Generating clean power at the point-of-use seems like a great idea, both for the main electrical supply and for backup power, but the options for many locations in urban areas are kind of slim.
Wind turbines aren’t efficient where there is a lot of turbulence, such as in urban areas, and even then they either need some form of energy storage to balance peak production and demand, or they are grid-tied (and when the grid is down, so is the turbine). Solar panels are an option, but also need to be tied to the grid or have battery storage, and they require a great amount of surface area to generate large amounts of electricity.
Fuel cells, specifically solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) such as the Bloom Energy Server, may be the answer to high-efficiency, low emissions, and cost-effective power generation for backup power or remote power, but they also come with a high price tag ($10,000 per kilowatt).
That may change, however, as a new SOFC is in the works from Redox Power Systems, said to be not only more efficient than the Bloom, but also much cheaper.
Capable of running on natural gas, propane, biofuel, hydrogen, or JP-8 (jet fuel), the self-contained Cube can produce 2 to 80 kW of power in a footprint of just 1 meter square, due to the high power density of the system. Along with the small size, the device runs at a much lower temperature than other fuel cell systems, and is said to be quiet and low-vibration when operating.
Another innovation being developed with this fuel cell design is the ability for it to be cycled on and off, or to “load-follow”, which is not very efficient or cost-effective for other fuel cells to do, and to be able to start quicker than other units can.
The Cube is not in production yet, but according to GreenTech Media, the systems could cost anywhere from $1,500 per kilowatt down to as little as $800 per kilowatt, which is less then one tenth of the price of the Bloom units. Their 25 kW prototype is expected to be complete by the end of the year and ready for production by late in 2014.
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