Tech industry trials revolutionary power source

Tech industry trials revolutionary power source

US firm Bloom Energy has unveiled a new form of fuel cell that is already being used by companies such as Google to power large facilities.

The Bloom Box is a fuel cell based on technology developed at Nasa to produce oxygen on Mars. The company gave a preview of the system to the CBS 60 Minutes programme.

"This invention, working on Mars, would have allowed the NASA administrator to pick up a phone and say 'Mr President, we know how to produce oxygen on Mars,'" inventor K R Sridhar told 60 Minutes.

When the plans were cancelled Sridhar adapted the design to turn it into a cheap fuel cell, consisting of ceramic discs with a metal alloy casing that can be stacked. The firm claims that 64 of the stacks can power a small business.

Sridhar said that the first customer for the system was Google, which has had one of the larger units powering a datacentre for 18 months.

EBay installed five of the Boxes nine months ago and has already saved more than $100,000 (£64,000) in electricity costs, according to chief executive John Donahoe.

"The footprint for Bloom is much more efficient," said Donahoe. "When you average it over seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the Bloom Box puts out five times as much power than we can actually use."

The large Bloom Box currently costs $800,000 (£520,000), but the company said that this could fall as low as $3,000 (£1,950) with mass manufacturing techniques currently being researched.

The goal of the company is nothing less than the elimination of the need for an electricity grid with local power sources.

"The Bloom box is intended to replace the grid. It's cheaper than the grid, it's cleaner than the grid," said Sridhar.

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See more about:  science  |  power

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