I recently got an email from a PR rep about a British fuel cell company called AFC Energy, calling my attention to a promotional video the company produced about fuel cells and about its contribution to the field. Normally I’d skeptical about energy-related promotional materials, which often exaggerate in misleading ways. But I really liked this video, for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t just trumpet the company’s technological prowess; rather, it tells a story about energy and the role that fuel cells have and will play as the energy landscape continues to evolve. Telling stories of this kind is important to help the average person understand why energy matters and why they should care about it. And second, unlike the typical tech heavy promo overburdened with numbers and stats and confusing jargon, this video is charming and funny. Yes, it’s still a promo meant to burnish AFC’s reputation. But that’s OK, too. The video is well-produced, educational, and made me aware of a company doing what seems to be some very good work to push fuel cell technology forward.
Watch the video here:
Just got back from my Colorado research trip. Very successful. I met with scientists and researchers from the Rocky Mountain Institute, UC Boulder, Colorado State, SunDrop Biofuels, the Denver International Airport’s solar installations, and other places. I learned a lot, got great material, and took a lot of pictures …
Rocky Mountain Institute office in Boulder, CO
Notice the straight air ducts descending diagonally from the ceiling. They’re designed to channel air more efficiently than ducts with numerous twists and turns. The RMI building also features windows specially treated to trap solar heat and lots of natural lighting.
RMI’s non-water-flushing toilet.
SunDrop Biofuel’s solar collecting tower. Thousands of mirrors reflect sunlight onto a large plate that heats to around 1200 degrees C. The heat is used to turn a mixture of woodchips and chemicals into gas that’s then refined into gasoline and diesel.
A smart grid test station at Colorado State, in Fort Collins.
A large wind turbine barely visible through a dense snowstorm at the National Wind Technology Center.
A many-tubed apparatus at NREL’s wind-to-hydrogen project using solar and wind-generated electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored and used in fuel cells and internal combustion engines.
Part of a wind turbine blade. These things are freaking huge. On the largest turbines, each blade is somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 feet long. So in terms of sheer length and width, a rotating large scale turbine is like a spinning football field.
Is the much touted Bloom Box the real deal? Nobody knows. What I do know, though, is that the recent 60 Minutes segment on Bloom Energy guru K.R. Sridhar is a class puff piece, with Leslie Stahl on the mound offering up softball after softball.
A few impressions …
Sridhar may be a “rocket scientist,” as Stahl breathlessly informs us, but he’s also a smooth pitchman with a polished spiel. Something about the guy broadcasts “snake oil.”
The pitch is that a Bloom Box is its own power plant, providing enough power for a business, home, etc. But is it necessarily a good thing to be off the grid? For some reason, many people assume that “the grid” is bad or flawed, and that being off it is desirable. Maybe. But what happens when your shiny new Bloom Box breaks down and you have no power, or have to switch to limited emergency backup power?
A Bloom Box costs around $800,000. A wee bit expensive, no? I supposed they may make sense for very large corporations like Google and eBay. But obviously not for most regular home owners. Let me know when the cost is down to around $2000.