Fuel cells seen as energy source of the future

A California fuel-cell manufacturer announced this week that it will build its East Coast manufacturing facility at the former Chrysler plant site in Newark, Del. That could mean 1,500 new jobs for the area.

Bloom Energy wants to make fuel cells the affordable energy of the future. The dream energy source is one that’s clean, cheap and efficient. Those working on developing fuel cells say they have the clean and efficiency factors down–they just need to make it cheap.

Fuel cells were invented in 1839. So far, however, economies of scale and the price of materials have made them too expensive for cars or homes.

Bloom Energy says it can change that with the “Bloom Box.” Fuel cells do need an energy source such as hydrogen. But they use a “clean” chemical process to generate power, not pollution-causing combustion.

Suresh Advani, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Delaware, researches fuel-cell technology. He says if fuel cells can be made affordable, they could make an electrical grid unnecessary in developing nations. He envisions it in much the same way that cell-phone technology was able to provide telephone service worldwide.

“In Africa, India and China, the network of landlines was so hard to build that when the cell phones came in, people used cell phones. Not many people use land lines at all,” he said. “If this power become cheap, people might not depend on the grid power at all, they might just use this power for their houses.”

Advani says so far the “Bloom Box” is used to power large company headquarters such as Google and eBay.

The state of Delaware will give the company millions of dollars in incentives. If approved by lawmakers and regulators, Bloom Energy could break ground on the site in the fall.

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