Feeds

Silicon Valley hypegasm for miracle shoebox powerplants

'No emissions - too good to be true?' Well yes, actually

High performance access to file storage

Oh no - We're going to need even more gas

So we're talking about fossil natural gas here for most users. Compared to coal, natural gas is a clean fuel, especially if used with high efficiency. In America, which doesn't yet use it much - especially in a domestic context - it also appears to be in secure supply, especially compared to importing oil from the volatile Middle East, Nigeria or Venezuela.

But America might take warning from old Blighty, and indeed from Western Europe in general, where gas is hugely more popular. Blessed/cursed with a widespread gas grid, legacy of the days when Britain was the world's primary industrial power and when coal gas was used even for lighting, we Brits are nowadays hopelessly addicted to natural gas.

We use it not just to heat our homes, cook our food, provide the hot water which is such a lynchpin of the luxurious Western lifestyle (clean clothes, clean bedding, low rates of infection, personal hygiene) - we even generate large proportions of our grid electricity with it. The power stations are generally high-efficiency combined cycle gas turbines - we're still waiting to hear from Bloom how their kit compares to CCGTs.

Blighty's gas formerly came from our own North Sea fields, but those are playing out and more and more is set to be piped in (across similarly gas-hungry Europe) from Russia, putting us more and more under the thumb of an increasingly bumptious and unfriendly Kremlin.

Distributed gas fuel-cell microgenerators along the lines foreseen by Bloom, probably used as part of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units, are an idea that has already been considered for the UK. The end result, as concluded in a recent study, would be to worsen the national addiction to gas and reduce the scope for technologies which are actually low- to zero- carbon like wind or nuclear.

In the end, gas fuel cells for buildings simply replaces one grid - the electric one - with another, the gas grid. It might, lacking the almost universal pipe network of the UK, be a grid made up of tanker or gas-cylinder trucks, but it is infrastructure all the same.

Fuel cells are doubtless cleaner than coal and might match or even exceed CCGT power stations and electric transmission in efficiency of gas use and thus in terms of carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour - but probably not by a lot, not enough to seriously affect national emissions. And if Bloom cells do become widespread, they will drive up gas demand even higher. People might even start making gas out of coal again, as the Victorians did.

Ultimately, if you view it as a way of moving off coal electricity and onto gas the way Americans do, the Bloom Box kit could be seen as green - though a fairly pale green at best. For countries which already use too much gas, like the UK, it's a bad idea both on green and energy-security grounds and should surely not be encouraged.

In fact, those with the best interests of Western democracy and/or the environment at heart might actually hope that the Bloom Box isn't as efficient and cheap as its makers suggest. If it really is within easy reach of every householder, if it really does open a can of whup-ass on the electric grid in terms of price, it will naturally take the world by storm without any hefty California-style subsidies. The recent "dash to gas" seen in Blighty will spread across the world, funnelling cash and clout to hardliners in Moscow, Tehran and elsewhere to begin with.

Then, when the gas has all been turned into atmospheric carbon, we'll all have to spend another fortune going onto wind or nuclear - or, just maybe, back onto coal.

Fortunately, given the history of Silicon Valley hypegasm product launches, it seems likely that the Bloom Box isn't quite all that it's cracked up to be. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.