back to article Google eyes hypegasm fuel cells for 'whole data center'

As Bloom Energy officially unveiled its much-hyped solid oxide fuel cell server - a "parking space"-sized device that converts air and fuel into electricity - Google co-founder Larry Page said the company hopes to eventually run an entire data center using the technology. "I'd love to see us having a whole data center running …


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  1. Berk

    A device that converts air and fuel into electricity

    I've already got one of them, I call it a diesel generator.

    1. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

      More importantly

      How does the thermodynamic efficiency of this fuel cell based device compare to the typical efficiency of a diesel generator (45-50%)*?

      The theoretical maximum for a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell is 83%*. In practice it will be less. If this turns out to be lower than that of the diesel engine, then the fuel cell is technically worse for the environment in terms of efficiency, although it is unlikely to be pumping out the nasty particulates that burning diesel generates.

      Also, bear in mind that although this might be using magic ceramic fuel cell technology, it still produces good old fashioned carbon dioxide as a waste product.

      *Figures quoted are gleaned from the internet, caveat emptor, etc.

  2. Charles Osborne

    Runs on Windows! er, with windows

    If it can "use solar energy" must have windows where mirrors can direct sunlight into it. Unless they are thinking that a solar plant can use electricity to break down water into hydrogen and then....

    Don't you Brits have as saying about hauling coal to Newcastle? Feh! Not many squeaky snakes around here.

  3. E 2


    I once worked at an IT operation that mostly ran on Jack Daniels and beer!

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Heh.

      Some of us have spent a goodly portion of our careers converting coffee and tobacco into useful code.

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Scalable or reneable?

    You can find proper figures for biomass (in Cambridge) at

    Sunlight is 1000W/m^2. Cambridge is 52° North, so a square metre gets about 600W of sunlight at midday. It is not midday all the time. Including cloud cover and seasons leaves 100W/m^2. Plants are about 0.5% efficient at converting sunlight into chemical energy.

    If we miss out the energy required to transport plants, convert them to fuel and the efficency of the fuel cell (probably about 50%) then a 100kW generator running on plants needs a square of farmland 500metres across.

    It gets worse if you try waste. You have to include the percentage of vegetarians, the efficiency of cows converting grass into meat and the amount of energy people take from food when they produce waste. On the other hand, solar panels are 10% efficient (expensive) to 20% efficient (very expensive) compared to something like 0.2% for grass + fuel cell.

    A fuel cell might be a little more efficient than an ordinary generator, but if it is renewable it needs to be much bigger than a parking space to power a toy data centre no matter what you drive.

    1. Anton Ivanov

      The waste economics are slightly different

      Depends what you are aiming for.The cost of delivery of waste to a biogas plant is actually NIL. You are already shipping it to landfill. Same for the cost of sewerage. It is already being shipped to the sewerage works. So if you are aiming to utilise only waste such a unit is a nice chunk of revenue on top of what is a "money eater" in the council budget.

      While this cannot feed the whole grid it is energy and there is no reason to ignore it (as Ebay has shown). In fact I will take your example - Cambridge. The biggest R&D park in Cambridge sits across the road from the garbage dump and across the river from the sewerage works (one can only guess how it smells in mid-summer). It is a prime customer for this and it will actually be of use and not for show like the useless wind turbine one of the park residents have stuck in their parking lot.

    2. Real Ale is Best

      Solar panels

      You are missing another point about solar panels - they only produce energy when the sun is shining.

      Biogas fuel cells can use stored gas, and so provide power during the night.

      What would be much more interesting is something that can work in both directions, and thus smooth out the rather intermittent power developed by most renewable systems. i.e. store wind, wave and tidal power for use when the wind isn't blowing.

      That would be handy!

      1. Dahak

        We have that

        "What would be much more interesting is something that can work in both directions, and thus smooth out the rather intermittent power developed by most renewable systems. i.e. store wind, wave and tidal power for use when the wind isn't blowing."

        We have that. It's called Hydroelectric. Dinorwig does it.

  5. tebiru

    So, basically the opposite of the 'cloud' movement

    The advantages of which are reliability (data always backed up), convenience (data available anywhere), and economies of scale (processing power only 'rented' as needed). Now why, pray tell, would we want to be going in the opposite direction for power generation?

    Apparently, the Bloombox may 'in some cases' be cheaper than the grid. In some cases? For something requiring such a radical change in infrastructure as this, and given the high initial costs, it needs to be *significantly* cheaper *all* the time. Otherwise what's the point? If a power station goes down, you'll still get power to your home, it'll just come from somewhere else. If your 'Bloombox' goes down? And if the grid always has to be there for backup, then there go the cost-savings for the energy companies (talked up by this venture cap geezer).

    I'm a relative tech optimist, but this strikes me as a classic solution chasing a problem. Hopefully it'll find a more suitable problem to solve at some point (because the tech is admittedly nifty).

    1. Magnus_Pym


      "but this strikes me as a classic solution chasing a problem."

      The thing is it is a virtual turnkey product for turning chemical energy into electrical energy. A small efficient power station. The applications are huge. as mentioned landfill, sewage works, farms, gas production drilling, etc. They all was chemical energy why not use it if you can. Transporting energy as electricity is very wasteful. If you can use it nearer the point of production the greater the energy saving. Anyway Some places already have a gas grid, not that using fossil gas is a good thing. That's if it works anyway.

      The point is that we (in the west) can't go on wasting energy like we are because no one knows when it will run out. Forget about payback period think about can I live if energy costs go up by a factor of 10 because some well runs dry in a desert somewhere and the market gets a bit jumpy.

  6. Lionel Baden

    Evil much :D

    heh heh

    nothing can stop them now .... well maybe a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

  7. Mage Silver badge

    This is pointless

    A niche market.

    We really should be using LESS gas.

    Biogas would maybe supply 5%.

    The Americans need to dry clothes on a line outside, cut back on air conditioning, use 40mpg+ fuel efficient cars (Available 30 years ago), not replace electric grid with gas grid.

    In UK & Ireland we need more double glazing, wall insulation, roof insulation.

    Turn of excessive outdoor lights.

    CFLs? Unplugging chargers? Don't fuss about it.

    1. Magnus_Pym

      Oh Damn!

      I just invented the fart powered torch.

    2. Alan Esworthy

      You are pointless

      An anti-imagination market.

      You really should be using LESS energy. Also less food, water, and air.

      You need to spend much more time sitting quietly, cut back on breathing, and eat 40% fewer calories.

      Everywhere we need more clear thinking and fewer institutionalized individuals attempting to force a "solution" to a perceived "problem" on the rest of the world.

      Turn off excessive internet access.

      Skeptics? Opponents? Don't fuss about them.

    3. Aldous


      when are the advertising hoardings going to have their 3*500w halogen lights turned off?

      when those are outlawed maybe i'll give a fudge about turning off my 8 watt llights everytime i leave the room

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How is this new?

    How is this different to the generator sat outside our machine room right now? And sat outside every other medium to large data center in the World?

  9. Daniel 1

    Re:Scalable or reneable?

    Everything you say about biomass fuel is true, but we should, perhaps bear in mind, that all we are currently burning, is biomass fuel. The only thing that makes it "efficient" is that we have spent a couple of hundred years burning off a couple of hundred million years-worth of accumulated biomass.

  10. archengel46

    Excuse me....

    What exactly is renewble about the natural gas that they are using at the moment? How can Google say that they are using renewable energy when they are using gas?!!! RANT RANT RANT! I demand a RANT!

  11. Louis 3


    "converts air and fuel into electricity" just like a regular generator. Wow! High tech. Do you start it with one of those cutting-edge recoil starting devices with the special rope with the frayed ends?

  12. Steven Hunter

    Recouping costs claims are BS

    "the company claims that buyers can expect to recoup the cost in energy savings in three to five years."

    I'd like to see the math backing up this assertion. Here's some math disproving it:

    100KWh (kilowatt hours) is about $10 in the US[1], so a years worth of electricity would cost $87,600 on average. With a price tag of $700,000 it would take about 8 years to recoup your costs *ONLY IF ONE ASSUMES THAT THE COST OF THE FUEL IS ZERO*.

    In Hawaii the price of electricity was 32.28¢ per KWh in 2008, at that rate your bloom box "pays for itself" in about 2.5 years (again *ASSUMING THE COST OF FUEL IS ZERO*).

    [1] While this price varies depending on location,10.04¢ was the US average for combined residential, commercial, and industrial costs for 2008-2009.

  13. Ammaross Danan


    "US television news magazine 60 Minutes reported that Google has been running four "Bloom Boxes" in a data center for the past 18 months, but this is a tad misleading."

    Since when has 60 Minutes ever NOT been misleading with their hypegasm reports? Remember the whole SUV "exploding gas tanks" debacle where they planted explosive charges to get it to blow up on impact?

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Thought the weight /size was a web page typo

    So I checked the PDF as well.

    WTF. A 100Kw generator weight 10 tons in a box 18ft x 7ft x 63/4ft (well it is US kit)

    To put this in perspective that is <135HP. Packaged generating sets can deliver substantially above that. This is near a 20 foot equivalent container in size.

    I strongly doubt it will be competitive with even a packaged gas turbine (the high end solution for this.

    My first though was WTF but I'm raising to Epic Fail.

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Aside from Kudos there has to be *major* subsidy being handed out

    I cannot see how this V0.9 tech can compete against anything as simple as on site generating package whose coolant cycle is plumbed into the building heating system.

    1. Stuart Halliday


      In the UK a 1KWh is ~12.4p, so 100KWh is £12.40 or $18.89. Gee you guys get it easy!

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