What is the straight dope on Blue Box ?

Here is the article on blue box fuel cell device .

what do dopers think ?

I don’t have any solid evidence but I’m leery of it being any major breakthrough. Odds are good that it’s basically just a bog-standard fuel cell. It may be a little more efficient than others that are on the market right now, but probably not (bigger and better outfits are pouring money into fuel cell R&D). So without any evidence I’m guessing its strategic media hype to increase investment (they lost 71 million last year).

Some more info


Yeah, it seems to be mostly hype.

It’s Bloom, not Blue.

Its a big fuel cell. Someone at slashdot did the ROI and its not impressive. It’ll take 30 years to break even compared to just buying power from the power company. Do these things even last that long?


I think that’s a bit unfair.
If this technology works as advertised, the price could come down substantially. Unlike regular fuel cells, this one doesn’t use any particularly exotic metals in the catalyst, which could make it relatively inexpensive to mass produce. To judge it’s ROI based on hand-made prototypes is unreasonable.

I’m skeptical, and I’ve seen far too many of these ideas go nowhere, but I’m at least willing to wait and see.

What is the source of energy on these things?
I mean, fuel cells are a method converting stored chemical energy, right?
You can treat them as batteries in a way, but they are NOT a source of energy.
So… where does the energy come from?

Does the Bloom box convert natural gas to electricity more efficiently than a traditional natural gas fired power plant?

Natural gas and oxygen. I presume the oxygen in the air is sufficient and you have to provide the natural gas.

Thanks. For a minute there I was afraid that it was going to involve a perpetual motion device.

OK, one assume that using this is more efficient than having a gigantic gas turbine cranking out megawatts like we do now, right?
If so, then maybe this is a good idea. $3000 upfront is a good price for a household if the cost of the electricity coming from the system (the cost of natural gas) is less than that coming from my power company.

This shouldn’t be a difficult thing to calculate.

Any real figures available?

My coworker was all excited about this after seeing the segment on 60 Minutes. First thing Monday morning he went straight to the boss’s office and started raving about it. He was incensed that our (large telecom) company wasn’t on board with it. “If Google and Walmart and Starbucks are using it, why aren’t we??!!”

This is the same co-worker that thinks that Randall Mills’ Blacklight Power is going to change the world.

I do not know how efficient this thing is. Seen the claims but nothing that gives good side-by-side comparisons.

As for gas versus electric the answer is “it depends”. Rates can vary a lot all over the place.

That said I found this page which makes some comparisons on costs of running gas versus electric appliances. On the whole it seems gas is cheaper but not by much. If it takes 30 years to recover the cost of the unit I am not sure that is attractive enough to make people run out and buy one. On the upside though is the presumably low emission side of the equation so if you care enough about that to spend the money on the unit then may be a good deal.

One thing pointed out in the 60 Minutes was that the end consumers for the Bloom Box aren’t meant to be homeowners, but municipal power suppliers and large businesses. IOW, Entergy or Edison would use these Bloom Boxes to take the place of turbines and other generators.

Everyone spent a lot of time speculating about the Steorn / Orbo device, and it was the subject of a few threads here on the Dope. I suggested just waiting to see how things panned out, and we now know that the whole Steorn thing is or was nonsense.

I’m not saying the Bloom Box is in the same category. And I’m not saying idle speculation can’t be harmless fun. But really, the same advice applies. All we know from the ‘60 Minutes’ piece is that someone has developed what they think is a radically innovative fuel cell that could significantly reduce energy costs. A lot of investment money has been sunk into it, and some big (= headline magnetic) companies have agreed to run trials. Give it some time, and we’ll know if it turns out to be signifcant or not.

If these fuel cells start becoming common the price of natural gas would be likely to increase.

But I do see a point of using them as backup power replacing diesel generators. Usually when there’s a power outage, city supplied gas still works and you can run these fuel cells until power is restored.


I don’t think so. The point of fuel cells is that you can supply them with practically any hyrdocarbon to turn into fuel. At the moment, natural gas is the cheapest/most readily available source, but if natural gas goes up in price as a result, the cell should be able to run on other fuel sources instead. And that pressure should keep the price of the gas from skyrocketing.

The 60 Minutes piece gave the example of Google’s headquarters, which is using Bloom Boxes fed by biogas.

Considering that Bloom Boxes are installed and running generating power now. The issue is are they cheap enough to compete with more traditional way of generating power. Not are they a complete fraud from beginning to end like Steorn.