60 Minutes has reported on a new fuel cell product called a Bloom Box, a big metal box containing a small stack of ceramic disks and “ink” that can supposedly provide enough power to run a Starbucks. The big questions are: Does it work? And will it ever help the average homeowner save on energy costs? Google has supposedly been using four of them to power one of its data centers for the past 18 months, so yes to the first question. As for home use, a Bloom Box currently costs over $700,000, so no. Inventor K.R. Sridhar optimistically says he wants to get the price to under $3,000 in the next 5 to 10 years, though. Watch the 60 Minute segment below.
According to Sridhar,
[The Bloom Box] is like a very skinny battery that always runs. Sridhar feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. There’s no need for burning or combustion, and no need for power lines from an outside source.
There seems to be some confusion about the Bloom Box, which is understandable since it’s probably imaginary. (I kid. Maybe.) Here are more details.
1. One disc–about the size of a 5 1/4″ floppy disc if you remember those–can power a light bulb. Sridhar holds one up and says, “What I’m holding in my hand is a fuel cell.”
2. 64 of those discs stacked together can power “say, a Starbucks, ” in the words of CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl. No, I do not understand the relationship between what 1 can power and what 64 can power. Maybe they cheer each other on.
3. The stacks are housed inside a giant metal case about the size of a dumpster–although based on the 60 Minutes video, it looks like the current Bloom Box cases are quite a bit larger, nearly the size of a shipping container in eBay’s case. I do not know whether that’s because they’re prototypes or because they contain many more disks.
Originally I mistakenly called the stack of discs in the photo a Bloom Box. Those are actually just the fuel cells at the center of the Bloom Box.