Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bloom Energy Founder KR Sridhar Interview

Both Brian Westenhaus and Brian Wang have been reporting on the Bloom Energy fuel cell which was highlighted on the US TV show "60 Minutes" recently as an energy breakthrough. Both Brians provide useful insights into what is happening behind the headlines.

The interviewer in the video above attempts to discover from Bloom's founder, "what is so special about Bloom's fuel cells?" Sridhar answers in general terms, providing some intriguing hints. One cannot expect Sridhar to divulge trade secrets in such a competitive environment, and in advance of a public stock offering.

The Bloom fuel cells can apparently be "run backwards" to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. That was the original idea Sridhar had for NASA -- to create oxygen for Mars' atmosphere. That project was cancelled, but the idea survived and was developed.
Sridhar (in the video and earlier in the day) also explains how Bloom may enhance the fuel cell in the future for a push into the domestic market in about a decade and the enhancement represents both a step forward and a step back. Carbon dioxide and water are byproducts of the gas-to-electricity reaction. By adding some additional "plumbing" components, the fuel cell can capture the water, run it through the fuel cell later and produce hydrogen. Hydrogen could then be stored until needed to power a car or provide electricity to a home.

The water-to-hydrogen reaction will require additional electricity. Bloom suggests that solar panels can provide this power. Although the fuel cell could do this reaction now, Bloom isn't putting in the components because the market isn't ready, said Sridhar. So having a path to energy storage: a step forward.

So what is the step back? Bloom's patents discuss taking both the carbon dioxide and hydrogen, running them through the fuel cell and producing a methane-like fuel. _GreenTechMedia
If Bloom Energy has solved some of the harder problems of fuel cells -- as Sridhar claims -- we may be seeing some disruptive new technology coming from the company. Up to this point, we seem to be seeing what is in many ways a better fuel cell.

Sridhar plans to sell large units only for at least a decade. These could be used as power backup units for corporations, factories, hospitals, city disaster units, and even large power utilities. The cost of power production is still too expensive to use Bloom units as primary substitutes for coal, nuclear, or gas powered generators.



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