How Does a Solid Oxide Bloom Energy Fuel Cell Work?


Quick Answer

Bloom Energy's solid oxide fuel cell uses high temperatures to convert hydrocarbon fuel and air into electricity without combustion, corrosive acids, molten materials or precious metals. The electrolyte is a solid, ceramic material which functions as a catalyst in reacting the oxygen in heated air coming in through the cathode with hydrocarbon fuels such as ethanol, methane or natural gas coming in through the anode to generate electricity and produce the steam and heat necessary to maintain the process.

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Full Answer

The electrolytic ceramic plates in Bloom's SOFCs are coated with a proprietary green nickel oxide-based ink on the anode side and a proprietary black ink, widely believed to be composed of lanthanum strontium manganite, on the cathode side. The cell is heated to about 800 degrees Celsius and fuel is channeled across the anode where it reacts with oxygen atoms from the cathode to produce electricity, water and carbon dioxide with high efficiency, few pollutants and at a relatively low cost.

Many large companies use Bloom Energy's SOFCs to produce clean energy at their facilities, such a Google, eBay and Yahoo. In 2010, K.R. Sridhar, Bloom Energy's company chief executive and co-founder, reported that Bloom Energy's SOFCs produced electricity at a cost of about 9 cents per kilowatt-hour when commercial rates for electricity in California averaged about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. A 2009 article in New Scientist titled "Innovation: Bloom Didn’t Start a Fuel-cell Revolution" is critical of Bloom's product, stating that it requires excessive operating temperatures relative to similar products produced by competitors such as Topsoe Fuel Cell in Lyngby, Denmark, and Ceres Power in Crawley, UK.

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