Evolving natural gas technology may change everything about how we get our energy; but what will the fractivists and Luddites do about this one?
Did you know that technology has recently been discovered to generate electricity using natural gas without burning it? It’s a power cell technology, discovered by Professor Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC) in the A. James Clark School of Engineering and being manufactured by Redox Power Systems.
Natural Gas Technology Evolves
This new natural gas technology works by converting natural gas to electricity through an electrochemical process. It is being marketed as the Cube by… Redox, according to Forbes magazine, and can be configured to fit a variety of uses, including homes and housing developments, businesses, skyscrapers, hospitals, and even automobiles.
The Cube fuel cell is just a little larger than a dishwasher, Forbes says, which is about 10% the size of the fuel cells already in use but costs 90% less. It connects to a natural gas line and produces both heat and electricity as a result of the electrochemical process. It has no engine. There are also almost no moving parts so the system operates silently. It is on all the time as a result of how it operates. Here’s some more from a piece in MIT Technology Review.
Conventional solid-oxide fuel cells run at high temperatures, making them more expensive and prone to performance losses. A key advance in the Maryland fuel cell is that it is based on cerium oxide and bismuth oxide, which are far more electrically conductive than materials used in commercial versions and produce much more electricity per square centimeter. The cell can operate at 650 °C, down from 900 °C in existing products, reducing thermal stresses and insulation needs. And the final product is made of 32 stacks, each of which can be replaced if it fails.
The gray box mocks up a 25-kilowatt version of the technology, which is now under development by a startup called Redox Power Systems. Redox is building a factory in Melbourne, Florida, and hopes to launch the product in 2014. A 25-kilowatt fuel cell is enough to power a small strip mall; units that are smaller still could serve a single house. In the long term, the technology could even be put into hybrid vehicles to charge their batteries, since it is both lighter than an internal-combustion engine and more efficient at producing electricity.
A Carbon Crunching, Fuel Saving Natural Gas Technology
Moreover, according to the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute:
The system “provides safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, on–site and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources.”
“The promise is this: generate your own electricity with a system nearly impervious to hurricanes, thunderstorms, cyber attacks, derechos, and similar dangers, while simultaneously helping the environment.”
“Every business or home should be able to safely generate its own energy,” said Warren Citrin, CEO and director of Redox. “We currently rely upon a vulnerable electrical grid. The best way to decrease that vulnerability is through distributed energy, that is, by making your own energy on-site. We are building systems to do that, with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability. These should be common appliances.”
“Redox plans to release The Cube in 2014. The first version will be configured to 25 kilowatts, which can comfortably power a gas station, moderately sized grocery store or small shopping plaza.”
“Additional power offerings will follow. Using different-sized fuel cell stacks, the company can offer The Cube at 5 kW, to provide always-on electricity for an average American home, or up to 80 kW in one system. Cubes can also be combined to provide even more power in a modular fashion.”
Still another article in The Week, says this:
The potential benefits of this kind of technology are enormous. They provide a source of electricity that’s nearly immune to weather disasters and cyber-attacks, while at the same time creating almost no polluting substances and way less CO2 than other energy sources.
What will the Luddites and anti-fossil fuel radicals think of this new technology? It’s the perfect complement to renewables. How will they find a way to argue this potential replacement for the dreaded internal combustion engine is somehow dangerous; that this carbon cruncher will be the end of life as we know it; that this small-scale solution should be banned? They will, of course. You know they will because they need the cause more than the solution. It’s the nature of the beast, but meanwhile natural gas technology moves ahead, unswayed by the hysteria and undeterred by the nonsense.