Tag Archives: Energy

Death of the power grid?

Whoa, check out this story about the installation of apparently feasible fuel cell power for a significant customer:  Server for cleaner energy unveiled.

Actually, multiple customers, including Google, eBay, Bank of America, Staples, Coca-Cola and WalMart.  Seriously!  (Note:  even though I am an SEO whore, I refuse to link back to the websites of these companies, not that they would notice one way or the other.)

Fuel cells are not new, so what’s all the hubbub, bub?  Well, even though the technology has been making progress toward commercial goals (meaning lower cost), the equation has not been favorable for broad adoption.  But Bloom Energy, whose CEO K R Sridhar was featured on this week’s 60 Minutes, seems to have been able to convert their $400 million investment into a winning product.

One of the problems with large scale power generation is transmission losses.  Power generated in Virginia, for example, goes onto the grid and is distributed to the users from there.  Of course it works, but if the power could be generated on the site where it is to be consumed, at least the costs and losses associated with transmission lines could be eliminated.  And of course, we have been worried for years about attacks on our increasingly ‘smart’, and therefore vulnerable, grid.  On a hot summer day, a transformer going offline in Miami can take out part of the power system in New England.  It’s a carefully balanced beast that does not have nearly as much redundancy built in as should be required for such an important service.

Bloom Energy’s units are about the size of a car, and can be arranged in modules for easy increases in generation as demand increases.  Plus, they are much cleaner than, for example, coal-fired power plants, since they can utilize green fuels.

So, it looks like our power problems are solved, right?

Meh, I don’ t know.  After all, this is coming out of Silicon Valley, the same folks who brought you the dot-com bubble whose burst created an economic mess that is still being cleaned up ten years later.  As mentioned in the article, “the market will separate fact from fiction, and will prove claims versus reality”.

I hope it works.  Competitively priced electric power generated locally using green fuels and distributed without the need for landscape blighting high tension power lines cutting broad swaths across my forest covered mountains, has to be a good thing, right?

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Energy Innovations

Virginia Tech is committed to research and education that provides solutions for the Nation’s energy needs.  In 2006, the Deans’ Task Force on Energy Security and Sustainability was formed to assist with university-level efforts in energy research.  These efforts include assisting faculty members with the preparation of large grant proposals in research areas related to energy security and sustainability, seeking partnerships that position Virginia Tech as a national and international leader in areas of expertise, and  coordinating campus-wide events, such as a speaker series and community engagement activities.

The university has a long history of producing innovations in the areas of alternative fuels, energy production, and many related technologies.  One example is the recovery of waste coal through a novel cleaning and dewatering process developed by Dr. R-H Yoon in the department of Mining and Minerals Engineering.  Using this process, billions of tons of coal that have been considered mining waste for decades can now become a low-cost energy source.

For more information on this technology, or to inquire about licensing opportunities, contact Michael Miller using the subject VTIP 10-074, via the VTIP link to the right.

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Filed under Energy, fuel