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Dishwasher-Size, 25kW Fuel Cell In Development 379

Posted by Soulskill
from the does-it-clean-my-dishes dept.
mcgrew writes "Forbes has an article about a new type of fuel cell that is 90% less costly than current cells at one tenth the size (making it the size of a dishwasher), with far higher efficiency than current cells. It runs at only 149 degrees Celsius (300F) . It was jointly developed by Diverse Energy and the University of Maryland. 'The first-generation Cube runs off natural gas, but it can generate power from a variety of fuel sources, including propane, gasoline, biofuel and hydrogen. The system is a highly efficient, clean technology, emitting negligible pollutants and much less carbon dioxide than conventional energy sources. It uses fuel far more efficiently than an internal combustion engine, and can run at an 80 percent efficiency when used to provide both heat and power.' It produces enough power to run a moderate-sized grocery store, or five homes. A smaller, home-sized unit is on the way. Is the municipal power plant on the way out?"
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Dishwasher-Size, 25kW Fuel Cell In Development

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:06PM (#44596861)

    The municipal power plant isn't going anywhere.

    Our house has all electric utilities - stove, oven water heater, dryer, home heating (in-wall heaters, no central furnace). I'm too lazy to add up the exact numbers, but we're probably paying $2000-2500 a year for electricity (Washington state).

    • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:18PM (#44596933)

      What you're forgetting is that in WA we have some of the lowest prices on electricity in the country. Thanks to the WPA dams that the federal government gave us and the Californians that are incapable of producing enough electricity to cover their needs.

      In much of the rest of the country, the cost of electricity is substantially higher, so one of these would be cost effective much more quickly.

      • Thanks to the WPA dams that the federal government gave us and the Californians that are incapable of producing enough electricity to cover their needs.

                Incapable, no. Unwilling.

    • I'm too lazy to add up the exact numbers

      The prototype is 25 kW, that's metric assload of power. Probably enough for your house and one or two of the neighbors depending on how much you run the A/C.

      Your power bill is pretty high.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      The municipal power plant isn't going anywhere.

      Our house has all electric utilities - stove, oven water heater, dryer, home heating (in-wall heaters, no central furnace). I'm too lazy to add up the exact numbers, but we're probably paying $2000-2500 a year for electricity (Washington state).

      Another way of saying: it may go by the time the patent expire (if, at the time, the power production is still mainly generated by burning fossil fuels and we didn't run off natural gas until then).

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      The municipal power plant isn't going anywhere.

      Well, they might go the way of Dodo. Once the patent expires, some may use the published paper [redoxpowersystems.com] and a sufficiently advanced 3D printer to get their your own fuel cell.

      (letting aside the tongue-in-cheek tone, my main point above: here's an article with details on the technology. Others as well [redoxpowersystems.com])

  • Question asked... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:08PM (#44596867)

    Answer is no.

    While it would be awesome to have your own power plant. You're fighting aginst alot of money.

    Won't happen anytime soon.

    • by gmuslera (3436)

      If is cheap/simple enough to build and not patent encumbered could happen. People already uses natural gas for home heathing, if uses instead this for electricity (and if is efficient enough) could be a very possitive thing.

      In the other hand, could be cheap/simple enough to build and have a metric ton of patents all around, forbidding anyone else to even try to make a solution. Then it could be something very damaging.

      • by amiga3D (567632)

        The best thing about it will be people who want to live off the grid back in the back side of nowhere. One of these and a Sat dish and you can stay connected while being far, far away.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          One of these and a Sat dish and you can stay connected while being far, far away.

          That's true today, too. You'd just be generating electricity by burning that propane/kerosene/etc. in an engine, rather than a fuel cell.

          Hell, except for internet service, it was true many, many decades ago, when humans pulled TV channels right out of the air, and all you "packets" of information got batch delivered to a small box you had to periodically poll...

          • You'd just be generating electricity by burning that propane/kerosene/etc. in an engine, rather than a fuel cell.

            Um... no. I'd be looking at microhydro sites if I were to go off the grid.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:45PM (#44597059) Journal

      Answer is no.

      While it would be awesome to have your own power plant. You're fighting aginst alot of money.

      Won't happen anytime soon.

      I assume that 'Big Power' is why ordinary liquid-fuel internal combustion generators can only be obtained on the black market, if you have the right connections, after their brutal suppression? Oh, wait, no, generators are ubiquitous and relatively cheap, they're just a pain in the ass to maintain.

      There is certainly a fair amount of capital tied up in generation and distribution infrastructure; but there are some points to remember:

      The power company isn't pleased by your fluctuating demand: In an ideal world of steady demand, you could get away with exclusively operating the absolute cheapest (generally a polite way of saying 'coal', except in very good hydro areas) base-load plants 24/7, and size your distribution infrastructure to that load, with a dash of margin for safety. Nice, easy, lowest cost per kilowatt hour. In the real world, with demand fluctuating throughout the day(lights/no lights, commercial facilities open vs. after hours, etc.), throughout the year (A/C in summer, some heating in winter, little of either in spring and fall), and potentially over the longer term(population increases and decreases in a given area, movements of power-intensive industries, turnover of housing stock, improvements or decreases in gadget efficiency), the problem is more complex.

      Short term fluctuations mean having to size the grid with peak load in mind (lest you risk some really hairy cascading failures) and mean having to have peak-load plants (often combined cycle natural gas) sitting idle part of the time and burning more-expensive-than-coal fuel the rest of the time. More capital invested, higher cost per kilowatt hour. Seasonal variations potentially mean even more facilities sitting idle, depreciating, part of the time, and longer-term variations mean wacky fun with demand forecasting and the potential for either customer displeasure or wasted facilities built for demand that never came.

      If somebody announced, tomorrow, that their 'Unobtanium Plot-point Reactor' could fully replace all legacy electrical infrastructure, it is indeed likely that there would be some... industry unhappiness. However, any widget that costs more than base-load generation and distribution and can be used at the customer site to reduce demand fluctuation and function as a backup unit is a mutually beneficial arrangement: The utility gets closer to their ideal of 100% stable demand, the customer has a backup/peak generator that is ideally less obnoxious than the old diesel unit.

      Plus, of course, for any given advance in power generation, there isn't anything stopping a large-scale producer from running the device at a large scale (with capital investment, and engineers on site, and other handy stuff) and offering the result for sale. Unless the transmission overheads or profits are usurious, many people probably don't want to coddle their own generator when they can just plug in for not much. Since the ability of utilities to individualize chargers based on precise per-person expense (ie. transmission line distance, difficulty of terrain, etc.) is typically constrained by some mixture of inadequate information and regulation, the customers who are least impressed by the centralized service (say the ones who live at the flaky edges of the grid, and deal with lots of exciting blackouts and issues, or in an area with brownout problems at peak) are also the customers that are likely to be least profitable.

      • by redback (15527)

        I'd be interested in seeing this scaled up to power plant size, and then using its heat output to run steam turbines for MOAR POWAH!

        • I'd be interested in seeing this scaled up to power plant size, and then using its heat output to run steam turbines for MOAR POWAH!

          Good luck running your turbine with steam at 160C. You might want to read up on the second law of thermodynamics.

        • Re:Question asked... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by peragrin (659227) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @09:24PM (#44597599)

          Why? this is perfect for CARS. Dishwasher sized will fit into most full size cars right now. creates electricity at low heat, which mean actual practical electric cars.

          you change the fuel source to something other than oil.

          Even better at 25kw that is enough to run the majority of homes.

          • by putaro (235078)

            That was my first thought. However, 25KW is only 33 horsepower. You could make a hybrid, I suppose with a battery pack for acceleration and one of these to top it off and as a "range extender" ala the Volt. The Volt has a 75KW (100 HP) internal combustion engine so it's within reason.

    • by gagol (583737)
      On the other hand, it could be used as power plant to grow pot in remote areas...
  • Summary (Score:4, Funny)

    by The Cat (19816) * on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:13PM (#44596895)

    It will never work.
    It's been done before.
    They'll get bought out.
    The laws of themodynamics make everything impossible.

    • It will never work.
      It's been done before.
      They'll get bought out.
      The laws of themodynamics make everything impossible.

      I can't believe you got modded down to a -1. There is something called "humor" that many people on this site are unfamiliar with, possibly unless you hit them over the head with it.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:14PM (#44596899)

    Only if the cost of the fuel cell pack + installation, and the on-going cost of propane (not natural gas??) is cheaper over 3-4 years than the cost of electricity.

    In places where power goes out during storms, it might be fruitful to get one anyway.

    • by mug funky (910186)

      it'll take natural gas. RTFA. it'll take that horrible e85 stuff too. hell, you could probably feed it on corn syrup if you're going down that route.

  • This isn't going to change anything for normal people. You're still going to get your power from the power plant. But it could be good for places like hospitals that have their own backup systems.
  • by Alejux (2800513) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:26PM (#44596975)
    then our Italian friend, Andrea Rossi.
  • by BenBoy (615230) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:36PM (#44597023)
    Great, so if you use the waste heat it throws off, you can get 80% efficiency. How is this different from the efficiency of using a Bunsen burner-heated teakettle to turn a little turbine for power, and claiming the waste heat as usable energy? Plus there's the entertainment value of the whistling sound of the kettle itself ... What are the figures without the waste heat thrown in? RTFA was no help ...
    • by gronofer (838299)
      Waste heat is fine if it's cold and you want to heat the building. It wouldn't be so great if it was already too hot. Sounds like a technology I'd only use for part of the year.
  • by evilviper (135110) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:48PM (#44597085) Journal

    Nothing new here. Identical tech dates back at least to 2009:

    http://www.cerespower.com/Technology/TheCeresCell/ [cerespower.com]

    There's no question that fuel cells, that can run on the same fossil fuels we use now, would be a huge step forward, if they could be made cheaply enough. They exceed Carnot efficiency, so a fuel cell that ran on unleaded gasoline would instantly double even the best hybrid vehicle fuel efficiency. Large natural gas power plants would get perhaps a 50% improvement in efficiency. Fuel cells running on methanol are quite popular in forklifts because they are zero emissions, lower maintenance and get more run-time than batteries, according to the DoE.

    They'd be a great replacement for generators as well. Imagine a fuel cell in every cellular tower, with a CNG tank on-site in case both the power and gas lines fail (and can be refilled by truck). Imagine your central heating boiler being for home and water heating was generating free electricity as well as heat for a combined ~80% efficiency (almost as good as condensing boiler). Imagine every city block has a fuel cell the size of a utility cabinet, reducing transmission losses and easing strain on the power grid.

    High efficiency, plus fuel flexibility, plus almost zero maintenance (and nearly no noise), and little pollution, makes these things possible, where they aren't all that practical with conventional heat/combustion engines.

    • Imagine a fuel cell in every cellular tower, with a CNG tank on-site in case both the power and gas lines fail (and can be refilled by truck). Imagine your central heating boiler being for home and water heating was generating free electricity as well as heat for a combined ~80% efficiency (almost as good as condensing boiler). Imagine every city block has a fuel cell the size of a utility cabinet, reducing transmission losses and easing strain on the power grid.

      Imagine a firefighter's worse nightmare:

      Elec

      • by rahvin112 (446269) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @02:49AM (#44598683)

        There is a famous saying that if Natural gas was developed and proposed for residential use today (for the first time) everyone would freak out because of how dangerous it is.

        Every house in areas that already have natural gas heating already have everything you claim to be worried about.Gas is actually incredibly safe, it needs a precise mixture with oxygen to be explosive or burn. Yet it still kills thousands every year.

        Its paranoia like yours that handicaps society.

  • ...is the lack of long haul transmission waste. My understanding is that up to half the energy available at a large plant can be lost through the resistance (heat conversion) and other factors (induction?) in the lines before it gets to it's point of use. Small, neighborhood generation stations would be excellent if they were available, clean, safe, and reasonably inexpensive to maintain.
    • by rusty0101 (565565)

      And gas lines don't ever leak.

      There will always be some form of transmission los. Hopefully over the long haul, losses due to pipeline leakage, or storage tank leakage will be a significantly lower percentage compared to high tension power line loss. I'll agree that it's likely to be less than 50%, and presumably less than 30% (which combined with the 20% unrecovered waste in an 80% efficient fuel cell would come to a 50% loss.) but there will be some appreciable loss due to leakage. Heck you loose gasoline

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @09:34PM (#44597651)

      My understanding is that up to half the energy available at a large plant can be lost through the resistance (heat conversion) and other factors (induction?) in the lines before it gets to it's point of use.

      No, average loss from power plant to customer is about 7%. Even very long (1000+ mile) HVDC lines only add a few percent.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And your understanding is way off. Power transmission is over 90% efficient, even more than 95% efficient in areas with newer equipment.You can even do long distance transmission without getting anywhere near 50% loss, A single 5 GW, 2000 km line would be about 95% efficient.
  • i could get one installed for less than six thousand dollars, the startup cost is where this machine kicks everyone at, after that the machine must be able to pay for itself in a few years otherwise it is not worth it
  • Sorry, it's hard not to be snarky with claims of energy breakthroughs. There is always a trade-off. What is it?

  • Gee, this is going to throw out the doomsday scenarios of all those neo-ecovists who claim our increasing energy consumption and pollution are going to destroy the planet.

    1) The planet really doesn't give a hoot.

    2) Energy usage is getting more efficient - my new freezer, refrigerator, computer, fan, van all use far less energy to do the same work as pervious models.

    3) Power generation technology is dramatically improving with things like co-generation fuel cells, micro-hydro, micro-solar, etc.

    My personal fa

    • by russotto (537200)

      My personal favorite is micro-hydro. I can generate about 25KW with something about the size of half a home washer and no fossil fuel inputs since it's just catching motion from falling water.

      Too bad it will cost you about 10 billion dollars to get the required permits, if it's at all possible.

  • "[it] can run at an 80 percent efficiency when used to provide both heat and power." This makes no sense. If you count the heat produced, any combustible material can easily yield much better than 80 percent efficiency just by burning it. Condensing natural gas boilers, for example, routinely run at >95% efficiency. Of course, they're producing all heat and no electricity, but by the specified criteria, that's more efficient than the Cube. Straight % efficiency in producing electricity only, would b
  • by PineHall (206441) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @08:51PM (#44597457)
    The company is Redox Power Systems [redoxpowersystems.com], not Diverse Energy. Diverse Energy's fuel cell uses ammonia as a fuel source, not natural gas. The summary is mixing up 2 different fuel cell technologies. (I know broke the rules and read the articles.)
  • by hackus (159037) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @08:53PM (#44597459) Homepage

    There is no way they will ever get approval with the cronyism walking around to ever have someone generate all of their own electricity.

    People are already being targeted for growing their own food by "STORM TROOPERS" which barge in with machine guns and kill everyone and ask questions later.

    That includes a bullet for the family dog, cat and canary.

    People don't understand what is going on with power, and forget the whole ENRON thing (which is still going on by the way, it just changed hands to people who are unaccountable.)

    There is no way the Oil/Electric Gas companies will permit such a device _ever_.

    -Hack

  • I've read these stories and looked up fuel cell research for years, and it's very frustrating when I consider to actually buy a fuel cell. It always turns out that the smallest model costs like a car or the largest model is a science class demonstrator kit. A 5kw fuel cell that costs only double the cost of a 5kw Honda generator would likely find lots of consumer interest, but despite "promising research" since the '70s (and before, I'm sure), the one people would want to own never makes an appearance in
  • Is the municipal power plant on the way out?

    The power plant comes with power lines that reach houses. If that is replaced by distributed fuel cells, unless there is a municipal pipeline network, the fuel has to be carried by vehicles, and I have trouble to understand how it could be more efficient in the end.

  • by strack (1051390) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @09:32PM (#44597643)
    ok, firstly, that "80% efficiency when it provides both heat and power" is a copout. any engine can be 100% efficient when you classify usable energy output as both heat and electricity. i wanna know the efficiency of the electricity production.
    secondly, how long is the lifetime of the unit? how much fuel can it process before the catalyst or membrane or whatever wears out? and how expensive is the catalyst? is it still made out of freaking platinum?
    thirdly, can this thing be used in vehicles? planes? cause thats the real application of something like this.
    • Efficiency of 60% @ 80kW. If you want to know click the links.

      http://www.powerserg.com/redox-powerserg-the-cube-specs.html [powerserg.com]
    • by Xyrus (755017)

      ok, firstly, that "80% efficiency when it provides both heat and power" is a copout. any engine can be 100% efficient when you classify usable energy output as both heat and electricity. i wanna know the efficiency of the electricity production.

      It's not a "copout" because the heat generated isn't waste heat (since it is useable by the house it is connected to). This is unlike an ICE or central powerplant where it IS waste heat.

      The typical fuel cell has an efficiency of between 40-60% for electrical generation only. Their website indicates that it is at the higher end of that scale.

      secondly, how long is the lifetime of the unit? how much fuel can it process before the catalyst or membrane or whatever wears out? and how expensive is the catalyst? is it still made out of freaking platinum?

      It's amazing what you can learn when you RTFA. The membrane they use is based on ceramics (solid oxide). They're durable and less expensive than platinum.

      thirdly, can this thing be used in vehicles? planes? cause thats the real application of something like this.

      They're plannin

  • Can these things be scaled to smaller sizes and are they rugged (resistant to vibration, etc.)? If so, they'd be great for cars.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @10:22PM (#44597829) Homepage

    The cost of natural gas will soar through the stratosphere once these become widespread. It's bad enough when a spike occurs due to an excessive winter season (2005 for example). Early adopters will benefit. Everyone else will get fucked once LNG futures rise.

  • Often these situations can somewhat over promise but when it comes to breaking the power companies I keep my fingers crossed. But the key here is that the economics can be quite subtle. A simple example would be if this system were to provide power at an overall cost of $0.11/kwh; which is roughly what many people pay. (My point being based on a price that is roughly your present rate) So you would doubt that many people would switch. But there are many people out there who genuinely hate the power company.
  • by sunking2 (521698) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @10:44PM (#44597905)
    5'7, 150lbs, and powers 5 houses for minimum wage.
  • I'm willing to overpay for one of these. I really believe that a lot of good can come from off-the-grid power, and I would invest to help that happen.

    So much of our lives is about how this corporation or that government agency has us by the balls. So much of our politics is payback. How something like this could change the balance of power back toward the hands of the individual!

    It's not just traditional energy companies that worry about something like that happening. There's a lot of entrenched power i

  • ...a paycheck says nothing will come of this. We've heard these kind of claims before.

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