Fuel cells


Fuel Cell Reality Check: A Blooming Solution at Caltech?

The “Bloom Box” may be moving one step closer to affordability at Caltech — but is it even close to tipping point for the mass market?

Caltech needed more generation capacity to meet the demands of its energy-intensive research.

Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy made a big splash in 2010 when it came out of stealth mode – on the CBS program 60 Minutes no less – and announced its high-efficiency fuel cell, spawned by a NASA project for Mars. It has earned an impressive roster of clients including Google, eBay and Walmart.

But beyond the inevitable skeptics, the really big catch? “Bloom Boxes,” as the fuel cells have been dubbed, have a price tag of around $700,000. Hardly affordable for all but the largest companies with plenty of cash.

Yet California Institute of Technology, the private research university generally known as Caltech, had twenty Bloom Boxes installed on its Pasadena campus in 2010. Each box now produces 100 kilowatts of electricity for a total of two megawatts capacity; or 17% of the university’s electricity demand.
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California’s “Clean Car” Rules: A Historical Perspective

A leading transportation expert weighs in on California’s tough new emissions standards

California's new emission standards would mandate a 15% increase in zero-emission-vehicles by 2025.

UPDATE: Today, California air regulators approved a package of “Clean Car” standards that many are calling historic. But there’s nothing new about that. California’s been out front in the clean car derby for decades.

In her recent story on QUEST, Lauren Sommer unpacks the proposed emissions standards. As part of her reporting she spoke with Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and a member of California’s Air Resources Board. Sperling puts the state’s new emissions standards in historical perspective, arguing that since the 1960s virtually all innovation in automotive emissions controls can be traced back to California. Here’s a snippet of Sommer’s conversation with Sperling. Continue reading

Speed Bumps on the “Hydrogen Highway”

Seems like the Governor is spending a lot of time looking at cars lately. If the rest of us spent as much time cruising Auto Row, the recession might already be fading in the rear-view mirror.

Governor Schwarzenegger tries out the Volkswagen Passat Lingyu. Photo: Governor's Office

Governor Schwarzenegger at the wheel of a Volkswagen Passat Lingyu. Photo: Governor's Office

But California’s chief executive isn’t interested in run-of-the-mill rolling stock (he will, of course, happily take credit for inventing the Hummer). He’s into exotics: the alternative-fuel cars of the future–and in some cases, present.

At least five times in the last three weeks, the Governor’s Office has created photo ops with alt-fuel autos, prototypes or refueling stations; from a fuel-cell Volkswagen (June 3) to the Mutt-&-Jeff of electrics, Hummer and Peapod (May 28 & June 10, respectively), he’s kicked the tires on a whole generation of not-widely-available wheels–not to mention the home ethanol refinery (June 4) or the hydrogen refueling station in Santa Monica (May 27).

All of which got us to wondering: “Dude, where’s our Hydrogen Highway?” You may recall the Governor’s promise five years ago, that California would by now be coming down the home stretch on a whole new infrastructure for the coming swarm of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Monday morning on KQED’s weekly Quest radio feature, David Gorn reports that we’ve apparently hit a few speed bumps:

“The technology clearly has promise, but it’s behind schedule. Schwarzenegger’s original plan called for 100 to 150 hydrogen fuel stations by next year, and so far there are only about two dozen. He also wanted 2,000 hydrogen-powered cars on the road, yet fewer than 200 are being road-tested today. The lack of progress has prompted California’s non-partisan state legislative analyst to recommend scrapping state funding for the hydrogen program. And on the federal level, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has asked Congress to cut about half of the national hydrogen-research budget. Chu said hydrogen technology is too far from fruition.”

None of these details stopped Governor  Schwarzenegger from hyping the 2009 Hydrogen Road Tour, a recently concluded San Diego-to-Vancouver rally, designed to highlight fuel-cell technology:

“We will keep pushing, and thanks to our public-private partnerships and the commitment of these automakers and energy companies, the era of pollution-free transportation is dawning.”

The Governor’s statement went on to say that “Auto manufacturers expect the number of hydrogen vehicles to increase to 4,300 by 2014 and more than 40,000 vehicles by 2017.” Of course, that was before Energy Secretary Steve Chu announced that R&D funding for hydrogen fuel cells on the road didn’t quite make the cut for the next DOE budget. Plug-in hydrid, anyone?