Last month, a start up company, Redox Power Systems, unveiled a new fuel cell technology dubbed “The Cube”. A refrigerator-sized solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) which is said to be more efficient and one-tenth cheaper than the Bloom Energy Server. The Cube promises significantly lower cost and higher performance efficiency. Redox Power Systems claims that once it is built, it will cost $800 per kilowatt, a huge leap compared to Bloom’s $10,000 per kilowatt.
The Cube’s technology is based on research by scientist Eric Wachsman. The huge difference is brought by the technology used to build fuel cells that can operate at much lower temperatures, has greater conductivity and energy density. The lower the operating temperature, the simpler the engineering needed. This made it possible to use less expensive materials.
It also allows movement from an ‘electrolyte-supported cell’ structure, used by Bloom energy servers, to the ‘electrode-supported cell’ structure used by Redox and other SOFC developers today. This allows them to produce a much thinner cells, and in turn higher energy density for The Cube, about ten times that of Bloom’s.
The Cube will be able to use natural gas, hydrogen and biofuel and also, less attractively, gasoline and propane for fuel. It’s designed to be used as base power and back-up power so that it can provide a building’s complete power needs and also act as a back-up power source in the event that grid power is lost like during natural disasters. Where net metering is available, customers could sell back excess power to the grid.
Redox Power Systems has already raised $5 million in funding, far from bloom’s $1 billion in venture funding, and plans to have a 25 kW prototype finished by December, and ready for mass production by late 2014.
As promising as it sounds but at this point this still much like a science project than a breakthrough in fuel cell technology. What looks good on paper does not always reflect its real world output. And building it is just one challenge, because technology or innovations with this much possible impact on the market will not only attract consumers. It will also attract powerful companies and people who might be on the disadvantage..
So good luck to the people of redox power systems. This will definitely be a breakthrough in energy generation and to off grid power generation, if they can deliver what they promise.