnitude in order less is the marginal resource like a combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) at $700/KW(e).
    2. The SOFC may sport a higher Mechanical to Electric efficiency of 58-60% but not much higher than a CCGT approaching 55% for newer models.
    Bonus for Bloom:
    3. Although the Bloom is distributed generation (at the point of use) it is often sold on power reliability issues. However at $8000/KW(e) there are probably cheaper options: Standby gensets $1200/KW(e), UPS (Batteries and inverters) $1500/KW(e) or even flywheel rotational machinery such as Pillar for smaller outages measured in a few cycles.
    4. Typical installations are high profile type customers who can afford to take the credits on their own balance sheets or work with an investment group that can.
    5. The remaining payback after goodies is a total spark spread calculation.

    Although the science is pretty cool behind the SOFC, the economics still leave a substantial gap for commercialization.

  10. “Another green technology scam with no increased benefits.”

    Not quite true.
    The snake-oil salesmen from Bloom Energy did quite well.

  11. Janice Moore says:

    June 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    “…..let the market sort out the winners and the losers!”….
    ==============
    Took a while, but it is like releasing a fox in the hen house.
    There is something about foxes, they just kill everything in the house.

  12. Ashby, get up to speed waste heat is great for running air conditioning and making hot water. Saves a bundle.

    Nick Stokes, wrong, you look at total usable energy. Use the waste heat simply and effectively.

  13. IER link: “The ill-fated VTA arrangement exposes the real costs of buying Bloom Boxes. According to VTA, a 400 KW system would cost $5.8 million, or $14,500 a KW in capital costs. To put this in perspective, conventional combined cycle natural gas plant only costs $1,017 per KW in capital costs.”

    Solar PV panels are about 1 euro / watt one-off retail price in Europe now. Plus some for the associated electronics. Makes Bloom , blooming expensive.

    If they’d added some thermal solar to the CHP unit they could have totally eliminated the boiler fuel consumption.

    However, I’m not sure that this comparison is totally honest because it _assumes_ that you need and use all the heat produced by the CHP system all year round.

    Do the sites being considered need serval 100kW of hot water 24/7 during the summer? I doubt it. Which means the “fuel credit” is like most “credits” in energy discussions: largely ficticious.

  14. I will spell it out hopefully for nick

    Say your total demand for electricity is 100kw covering electricity, air conditioning and hot water.

    The Bloom 100 kw unit, costs so much and consumes so much fuel

    Now go cogen, you only need a 30kw unit, that supplies your electricity demand, the waste heat provides the rest.

    Result, less fuel consumption, less capital cost.

    Simple,

  15. Joe Public says: That table seems designed to deliberately confuse.

    Yes, I also did not like using two different units of power that makes the number inverifyable without further research.

    Like I said above, you actually have to NEED that much heat for the calculations to be valid. Their use of different units seems intended to mask the obvious flaw that you probalby don’t. It seems no one is capable of an honest presentation on energy issues any more , it always has to be spun one way or another.

  16. In Manhattan, AC units can be run by steam power to cool buildings.

    http://www.coned.com/steam/kc_faqs.asp

    How does steam produce air-conditioning?

    Large buildings use machines called chillers to provide the cooling effect. A chiller removes heat from a liquid (typically water). This chilled water is then used to cool and dehumidify the air. Chillers use two methods to cool the water. These are called the vapor compression and absorption refrigeration cycles. Both methods evaporate a refrigerant at a low pressure and condense the refrigerant at a higher pressure.

    The vapor compression cycle uses a mechanical compressor to create the pressure difference necessary to circulate the refrigerant. This is the same technology used in home window air-conditioning, except that a steam turbine can replace the electric motor to drive the turbine. With steam, a building will use less electricity during peak periods.

    In the second method, the absorption cycle, water is evaporated to provide the cooling and is then absorbed by a salt solution. Steam heat can be used to boil off the water in order to start the cycle again. Besides saving electricity, absorption chillers do not use chemicals that can harm the ozone layer, as the vapor compression method often does.

  17. Try to run Your computer on waste heat at “low” temperatures.
    Waste heat is useful only if You have som practical use of it.
    All this cooling tower with vapor cloud AGW side love to show as CO2 polluter is, You may guessed it, waste heat. To no practical use.
    Cogeneration is perfect in colder climate where You can use the low temperature heat to as an example use it for house heating. But the electrical load in southern USA is higher in summer than in winter. Only usable heat sink in summer would be old fashion chillers. But it is still cheaper to dump the waste heat and use a electric compressor for cooling than to use large chillers.

  18. Grey Lensman says: June 24, 2013 at 11:23 pm
    “Nick Stokes, wrong, you look at total usable energy. Use the waste heat simply and effectively.”

    Well, if you wanted electricity, you’re not going to get much out of waste heat. If you just want warmth, you could generate 193 kW with the 12.8 therm/hr fuel (Bloom), and use the extra 93 kW to pump heat; you’d need a COP of 2.2 to break even. And if you want to use the cogen waste heat for something else, that’s another thing to buy, with limited prospects.

  19. Nick, electricity is just a means to an end. Air conditioning and water heating use the most electricity. So providing them via waste heat makes a lot of sense. In this context, it is vital to make the distinction as I show in my example given above.

    Nick, as you seem so keen to save the planet and push economy, why do you refuse to see the full efficiency, using the wider spectrum of energy available to us.

    The simple figures speak for themselves.

    Here we use waste heat from air conditioners to heat water. Very very efficient and cost effective

  20. I’ve just done a quick check on UK prices. According to Energy Saving Trust, gas on average costs £0.0464 per kWh, while electricity is £0.1532 per kWh. So the cost for 100kWh of electricity bought from the grid would be £15.32, and generated from this Bloom device would be (193.6*0.0464=) £8.98. So the saving is £6.34 per 100kWh. If this thing costs $800k (about £500k) you would therefore have to generate almost 8 million kWh to break even. And that’s ignoring space costs, maintenance, and cashflow. These things should be sold to power generation companies, not to consumers!

  21. Typo: “(unless you consider natural power plants green)” should be: “(unless you consider natural gas power plants green)”.

    So far nobody has raised the issues related to how long the systems last and how much it costs to keep them running. Neither fuel cells nor engines last forever.

  22. Hi Anthony,

    Thank you for an important post. However, the case is even stronger than you suggest. I will try to fill in the details, and maybe other readers can help fix any errors.

    We have twelve Bloom boxes at Caltech. In addition to the subsidies that were mentioned (30% federal, 20% state), I believe that they were also eligible for the CA SGIP (self-generation) program $2.50/W and for the biogas subsidy $2.40/W (we do not actually consume biogas, but someone burns biogas somewhere, and we get the credit somehow.) That would bring the total subsidies close to $8/W. Presumably it is not a coincidence that this was the price you quoted. The lifetime of the fuel cells appears to be about two years, based on our conversations with the maintenance people.

    For comparison, Caltech also has a combined-cycle cogen plant, which also uses natural gas. Our cost was $1/W, and it also provides the heat for the entire campus. This plant does not receive any subsidies. The turbine has a lifetime of 5 years.

    I think the key to understanding all of this is the political connections of the venture capital firm that funded Bloom, Kleiner Perkins. Al Gore is a partner.

  23. Thats cool. I assume waste heat to heat the water is very efficient. How efficient is using waste heat to run the AC?

  24. (…and just for the record, I’m skeptical about green energy that requires huge subsidies to pencil out, but I like the comparison to be fair.)

  25. ” The lifetime of the fuel cells appears to be about two years, based on our conversations with the maintenance people.”

    Aaagh….. the critical comment! Not to mention the subsidies….Not to mention the comparisons with (larger scale) co-gen…..

    Noted that our good ol’ resident warmista Nick Stokes didn’t touch on these uissues!

    No matter. He’s probably got shares in (Aussie) Ceramic Fuel Cells (ASX: CFC), yet another scam of the same stripe.

  26. I agree with others who suggest that the article is a little misleading. Joe Public sums it up well (
    June 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm). For once, I appear to agree with Nick Stokes ( June 24, 2013 at 10:55 pm ).

    It all depends upon whether you want/can use the waste heat. Even in a warm environment, such as California, waste heat could be useful since it could be used to power some other applcation, possibly air con, or the like.

    If, in your application, waste heat is not desirable and cannot conveniently be used, then the Bloom Energy product would appear a useful choice. If on the other hand, your application can make use of the waste heat, then the Bloom Energy product is not as good (or efficient overall) as Cogen.

    One should not indulge in green energy bashing siimply because it is green, or is claimed to be green (most so called green applications are not as green as claimed).

  27. Hey Richard. Don’t forget to amortise the cost of the Bloom Boxes over 2 – 3 years, i.e. the miserable lifetime of the current ceramic fuel cells (refer Dave Rutledge’s post). Then your math simply enters the realm of the Wizard of Oz….How would you feel if your PV solar panels lasted 2 – 3 years instead of 20 – 25 years????

  28. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    Bloom called me in late 2010 and offered me a job. I was skeptical and even asked how prospects were. I specifically asked how the units were working after installation. Of course, I was talking to an HR rep, but assurances were glowing. Regardless, I’m glad I didn’t significantly consider taking the job. The salary was rather sad in my opinion, as well.

  29. I don’t know what they are made of, but that looks like a hell of a lot of metallic minerals in one of those things, and I’ve never met a greenie who thinks mining is green.

  30. The Bloom Box is generating on site where as the Co-gen plant is generating its electricity remotely. Where is the transmission line loss (resistance = heat loss) accounted for with the Co-gen calculation?

  31. Dave Rutledge says:
    June 25, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Thank you Dave; that is exactly the kind of comparison this discussion needs. Could you possibly supply more detail? The DOE uses “levelized cost” calculations to compare different power generation technologies. Do you have enough information to do such a calculation for the Bloom units?

    Nick Stokes is making the point that allowing a credit for recovered heat distorts the comparison and in principle he’s correct. Others make the point the various government subsidies provided for the Bloom units distort the comparison and they are equally correct.

    Yale University has both cogen plants (one 16 MW and one 10 mW) as well as a natural gas fuel cell (not a Bloom model; made by a CT company) of 256 kW. The fuel cell also produces waste heat which is used to heat the building (Peabody Museum), so it appears to operate by a different mechanism than the Bloom units; I thought all fuel cell technologies also produced heat. How are the Bloom units different?

    One of the reasons cogen plants are so attractive is precisely because they make effective use of waste heat, so there is in effect less waste — total CCGT efficiency can top 70%. This only works if you use the heat reasonably close to where it is generated, which makes them especially suitable for campus-sized installations. Yale University (New Haven, CT where I once worked until 1992), like many college/university campuses already had central heating plants and a network of steam tunnels to heat many of their approximately 200 buildings in the main campus. They also had their own local electric distribution grid. So it was a relatively simple matter to gut an existing heating plant and install a cogen unit. In the summer when building heat is not needed, the waste heat can be used to produce refrigeration by a gas absorption cycle.

    The reason Yale didn’t do this years earlier was political. Commercial accounts pay a much higher rate than residential and the effect of a major consumer such as Yale (largest single customer of United Illuminating at the time) leaving the system would be to raise residential rates. I guess the cost benefit to the University simply got to the point where they couldn’t ignore it any more. They installed the 16 mW unit in 1993 and the 10 mW one a few years later, with the historically low price of natural gas due to fracking, those decisions must be looking awfully good now.

  32. Bloom Boxes also give off way more Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than natural gas power plants.

    “Also buried on page 161 of the permit application is a Table 2 notation that says these 235 “clean” servers would emit 22.56 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per day. But Delaware, like other states, regulates VOC emissions at far lower levels (Maryland, for instance, regulates boat repair shops that emit more than 15 pounds per day). Moreover, if the same amount of power had been generated by combined cycle gas turbines, only 0.249 pounds of VOCs would be emitted daily. That’s 90 times less pollution!”

    http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/03/hype-around-bloom-energy-justified/

  33. Commie Bob said

    Quote

    So far nobody has raised the issues related to how long the systems last and how much it costs to keep them running. Neither fuel cells nor engines last forever.

    Unquote

    The very first hydro electric generating system is still operating and delivering power. It was built in 1868

  34. Alan Watt says

    quote

    Nick Stokes is making the point that allowing a credit for recovered heat distorts the comparison and in principle he’s correct. Others make the point the various government subsidies provided for the Bloom units distort the comparison and they are equally correct.

    Unquote

    No he is not nor are you. Energy out is energy out.

  35. Barry Hoffman says

    Quote

    The Bloom Box is generating on site where as the Co-gen plant is generating its electricity remotely. Where is the transmission line loss (resistance = heat loss) accounted for with the Co-gen calculation?

    Unquote

    Barry you need to get up to speeds, many cogen sets available in that size range for on site use, built as a complete integrated package, no transmission losses.

  36. RE: Ashby says:
    June 24, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I imagine waste heat isn’t always desirable in hot places like California, even when used to heat water, though I can see its utility in colder climes during winter. So it depends on where you’re installing it.

    ===============================================

    Only the inland part of CA is hot, and only in the summer.
    CA tends toward a mild climate in the heavily populated coastal and near coastal areas.

  37. What the discussion here shows is that there is no single best method to use gas to generate useable energy. If you can use a co-gen system, you are probably going to be more efficient, but if you are only looking at electricity production (for non-heating/cooling purposes) then the Bloom box does work.

    However, the critical line to me is this one from a commentor with some actual experience:

    “The lifetime of the fuel cells appears to be about two years, based on our conversations with the maintenance people.”

    Wow, just wow. All that investment and still just a two year lifetime. Without going into manufacturing costs (and the energy involved in that), this would turn me off making a push for these as an infrastructure development. I get a longer lifetime out of my PC!

  38. I question the magnitudeof the benefit of the waste heat. For one thing, I thought most building heating systems nowadays are more than 75% efficient. Also, at some times in most locations,
    buildings don’t need heat but air conditioning.

  39. Rob Potter says:
    June 25, 2013 at 7:53 am
    “However, the critical line to me is this one from a commentor with some actual experience:
    “The lifetime of the fuel cells appears to be about two years, based on our conversations with the maintenance people.””

    Probably the carbon pollutes the electrodes. This was also a problem, only worse, in molten carbonate fuel cells which consume hydrocarbons. That’s why you traditionally run fuell cells on H2 only.

    Too bad. I thought those Bloom boxes had solved that problem.

  40. James at 48 says (June 25, 2013 at 7:40 am): “Only the inland part of CA is hot, and only in the summer. CA tends toward a mild climate in the heavily populated coastal and near coastal areas.”

    Falsely attributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

  41. Moreover, the Bloom unit actually increases CO2 emissions by 98.2 tons per year, despite Bloom Energy’s claims that Bloom Boxes are better for the environment.

    Please don’t fall for that argument. Now you’re conceding that CO2 emissions are pollution and bad for the environment. I personally feel that any CO2 emissions are benign.

  42. Pointing out the CO2 emissions are higher is not conceding that CO2 is bad, just pointing out that the units fail even on their own terms. Sold as “GREEN”, yet produce more CO2, consume more fuel per useful watt, and wear out faster than the conventional alternative.

  43. To Barry Hoffman, Alan Watt, Richard Verney, and others

    Some additional comments on Caltech’s experience. Again, I would appreciate it if anyone can correct errors.

    Our Bloom boxes and our combined-cycle cogen plant are on both campus, so there are no transmission-line loss issues.

    Our cogen plant is optimized to deliver both heat and electricity. The efficiency for electricity is 40%. When the heat is included, the combined efficiency is in the low 80s. It is interesting that even in our mild climate, we ran out of heat first, and we had to convert our heat-based ammonia chiller to an electrical refrigerator a while back.

    The effect of the short fuel-cell lifetime shows up in high electricity costs, because the subsidies do not cover the replacement cells. Our cogen plant costs us 9 cents per kilowatt hour (and we get heat), while we pay Bloom 14 cents per kilowatt hour for the fuel-cell electricity. In our market 14 cents per kWh would be fine for solar (we actually only pay 12 cents per kWh to the company that installed 1.2MW of PV over our parking lots), because it is less than what the city of Pasadena charges us for afternoon power. However, the Bloom box electricity comes day and night, and at night we generate too much power and have to sell it to the city at a loss at the low night-time rate.

    The one advantage for us of fuel cells is that the operating temperatures are lower than in the gas turbine, and we do not have to monitor the NOx emissions for the Southern California Air Quality Management District. This is actually a big deal. Air pollution is a bipartisan issue in Los Angeles.

    Also a general comment. If fuel cells and combined-cycle plants are both optimized for electricity only, the efficiencies are similar.

  44. Barry Hoffman says:
    June 25, 2013 at 6:02 am
    The Bloom Box is generating on site where as the Co-gen plant is generating its electricity remotely. Where is the transmission line loss (resistance = heat loss) accounted for with the Co-gen calculation?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Co-Gen facilities are always located next to the users. Typically Universities have heating plants located on campus and you can use co-gen for district heating and many other applications. In a former life I did a number of co-gen studies for power plants etc. to determine economic uses of waste heat in remote communities. Take a look at places where co-generation and district heating are used. It is not unusual. Manhattan heats 100,000 buildings. You can use a heat exchanger for cooling. A quick search before posting would suffice. But, you posted your stance and that’s ok. I judy posted mine. And I have cogeneration in my house. I use a water to water heat exchanger for part of the heat in my house and I use the waste heat to heat my domestic hotwater. None of this is difficult.

  45. Grey Lensman says:
    June 25, 2013 at 7:13 am

    No he is not nor are you. Energy out is energy out.

    The chart is not a fair comparison. Unless the Bloom units are different from other fuel cells, they also generate heat and should be given an appropriate credit. See here for a description of how Fuel Cell Energy units work (the supplier of the natural gas unit installed at the Peabody Museum at Yale University ). Their description states the waste heat is enough to boil water into steam. Using waste heat from the fuel cell to heat the Museum building was part of the benefit.

    I was frankly very surprised that a CCGT plant took just under double the fuel to generate the same 100 kW of power (from their chart). If the sole purpose is to generate electricity and you can’t use waste heat, then according to their chart the Bloom units provide a better return for a given amount of natural gas. CCGT cogen installations make especially good sense in those circumstances where you can use the waste heat.

    However if the capital expense is $500,000 more per year for the Bloom units, then they don’t make sense even if they save half the fuel.

  46. Dave Rutledge:

    However, the Bloom box electricity comes day and night, and at night we generate too much power and have to sell it to the city at a loss at the low night-time rate.

    You can’t throttle the Bloom units down?

    Also, what are the capacities of the Caltech cogen and Bloom plants? 100kW is a small power plant; I’m sure there are many buildings on your campus which use more than that.

  47. Hi Alan,

    The cogen is 12.5MW and runs 24/7 except for maintenance. There are twenty 100kW Bloom boxes (I was mistaken earlier). They also run 24/7 except for maintenance. Here is the description

    http://www.sustainability.caltech.edu/documents/94-energy_portfolio.pdf

    Net, we generate 91% of our electricity (this number and the costs in the earlier comment are for FY2012), buying extra from the city during the day and selling surplus to the city at night.

  48. Barry Hoffman says:
    June 25, 2013 at 6:02 am
    The Bloom Box is generating on site where as the Co-gen plant is generating its electricity remotely. Where is the transmission line loss (resistance = heat loss) accounted for with the Co-gen calculation?

    There are transmission costs to the Blooming Idiot Boxes to consider, as well. It costs something to move natural gas through a pipeline.

  49. Thermal efficiency is just less than 52% for a bloom box. This is about the same as a modern nat gas cogen plant, maybe just a bit less than the most modern cogen plants. And use of waste heat is not an option. The second law ALWAYS gets in the way.

  50. For the people that think absorption chillers are cost effective with waste heat I suggest that you check efficiencies. Unless you are throwing waste heat out (which is not available on the bloom box) electric chillers are far and away a better bet. P.S. for the people who have not taken thermo, you must add in all parasitic losses like cooling towers for the heat rejection, pumps for the heat exchangers and so forth. I have done a couple of experiments with 30KWe turbines and single effect absorbers: net effect 42% NET efficiency. Not good.

  51. Chris G, Suggest you look what is available on the market. Why chuck waste heat out. Air conditioning, water heating and space heating are the three biggest users of electricity. Use it wisely, save money.

    You will be surprised that they dont have cooling towers, etc.

  52. I saw the original 60 Minutes airing about the Bloom Box. When they said it was using natural gas, I knew right then it had to be emitting CO2 and water. I listened very carefully for any claims that it did not emit CO2 and heard them skirt around the issue but they did not make that claim. I agree, this is no “greener” than a combustion turbine combined cycle unit. Those units, that use “waste heat” to generate steam and make electricity, no cogeneration or CHP, have efficiencies approaching 60% on the most advanced models, better than fuel cells. But you may want to note that in Connecticut, fuel cells are considered “renewable” by law.

    And waste heat. Every solid oxide fuel cell I know of runs at a rather high temperature so the exhaust should be hot enough to recover the heat. It just appears they have not elected to do so, it does have more capital cost. If you are using many small generating units, the costs go up, it is more economical to collect the heat from a single source. But, you can use the exhaust from a fuel cell to generate steam for cogeneration or for making electricity from an organic Rankine cycle, the first is in actual use and the second type is under construction.

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