Here's the first piece of content I'm going to talk about.
Throughout this piece, there is a casual implication that the fuel cell is a new invention, which couldn't be further from the truth.
The segment with Michael Kanellos of Greentechmedia.com was by far the most informative part, especially when he said fuel cells were "like the divas of industrial equipment" that engineers have been trying to make work since the 1830s. His skepticism of the dazzling new box was refreshing.
Still, I would guess the takeaway for the typical viewer is that Bloom Energy CEO K.R. Sridar is a genius -- a mad scientist whose knowledge is other-worldy, and inherently inaccessible to the feeble minds of nonscientists. And this is sad, because even though energy production is incredibly expensive, is actually a fairly simple concept, thanks to the wonderful Law of Conservation of Energy.
The real question, which the piece fails to answer (I'm not sure the producers even knew to ask it) is simple: How is Bloom's fuel cell different from existing models? One of the things that has kept fuel cell divas prohibitively expensive is that researchers have only been able to get them to work by using expensive catalysts (the material that drives the energy-producing chemical reaction inside the cell), usually platinum.
Did Sridar's group find a new, cheaper catalyst? Cause that would be a big deal. But all we are told is that he uses beach sand for something, paints the disks green and black (WHY?), and that, instead of platinum, Bloom uses a "cheap metal alloy." There are lots of "cheap metal alloys." And what is meant by cheap?
Another important idea that gets minimal explanation in this peice is that distributed energy is ideal. Placing energy sources in the vicinity of the facilities they power would be a significant improvement over transporting coal from a mine to a coal-fired power plant, burning it, and then transmitting the electricity it through power lines. All of that takes energy -- the very thing we are trying to save. If something like the Bloom Box proves it can work (for a long time!), and can compete with solar, wind, and fossil fuels at the energy marketplace, it could solve some real problems.
But I'm not convinced that will happen. In fact, the only thing this video convinced me is that 60 Minutes doesn't mind airing infomercials. And the urgency of the global energy dilemma doesn't leave us much time for those.
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