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Power Science

New Fuel Cell Twice As Efficient As Generators 246

Posted by kdawson
from the when-and-how-much dept.
Hank Green writes "A new kind of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell has been developed that can consume any kind of fuel, from hydrogen to bio-diesel; it is over two times more efficient than traditional generators. Acumentrics is attempting to market the technology to off-grid applications (like National Parks) and also for home use as personal Combined Heat and Power plants that are extremely efficient (half as carbon-intensive as grid power.)"
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New Fuel Cell Twice As Efficient As Generators

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  • The Product Page (Score:5, Informative)

    by Evets (629327) * on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:00AM (#19380215) Homepage Journal
    Here's a direct link to the fuel cells: http://www.acumentrics.com/products-power-generato rs.htm [acumentrics.com]
    • by samkass (174571) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:26AM (#19380427) Homepage Journal
      "This revolutionary power system contains an array of solid-state tubes"

      Remember: it's a bunch of tubes, not a big truck!

      I don't see a price on that page, by the way...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        How much does a system cost?
        List price for a 5 kW unit is $175,000. Present systems are still demonstration units and carry the cost associated with not only the system itself but some custom engineering which typically results from each customer's intended installation. Acumentrics normally provides site installation support and monitoring which is also provided in the quotation.
        • Re:The Product Page (Score:5, Informative)

          by WED Fan (911325) <(akahige) (at) (trashmail.net)> on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:37AM (#19381077) Homepage Journal

          5 kW unit is $175,000

          Wow, and at HomeDepot, I can get a 7kW Generator with a 12 hour run-time @ half usage, for around $550. Sure, it produces carbons, but, I'm willing to bet that if the price of gasoline doubled, I still wouldn't be able to off-lay the cost of the fuel cell in this lifetime.

          The trick to getting the American public to switch to greener alternative power systems is:

          • Make it cheaper than the current system
          • Demonstrate that it screws OPEC and Oil and Power Corporations
          • Make it tax exempt for the first 10 years (thus demonstrating you are screwing the Government, as well
          • Make it the next entreup...entr...next great business to break into. In otherwords, make it so Joe Bluecollar can install the powerplant into a home, turn it into a business of taking Bob Whitecollar off the grid, thus, allowing early to market Joe Bluecollars to become the next set of millionaires.

          Oh, did I mention that it should demonstrate the ability to SCREW over OPEC, Government, and Corporations?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Oh, did I mention that it should demonstrate the ability to SCREW over OPEC, Government, and Corporations?


            Ya know, this fuel-cell thingy has an Ethernet port on it. So if someone could find a way to add a really slick, totally anonymous P2P client on the thing, and it could demonstrate the ability to also SCREW over the RIAA, MPAA, Disney, all makers of DRM, and maybe some spammers, too, we would just be ALL set, now wouldn't we?

          • Re:The Product Page (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Retric (704075) on Monday June 04, 2007 @09:01AM (#19381307)
            There is a huge difference between 12 hour run-time @ half usage and a 24/7 workhorse for remote locations that may see 1 person every 6 months. Assuming this is significantly more reliable than a system with far more moving parts you might be able to replace 2 30k generators with this and get more fuel efficiency.

            So where 175k may be way over the top at 50k these could sell like hot cakes.
          • by Aladrin (926209) on Monday June 04, 2007 @09:03AM (#19381323)
            Your assumption about the price of gasoline doubling... I think that's pretty much a given. We -know- there's a limited amount of fuel in the world. We think we know about how much. We know we use more every year than the previous year.

            At some point, gasoline is going to be too expensive to use as common fuel. It maybe in 10 years, like they've predicted for the last 15 or 20 years, or it maybe in in 30 or 40... But I expect to live that long. If the price hasn't doubled again in the next 10 years, I'll be very surprised.

            You said 'lifetime', and I assume you meant yours. But let's assume you meant 'lifetime of the generator', because they won't last forever. At current prices, it definitely makes sense to buy the gas generator, as it's unlikely they'll both last more than 10 or 15 years.

            But the price of a brand new product is always inflated to make back R&D costs quickly, then drops for sale to the less affluent folk in the world. Better production technology helps bring the cost down, too. I seriously doubt the hardware itself actually costs $175k... At a guess, let's say it comes down to 1/100th of that, $17.5k... It won't be long until it's a lot cheaper than the gas version.

            In short, comparing the price of a newly-announced product to the price of a product that's been common for years doesn't work well in the long run.

            I definitely agree with the 'screw over opec/etc', though... Even if it costs more, many people will be willing to adopt it for just that purpose.
            • by Rei (128717) on Monday June 04, 2007 @10:42AM (#19382691) Homepage
              We -know- there's a limited amount of fuel in the world.

              Then you *know* wrong. Worst case, we can make petroleum from carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide plus water and energy, via Fisher-Tropsh or Sabatier synthesis. You require that there be a concept of "peak energy", not "peak oil", which is something that few are arguing for. Technically, sure, there will be peak energy eventually. There's a few hundred years of coal in known reserves (coal exploration hasn't been done all that widely since reserves are so well known, but power usage will continue to grow). If you consider the use of breeder reactors, thorium, and seawater fuel extraction, at current energy consumption there's ~10k years of nuclear fuel at current consumption rates (hard to predict how our usage needs will be that far out). Deuterium-based fusion (we sure have a long time to get it right...), hundreds of thousands to millions of years at current rates. Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and proton-proton fusion, billions of years.

              Of course, you don't have to resort to using H2O as your hydrogen feedstock for Fischer-Tropsh or Sabatier synthesis as long as we have coal for coal liquifaction, tar sands, methane hydrates/clathrates, TDP, possibly shale, biofuels for replacements, and so on. Many of these are nasty for the environment, but that doesn't change the fact that they are indeed fuel options.

              What's currently running out is cheap light natural sweet crude. That's all. The era of $1/gal gasoline is over. Welcome to the era of $2-4/gal gasoline.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Chris Burke (6130)
                Then you *know* wrong. Worst case, we can make petroleum from carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide plus water and energy, via Fisher-Tropsh or Sabatier synthesis.

                It was pretty obvious that he was talking about fuel that we pump up from the ground, not the end of all stored energy period (i hate when someone assumes a ludicrous position of their opponent so they can swear its wrong). This is fuel with the obvious advantage that we didn't need to spend any energy to create it, only to go get it. If we've gotte
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Linux_ho (205887)
                What's currently running out is cheap light natural sweet crude. That's all. The era of $1/gal gasoline is over. Welcome to the era of $2-4/gal gasoline. I think you're being unreasonably optimistic about our capacity for refine lower quality petroleum products. Over the next ten years we will certainly see $5-$10 per gallon and ridiculous price volatility as demand will far outpace the speed at which we can refine tar sands, etc into useful products.
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Rei (128717)
                  No, we won't. If oil stays over $30/barrel (which it almost certainly will), Alberta's oil boom will keep growing at an exponential rate. The bitumen reserves of Alberta alone are bigger than all of Saudi Arabia's conventional reserves. Even if Alberta decides to renegotiate its sweetheart deals or global warming regulation means the steam source must be from CANDUs, not natural gas, all that changes is the cutoff point -- $40, $50 a barrel.

                  The only thing that could send gas prices over $5/barrel is the
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Your assumption about the price of gasoline doubling... I think that's pretty much a given. We -know- there's a limited amount of fuel in the world. We think we know about how much. We know we use more every year than the previous year.

              I don't think it's a given at all. As oil becomes more expensive alternatives will become competitive and the price stabilizes, increases more slowly than predicted, or even falls as the alternatives become more efficient. Just sticking with alternative sources of petroleu
          • OPEC and Oil and Power Corporations
            And where are you going to get that propane or LPG from? Where do you think that stuff comes from anyway? Hell, even most of the hydrogen that's made today is pulled out of natural gas and who do you think gets that stuff out of the ground?
          • by houghi (78078)
            In short: Screw Haliburton!
          • Blue-collar (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mdsolar (1045926)
            Here's a chance to get the blue-collar side going: http://www.citizenre.com/web/index.php?p=franchise d [citizenre.com].
            --
            US job growth through solar power: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by WED Fan (911325)

              Remember the boom for computers? Gary Geek was the only guy in town that knew computers. In the 1980's, he set up a store, sold Geek Brand Computers that he built in the back. Wrote a small flat-file system to catalog the local radio stations music, and opened a BBS with 4, count them 4 modems.

              By the mid-80's, he was taking mail order for the computers he advertised in Byte and Computer Shopper.

              By the late 80's, he had closed his store front. Spun off his programming operations, and was building and shipp

              • Home fuel-cell installations will be the next big thing for the small guy to make big. The power companies would be wise to start backing them now. Subsidize them, let them get a good base then buy them out.

                "Home fuel-cell installations will be the next big thing for the small guy to make big. The power companies would be wise to ... buy them out."

                In Soviet Russia, you fight the power.
                In Corporate America, the power fights you!
          • by drix (4602)
            You prefer the carrot. I'll opt for the stick. I'll bet that if we priced in all the externalities associated with those carbon-spewing generators, in addition to looking at the PDV of the stream of fuel payments needed to feed each, the prices would be a lot more competitive. Not necessarily no-brainer competitive--$175k is still a lot to pay for 5kW--but all of these new technologies will some day come down in price, and when they do we need to level the playing field with a carbon tax. This problem of ig
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Locutus (9039)
            Yikes! The one thing that's never brought up about fuel cell technology when it's being pushed at the public as 'the next big thing' is that it is incredibly expensive technology. I've never heard anybody say it didn't work and this is one of the first times I heard any mention of efficiency. And you hardly ever hear it mentioned that the technology was invented in the early 1800s yet it's still hugely expensive. So much so that any real application for it is pie-in-the-sky-thinking until the price comes do
          • There will always be a cheaper method that gets there on the broken back of the environment. What you're asking for is essentially unreachable - after gas is exhausted there will be other polluting fuels, etc etc and on it goes. If cost is your sole decider it won't happen before you're dead, or your kids, or theirs - there will always be someone with a novel way to make a buck that harms the environment. Legal incentives are needed to encourage green alternatives.

            The argument that cost is the sole factor i
    • The story source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by trawg (308495) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:47AM (#19380601) Homepage
      ... and, here's a link to the story source [treehugger.com] - at least they referenced it in the article, but essentially its a rewrite of the treehugger item submitted as blogspam.

      While I'm whining, is there a template for stories about huge technological advances in energy production? Like "A startup has developed a new form of [insert name of your favourite green energy production system here]. It takes the existing process of [current way to produce power] and optimises it by [super high level technical details of magical new system], resulting in an efficiency improvement of [insert random number greater than 1 here, without citing details about how it was measured or what the costs of the new procedure are]. Read more about it on [insert link to your blog].
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by camperdave (969942)
        Hey! Great!... That one sure beats the template I've been using. <copy><paste>... Thanks.
      • Been needing one of those...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Dear Sir,

        Please cease and desist from using my intellectual property.

        Signed,

        R. Piquepaille
      • by Captain Sarcastic (109765) * on Monday June 04, 2007 @10:29AM (#19382503)
        Here are some reply templates, while we're at it.

        Reply Template #1

        Oh, wow! That's great! Too bad <insert name of particularly reviled industry> is going to buy it out before it gets big, just like it did with <insert name of 100-mpg-carburetor / perpetual motion machine / free energy source>!

        Reply Template #2

        Are you kidding? This was already published in <insert link and name of mainstream publication / snopes.com >. How is this "News for Nerds"?

        Reply Template #3

        It'll never work. This idea violates <insert name of sacred precept being violated, such as the first law of thermodynamics or the Boy Scout Law>. How could you have fallen for this, you idiot?

        Reply Template #4

        Frist P0st... oh, did someone beat me to that?

  • by tiedyejeremy (559815) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:06AM (#19380253) Homepage Journal
    More important than efficiency and cross platform mobility is...

    a good acronym.
    duh.

    I can't even talk about this without a decent acronym.

  • Any kind of fuel?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@NospAm.keirstead.org> on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:11AM (#19380287) Homepage
    What does that mean? Is this a Mr. Fusion type device I can run off of apple peels?

    Oh wait...

    "Acumentrics' 5000 Power System operates directly from natural gas, propane, biofuels, LPG or hydrogen. "

    Looks like once again the Slashdot summary is overblown and misleading.

    Anyway - sounds like a promising technology. I'll keep tabs on it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Elfich47 (703900)
      Well if you had a large enough septic tank you could used the methane that is generated in the septic tank to power your Fuel Cell. Usually this is done on farms with a couple hundred cattle where there is enough poop to go around.
    • From Acumentrics's website, "The fuel cells run on natural gas, propane, ethanol, diesel, biogas, and biodiesel --because they can disassociate fuels in the tube, via in-situ reformation."
    • by Kythe (4779) on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:22AM (#19380953)

      Looks like once again the Slashdot summary is overblown and misleading.


      Not really -- it's a matter of semantics. The summary is using "fuel" not to mean "anything", but rather, "fuel" as we think of it currently in common parlance. And as the summary immediately follows with examples, I think it's pretty clear what's being talked about.

      I'm all for criticism where it's warranted, but in this case, I think the summary is actually rather good.
    • They are not new (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)
      Solid oxide fuel cells are not new. They've been on the market since at least the 1990's, and SOFC research goes back to the 1930's. They're less expensive than PEM fuel cells, but also heavier. They have higher operating temperatures and must be warmed up to achieve peak output. The high temperature has both advantages and disadvantages.

      If I understand right, the flexible fuel use is one of the advantages of the high temperatures (along with non-catalytic electrodes that aren't adversely affected by car
  • by phatlipmojo (106574) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:12AM (#19380291)
    Something catchy. How about Mr. Fusion?
  • Not perfect ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:16AM (#19380329)
    ... but important nonetheless. It will certainly be cheaper than newer "hydrogen only" technologies coming out and will allow small areas (from rural US to many locations in developing countries) to produce energy for 1/2 the fuel and CO2 emissions. Improvements in efficiency are a step in the right direction. Not everyone (or everywhere) will be making the big energy leaps at the same time or the same pace.
    • Re:Not perfect ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by samkass (174571) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:23AM (#19380399) Homepage Journal
      If technologies like this and cheap solar become commonplace, the model of the electrical grid that distributes power from one huge generator to a million consumers can be revised. I think that's good not only for carbon emissions, but for the losses due to transmission, the ugly high-tension wires crisscrossing the country, and the likelihood of outages. If we have a hundred thousand tiny generators on the grid, it seems like everyone wins except the power companies.
      • Re:Not perfect ... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:43AM (#19380567) Homepage
        I still wonder about the costs of transporting the fuel. If you have to transport a couple hundred litres of fuel (I'm not sure on the amount) to each house every month, then is that more or less efficient than delivering truckloads of fuel to a single power plant. Obviously, it's easier to just truck it all to one place, but does it offset the efficiency lost from line transmission. Obviously it would still be a lot less connected and prone to failure, and there would be no high tension lines. However, I think that people may end up paying less if they had a choice (gas, coal, oil, hydrogen, biodeisel) as to who they bought their fuel supply from every month.
        • Re:Not perfect ... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Angostura (703910) on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:36AM (#19381073)
          Certainly in the UK, most houses have residential natural gas supplies for cooking and heating. I've been waiting for several years for a small residential combined heat-and-power boiler to become available so I could heat the house and generate electricity as a by-product. However all the companies I have investigated have been stuck at the 'we will be producing prototypes for you to install next month' stage for the last two years :-(
          • by AndersOSU (873247)
            Good luck with that.

            The reason natural gas power plants have been falling out of favor is the extreme volatility in price of natural gas. Things might be different on that side of the pond, what with you guys being so close to the North Sea and Norway, but that volatility means you'd be paying less in the summer (when you don't need the heat) and paying a small fortune in the winter.

            Couple that with the nearly inevitable fact that a home unit will be less efficient than a power plant, and I'd be willing to
            • Re:Not perfect ... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by xelah (176252) on Monday June 04, 2007 @11:36AM (#19383451)
              I think you may have missed the point of combined heat and power. The idea is to generate electricity and heat simultaneously in the winter instead of just heat. As you no doubt know, power stations throw away two-thirds of the energy going in in the form of heat released in to the environment (AFAIK there are no cases in the UK where this heat is pumped in to homes). Combined heat and power in a home can be MORE efficient overall than a power station even if it produces less electricity from the input because it can use a large amount of what would have been waste heat.


              You'd only use such a generator when you want heat and not when you just want electricity. The rest of the time you'd use mains electricity.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hcdejong (561314)
            Some Googling found me at least one company [magicboiler.com] that seems to have progressed to the production stage. I searched for "micro-wkk" (wkk = 'warmtekrachtkoppeling', Dutch for combined heat-and-power boiler)
            Asking price is 10k Euro for the smallest model (1 kW electrical, 14 kW heat), that's incl installation. Most of their info in Dutch, though.
        • Why truck when you can pipe? Of course you have to plan, lay, bury, and pump all that, but still.
        • by CmdrGravy (645153)
          If this sort of thing really were to take off then the chances are the fuel would be piped into peoples houses. The UK uses natural gas in most homes for cooking and heating and this is piped around rather than being shipped by truck.

          I, obviously, haven't bothered reading the article, or the summary much so I don't know if this thing can work off natural gas. If not I don't know how much harder it is to pipe diesal into peoples homes or whatever but I'm sure the payoff would beat mass truckage in the long t
      • Re:Not perfect ... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DrWho520 (655973) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:51AM (#19380643) Journal
        These are going to cost a pretty penny for a while, but I would be willing to invest if the cost of ownership and lifetime were reasonable. They are solid state, so they should last a while. Looking at the spec sheet, there is a sulfur filter that needs to be changed every 9000 hours. How much do those cost? Also, you need a quote to get warranty information. I wonder how much service costs? Can I learn to do it myself? A second life as a fuel cell technician would definitely be a refreshing change from a software engineer. Oh, and the operating range is 0-5000ft.

        The spec sheet: http://www.acumentrics.com/243ebdc5-db1f-410d-9914 -cff857f5223f/Link.pdf [acumentrics.com]
        The home version: http://www.acumentrics.com/6d853cb3-92b2-46f3-b7f5 -920bb4d238a3/Link.pdf [acumentrics.com]
      • by Ngarrang (1023425)
        Something like this could especially help California and their rolling black-outs. If the home-unit prices are made affordable and produce enough power, people could power their AC units during the day without using the grid. Maybe. I only have experience with small window ACs.
    • by elwinc (663074) on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:15AM (#19380865)
      One of the big issues with off-grid power is how does the power generator behave under partial load; i.e. does efficiency get lousy when you only need 25% or 50% of rated output? For example, one poster points out that in a co-generation system, diesel can hit 90%. This is at higher loads where the diesel is most efficient. I'm wondering because you have to devote some energy to keeping the 'solid oxide' (AKA catalyst?) hot.

      By the way, from Acumentrics FAQ:

      How is Acumentrics technology different from its competitors?
      Tolerant of repeated thermal cycling (over 100 v. fewer than 15 for others)
      That means you can shut it down about 100 times. Any more shutdowns and you may start to damage your unit. So if your nighttime load is near zero, sorry unlike a diesel, no cutover to batteries. You gotta keep the generator hot. This is gonna adversely affect the efficiency of home use.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:19AM (#19380357)
    This thing costs $175,000. How much does a 5kW Diesel cost? Even with a 45% electrical efficiency it's going to take rather a long time to pay for itself. For cogeneration a Diesel is just as useful and yup, can also hit the 90% efficiency range.

     
    • For cogeneration a Diesel is just as useful and yup, can also hit the 90% efficiency range.
      That is not a fair comparasion. You mite want to check those numbers too. About 70% is the best there is normaly for cogens. You can fudge things a bit since you are using *heat* energy and electricity (5Kw of heat is not the same as 5Kw of electricity). But conversion to just electricty is never much better than about 50% which is the figure of merit that is talked about here.
      • This fuel cell device is only hitting 45-50% as well. It only hits the 90% figure by reclaiming the exhaust heat. [Details in the fancy article.]
    • 5kw Back up plan (Score:4, Informative)

      by Martix (722774) on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:09AM (#19380805)
      5k diesel is $1500 around here.

      I am planing a hybrid system for the house when we get one.
      will consist of Outback inverters, batteries, little solar wind/panels and last but not least is a generator.

      The idea is during a short power outage run off batteries - if it is a long one the generator will start up and
      charge the batteries. the solar and wind will be added in stages starting with the pannels

      Using CFL's for lighting and auto transfer of vital circuts to the back up system. ie Beer fridge

      The idea is that the generator will run at 80-90% load instead of wide fluctuations of 10-90 % the difference is is 2 - 4 hours of run time to a tank so i will use less fuel during a longer outage.

      Also being conservative on power consumtion during that time i can even extend my fuel supply

      Can also get exaust to water exchanger and use it to help heat the house in winter if needed.

      The big advantage is that i can handle larger surge loads then just useing a generator which would have to be 2 to 3 time as large for start up of motors and short peak loads. Ie well pump and sump pump were rural.

      Will cost more then just the generator but is way less the $175,000
      • Also you can buy a second battery for your car (excluding Prius of course) and swap at home after your daily commute, run your house lights off 12V. Save a few kilowatts off the mains.
    • Good points, but I can see certain organisations for whom its (presumed) low maintenance / low noise properties will be worth a lot of money. Also any mobile application (locomotives, small ships, maybe even airbourne) will have massive gains from requiring a much reduced fuel load for the same performance.

      Expect it to be under serious evaluation by the US Army, US Coastguard, probably also the Navy and emergency services. And if it does perform as implied they will be paying military procurement prices -

  • by James McP (3700) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:19AM (#19380359)
    I wonder what the startup time is on the cells. The lack of moving parts and high efficiency sounds like it would be ideal for a backup generator since you could get twice the duration for the same fuel tank. The big question is how long it will take to reach nominal load. If you need an excessive amount of batteries to make the transition it could still be unfeasible.

    One would think that you could get racks of the things to get generation capacity in excess of 5KW since the units already consist of multiple tubes. It would simply mean removing the individual DC/AC converters and using one big one.

    Anyone have any idea what the maintenance cycles are on fuel cells and how long you can let one sit idle?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jonathan DS (1110515)
      The common used UPS systems are provided with batteries that last for about 4 years.

      These days the batteries are also measured while nog being used. When their are nearly discharged, they are charged automatically. This happens in a way so the life expectancy will be maximized.

      Of course there's still Murphy's law, and batteries can fail a whole lot earlier!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Not true. Most wet cell batteries used in commercial UPS Systems' battery strings claim a life of 15-20 years with a realistic life of 8-10 years (slightly less for valve regulated batteries, though they're less common). Also, while it's true that the batteries are "measured"/monitored while not being "used" (e.g. voltage, temperature, specific gravity, internal resistance, etc), they are not fully discharged and then charged automatically.

        The only time your batteries should be being discharged a
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      The lack of moving parts and high efficiency sounds like it would be ideal for a backup generator since you could get twice the duration for the same fuel tank.

      except from the website it can only be started up 100 times before damage occurs. That is a major show stopper right there.
  • by visualight (468005) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:19AM (#19380363) Homepage
    http://www.acumentrics.com/products-fuel-cell-test -stand.htm [acumentrics.com]

    That looks interesting. I couldn't find a price though. According to their FAQ a 5kw unit costs 175,000 dollars, I think the test unit should be less though since it has fewer tubes.

    It's small enough that you could put it in the corner of your garage.

    The website describes it as a tool for learning about fuel cells etc., but I think that would be limited by virtue of the tubes being manufactured (and sealed I assume). But it would be useful for "complete system" prototyping and experimentation.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:22AM (#19380387)
    Err , not if the grid power in your area/country comes from hydro, nuclear or renewables.
    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      Their comparison on efficiency is to a small generator, so it seems likely to me that comparison to grid efficiency is less favorable even for fossil fuels, particularly if a combined cycle plant is being used. It is not that fuel cell efficiencies are scale dependent the way that ICEs/turbines are but that, when using fuels other than hydrogen, you don't really get to use the energy content of the carbon because carbon fuel cells are a big order: http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/ 0 3/dcfcw/ [doe.gov]
    • by BobPaul (710574) *
      And if you read the article, there's no statement that this is more efficient than grid power either. The only statement is that if you use fossil fuel rather than straight hydrogen it will produce half as much CO2/kilowatt than small engine generators. There is absolutely no mention comparing this to large coal or other power plants.

      So, good for backup power, but maybe not so good for getting yourself off the grid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Atario (673917)
      Also, you could just put a bunch of these on the grid.

      People, "the grid" is merely a transport/exchange medium, not a power-generation method.

      As far as "being off-grid" as a goal -- why? It just means you have reduced your options.
  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:22AM (#19380391)
    Hey, global warming is solved for this week! And it's only monday!
  • Factless hype. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:31AM (#19380463) Homepage Journal
    "Less than half as carbon intensive as grid-power".
    Unless you get your power from hydro-electric or nuclear.
    Less than half as carbon intensive as coal, oil fired, or natural-gas? Or is taking the US grid as a whole?
    Please try and give more than hype.
    This may be great power system but I would like a little more in the way of facts in the summary.
  • by tygerstripes (832644) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:34AM (#19380491)
    Wiki [wikipedia.org] it, for pity's sake. (Okay, hardly scientific research, but...)

    For what it's worth:

    • Research & engineering has reduced startup time from 8 hours to more like a few minutes
    • There are several automotive companies (Delphi, BMW, Rolls-Royce) looking into the use of SOFCs
    • Hydrogen fuel-cells are a false economy on their own - they are for energy STORAGE, not generation. SOFCs however are very, very efficient generators, and portable to boot. They're just also incredibly expensive ATM.
    Okay, that last one wasn't from wikipedia, but it needed saying.
    • by Tintivilus (88810)
      Rolls Royce the automotive company is a subsidiary of BMW. Do you mean Rolls Royce the aerospace company, or are you double-counting BMW?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mwvdlee (775178)
      And how about the environmental cost of producing them?

      That's where the hybrid-car equation breaks down; producing the fuel cells for those cars is so environmentally unfriendly that it takes many years to break even. By the time the current generation hybrid-cars is about to break even, most likely it'll be more environmentally friendly to buy a new car with the latest technology at that point in time.
      • by raygundan (16760)
        There aren't any hybrid vehicles on the market using a fuel cell. If you were referring to the extra energy required to produce the batteries and electric motors required in current-generation hybrid cars, there is indeed a penalty compared to normal cars. The payback time is short, however, generally just a few months. After the payback period, the car saves energy over a comparable car for the rest of its lifetime. And while the batteries are full of not-so-healthy stuff you wouldn't want to drink, th
  • by antisoshal (639054) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:35AM (#19380505)
    If you dig around they are marketing a home system that doubles as a furnace for home heating. Heat is generated using natural gas or propane, and electricity is generated simultaneously that could be used to power a forced air system. Unfortunately like everything else of this nature that seems revolutionary, the home unit is "not currently for sale and available only for testing by suitable partners", and the few products actually for sale are priced so far out of reach as to be functionally useless. I can get a decent 5KW generator for under 1000$ easily, and a good permanent installation could be had for well under 2000$, so this product more or less falls in the same category as the 800,000$ electric car: If you can afford it, you don't need it and could do more for the environment by using that money elsewhere. It seems there is a whole industry based on technology that never comes to fruition. Anyone else remember the computer company in Utah making ASIC based computers that compiled each time they ran to a benefit of 10x the running speed? whatever happened to them?.... Now, if someone like GE or Kohler were to license this tech, it could be produced a magnitude of order cheaper. But then a major player runs the risk of re-tooling at a substantial cost to begin production, only to have their investment dashed by next years innovation which will be even more efficient. There really aren't that many conspiracies out there. We have painted ourselves into an economic hole with the business models we use for capitol investment. Intel could be making chips three times as fast, but until they pay off the 2 billion dollar factory they just finished building for last years chip innovation, it just isn't happening. The conspiracy is just supply and demand economics....
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      There are three factors to making something affordable for the masses.

      1 - it most be very simple.
      2 - it can not use any exotic or expensive materials.
      3 - it cant be legislated to have all kinds of silly requirements that are expensive.

      Electric cars and efficient small cars here in the USA are expensive because of the incredibly retarded safety laws we have. The Smart Car is available in Canada for reasonable prices. the ones sold legally here in the states are 3X the price because of silly crap added. el
  • by ishmalius (153450) on Monday June 04, 2007 @07:39AM (#19380529)
    The first thought I had when they mentioned biodiesel, is that it is very dirty. One of the benefits of a piston engine is that it is constantly scrubbing itself clean of all the residue of the combustion. Won't the fuel cell elements get coated with a layer of gunk in only a few hours without some process (mechanical?) that periodically cleans them?
    • by rawg (23000)
      Maybe it's the 800C that cleans it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cyberax (705495)
      +800C tends to burn away any soot :)

      I've worked once as a consultant in a factory with several blast furnaces - the furnaces themselves never needed cleaning.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ihlosi (895663)
        +800C tends to burn away any soot :)



        Yep. That's also how they keep diesel particulate filters working. Every couple of hundred miles, raise the exhaust temperature for a few minutes, and you're good again.

  • by smchris (464899) on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:07AM (#19380779)

    Twice the efficiency _is_ technologically interesting. But a generator lasts, what, 10-20-30 years? These cells are what? One use recycled? So how many dozens, hundreds, or whatever fuel cells need to be built to get that "doubled efficiency" of building one generator? And what's the closed system total cost of each system over time?

    I notice the article is suspiciously devoid of "$" signs.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2007 @08:21AM (#19380939)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_cycle [wikipedia.org]

    The thermal efficiency of a combined cycle power plant is the net power output of the plant divided by the heating value of the fuel. If the plant produces only electricity, efficiencies of up to 59% can be achieved. In the case of combined heat and power generation, the efficiency can increase to 85%.

    Given the figures cited above, it is impossible for fuel cells to be twice as efficient as modern power stations. That would mean they could get 118% efficiency.

    The other issue is global warming and greenhouse gases. At a large power plant, it is feasible to sequester carbon dioxide. That wouldn't work with a zillion small fuel cells scattered around the country. These fuel cells aren't an environmental panacea and may not even be that good for the environment unless their only fuel is hydrogen.
  • Sod this fuel cell, when can I get my Mr. Fusion and flying car?
    :-)
  • This is all find and good. Yea..new technology!

    I'll believe it's viability when I see people buying it.

    Maybe I'm jaded..but why is it that every new cool tech that's announced is always at least 10 years away from deployment. Plus I never hear about that revolutionary tech that was announced 10 years ago...where is it?
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday June 04, 2007 @09:34AM (#19381745)
    There are a lot of caveats in any use of fuel cells: * A lot of fuel cells work just fine in the lab. Where you have several PhD's carefully tweaking up the chemical inputs over a period of hours or days. Where they hourly titrate the input chemicals to ensure they're at 99.99% purity. Where the cell is maintained with 843 degrees C on the cathode side, -177C on the anode side, maintained plus or minus 0.05 degree C thanks to the half-dozen HP $4,000 quartz resonator thermometers. Where the load is constant non-inductive fixed-value pure resistor. Where it sits on a marble lab bench with no vibration. Where it doesnt matter if a layer of micro bubbles of liquid plutonium forms on the cathode, as your PHD with the least senority can be mandated to start through a stereo microscope and scrape that gunk off with a nano-curette. Then consider the operating environment for your typical car engine. Compare and Contrast. Hand in by the end of the hour. Points for neatness.

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