Lessons from History

When I was growing up, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a lot of social upheaval and change contorting the American landscape. One of the cornerstones of this period was the manned space program — the crowning jewel was landing a man on the moon and bringing him back home safely. Yet, there was a huge backlash because of the billions of dollars spent by NASA. Many people thought this was wasteful and irresponsible because those dollars would be better spent on societal improvements.

Yet the benefits of that program — the technologies that were developed by NASA — laid the groundwork for the Information Revolution that has changed our society today for the better. Those technologies are used in our computers, microwave ovens, televisions, cell phones, PDAs, and by gosh, even in some of the old fashioned writing instruments we use!

The lessons from that past may have been lost on Americans. Today there is still a hue and cry against the costs of our Space Program. That led to the cancellation of the manned mission to Mars. The good news is that, despite the protestations, NASA continues contributing great new technologies for the benefit of us all.

You see, there's this guy who is an ex-NASA scientist whose job was to develop something that would create oxygen and water from electricity and gas. This technology was to be used to keep astronauts alive on the surface of Mars. His name is K.R. Sridhar and he did develop such a device. The manned Mars program fell by the wayside. But the technology didn't.

Sridhar's Martian oxygen generator laid the groundwork for a new kind of fuel cell, which he calls "Bloom Boxes." He founded a company, known as Bloom Energy Corp., and after eight years of research has hit the martketplace with something that seems to work.

What is this Bloom Box? In essence, it's a public utility in a refrigerator-sized box. It’s a series of fuel cells combined into what Sridhar calls the Bloom Energy Server, and it doesn’t require expensive, clean gas (like hydrogen and helium) to work. In fact, it converts air and nearly any fuel source — ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases — into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, rather than combustion. Even running on a fossil fuel, according to a press release, the systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant. When powered by a renewable fuel, they can be 100% cleaner.

In the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic magazine, author Lane Wallace writes, "The truly disruptive aspect of Bloom’s fuel cells isn't their clean, quiet, affordable efficiency. It's their ability to operate independent of a power grid." That could revolutionize energy-generation.

With the big push to save energy and be solid environmental stewards, the Bloom Box technology fits right in. Though reports say it may be several more years before the technology is cost effective for use in homes, it’s already being used commercially in several Fortune 500 companies including Google, Staples, Walmart, and even the Coca-Cola Co.

According to reports, each server provides 100 kilowatts (kW) of electricity, and customers typically expect a 3-5 year payback on their investment from the energy cost savings.

Since the first commercial installation in July 2008, Bloom's Energy Servers have collectively produced more than 11 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, with CO2 reductions estimated at 14 million pounds.

Imagine what this technology will do for the HVACR Industry. Talk about Smart Grid! And it makes sense for HVACR contractors to sell, install, and service this equipment. Fuel cell systems like the Bloom Box can provide a niche that differentiates your company by enabling your employees to be energy/comfort consultants. You can save customers money, help them make money (selling power back to the grid), and keep them comfortable, safe, and productive.

Follow this URL to a search landing page with more links to stories and background on this technology: http://bit.ly/a228d8. Learn the lessons of history and look past the initial costs to the greater potential. It could be society changing!

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