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Get Off The Grid: GE Announces Home Fuel Cells 306

Scareduck writes: "GE has announced a nifty home fuel cell system, the HomeGen 7000, that they claim will be able to generate enough electricity for a single family dwelling. 'About the size of a refrigerator,' there's no moving parts, but they still want to inspect the thing on an annual basis. All you need is a natural gas or propane connection. They claim that hydrocarbon emissions are much lower than conventional power plants, plus you get free hot water or space heating with the waste heat. GE's looking at a 2001 launch date, but they're taking names for early adopters now."
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Get off the Grid: GE Announces Home Fuel Cells

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  • which is bad because either (or possibly both) the manufacturing process and the trashed cells are bad for the environment to boot.
  • When I first heard about fuel cells 2-3 years ago, people were mentioning how fuel cells could be used with just about any gas or liquid that contains hydrogen. I've seen examples that use hydrocarbon-fuels like methane (Collected from a compost pile of corn stalks and cow dung), propane, or gasoline, and my favorite (because it's the cleanest in terms of pollution), water.

    Nowadays, it seems that Fuel cells are always mentioned in conjunction with natural gas. Why natural gas over water? More hydrogen per molecule or something?

    Interesting fuel cell story:
    I once saw a neat homemade fuel cell project which was composed of a couple of solar panels, a fuel cell, a water tank, and a tank to hold hydrogen. The project worked like this:

    At night, the Fuel Cells would power the project. The fuel cell would do it's thing and seperate water into oxygen and hydrogen, generating a change when the hydrogen pass through the membrane. The leftover oxygen bled into the atmosphere, and the hydrogen was collected in a seperate tank.

    This method generated enough electicity to power 'the project' (A couple of lightbulbs and a stereo).

    As I understand it, you just need an electric shock (or a flame) to fuse oxygen and hydrogen back into a water molecule.

    In the daytime, solar panels would generate enough electricity to fuse the hydrogen (from the tank) with oxygen (from the atmosphere) back into water, which was collected in the watertank. Meanwhile, the fuel cell would continue to generate enough electricity to power the project (but the fuel cells could be turned off during the day while other Solar Panels generated enough electicity to power the project).

    Every once in a while, the son or the father would suplement the water (fuel) tank with some distilled water.

  • GE could do worse than to talk to the manufacturers of RVs. One of these in an RV would be great. Then you wouldn't have to stop in some RV park to get power for the night, nor rely on a generator that is loud in an otherwise quite enviroment. It could be powered by one of those propane bottles that you hook up to the little bbq grills. I can't wait to be able to read the article.
  • Line losses will kill you with low voltage DC. Do you want to distribute the power with bus bars? High voltage AC is more efficient. You can reduce the size of transformers by increasing the frequency. Aircraft use 400 Hz power instead of 50/60 Hz.
  • The system already works like this.

    In most states, the power company must pay you for excess electricity the going rate for bulk electiricty- that is, what they would pay another company for electricity in the event of a shortage.

    See greenpower/netmetering/index.shtml [] for more.

  • Seems to me I'd heard somewhere that the sulfur is added to the natural gas in order to facilitate detection by humans, since "natural" natural gas is odorless.

    Maybe it was just a dream...
  • by spot ( 3593 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @06:11PM (#772792) Homepage
    These systems are only marketed and sold be GE, the company behind the technology and manufacturing is Plug Power [], a publicly traded company (ie you can invest). The other leading fuel cell company is Ballard Power [], also available on nasdaq. Plug is aimed at the home market, and ballard at automobiles (think about the california zero emissions regulations).

  • But this device doesn't make you self-sufficient - it only makes you less dependent on the electric grid. You still need a natural gas or propane feed. Now granted you could stockpile your own propane, but you could just as easily stockpile gasoline and have your own generator right now. I don't think this device makes the public any less dependent on a large power distribution network of some kind. Only solar or wind power have any semi-realistic chance of that at the moment.
  • The specs on GE's web site say:

    7 kW continuous
    10 kW for 30 seconds
    15 kW for 0.5 seconds

    (at 77F and 500 feet)

  • You've obviously never had to shovel snow all day just so you could get your car out of the driveway for the next day.
  • To calculate the pay-back period for a device like this, you'd take into account the cost of the device and the cost of fuel and maintainance and calculate how long it would be until you break-even with what you'd pay for electricity. That's the economic pay-back. Early adopters will probably not reach it because the initial price for the devices will be high. Fuel cells are efficiently enough that later adopters have a good chance of doing so.

    Then there's an ecological pay-back. How long does it take the device to return the energy used to manufacture it, and at what cost. This may not be as much of a factor for fuel cells, but it is really crucial when considering solar cells: many of them never pay back in energy the energy it cost to manufacture the system, if you count the aluminum frames for the cells, the mounting and tracking hardware, and the batteries and electrical equipment. Solar cells still make sense if you're off the grid or want to be prepared for an extended outage. I have a rather large panel that charges a battery to run my ham station in an emergency. But we need a breakthrough in efficiency.


  • why was this post marked as off-topic? The moderation system is so stupid! This thread is about a fuel cell that uses natural gases to make electricity. Some dude mentioned that the use of natural gases ties you to natural resources, so you're not really independed. Some other dude replied and mentioned that biomass such as feces or garbage will produce natural gas when rotting, so it's a way to become "independent". why is it off-topic? at least he wasn't talking about penis birds and what not...
  • That should read "Fuel cells are efficient enough"...


  • Kinda offtopic, but... Just better hope you never slip & fall & break something. Or basically need any kind of civic services. Get off the power grid, but if you move away from everything else, you'd better know how to take care of yourself. Thus the price for isolation from society.
  • The city I live in uses gas widely, and you rarely hear of gas explosions -- I can only think of one, caused when a chap tried to steal some piping in a disused building which was still connected to the mains...

    Plenty of people do get killed hitting power poles with their cars though.

    And the unit isn't a 'tank of natural gas' -- it processes the gas, it doesn't need to store it.

  • Do you have any idea how much it would cost in terms of fuel expenditure to get 1lb of nuclear waste to the sun?

    Lemme give you a hint. $1000/lb to low earth orbit is CHEAP. Now you have to get it out of Earth's gravity well and bowl it at the sun, which takes even MORE fuel.

    Please tell me you're trolling...
  • The main reason for targeting commercial fuel cells at natural gas/propane applications has to do with fuel delivery infrastructure. Early adopters of new technology have enough problems as it is; the more potential problems the technology producer can head off, the more likely the technology is to be adopted.

    If GE were to go straight to hydrogen fuel cells, they would be up against the problem of how to get the hydrogen fuel to the customers and how to store it once it's there (yes, I know that H2 is not much more dangerous than other volatile fuels like octane, but too many people think Hindenburg when they think Hydrogen).

    The building trades are incredibly conservative when it comes to new technology; anything that is not tried and true entails the risk that the installer will at the very least have to service early glitches at their own expense, and at worst will have to tear out and replace the new stuff (also at their own expense). Remember Urea-Formaldehyde insulation? This was an expensive one for the construction industry to swallow. Polybutelene plumbing is another such example. If you approach the construction trades and say you have this great new machine, but that it requires an entirely new fuel infrastructure and plumbing methods and storage tanks to adopt, they'll turn their backs and walk away. Present them with the same machine and say that it uses mehtods they're already familiar with ("Standard propane or LNG fitting on one end, standard power connector on the other!") and they're much more likely to listen. If GE hopes to deploy these units in any kind of volume, they definitely have to get the building trades on board. They won't achieve the volumes necessary to drop the price if they only sell in onesies to the "green" segment of the population.

    Notice one other thing: the design of the unit is *modular*. The propane or LNG goes through a fuel converter, which produces H2 that gets fed into the fuel cell! What this means is that once the early adoption period is past and this is a more mainstream technology, it would be cheap and easy to retrofit these units to use H2 (say, cracked from water) *directly*.

    In other words, the marketing of this thing is brilliant. Use familiar tools and techniques and fuels now, but leave the door open for more exotic and cleaner possibilities later.

    I, for one, am impressed.
  • Dude, I have a friend whose family has a passive solar heating system in their house. Basically, the water is heated by solar cells on the roof of the house, then stored in an insulated tank until it is used. It's a pretty simple system, but it works really well -- my friend has been been taking free hot showers all her life.

    Stephen C. VanDahm
  • This is obviously a Ballard fuel cell, repackaged as a GE product. This isn't suprising, since Ballard is licensing its technology to everyone, for the right price.

    I do see using natural gas for something like this as a big waste, but these fuel cells do have a definate advantage. With the addition of some solar panels, and a proper gas tank / compressor and a fresh water source, people will be able to generate electricity constantly, and save the energy as hydrogren. Its much more effecient than batteries, and you can store up large amounts of energy when the weather is good, and when its poor you can draw on weeks and weeks of stores, without the usual power leakage that standard batteries employ.

    I see a time in the future where cities will eventually start to decentralize. Even now, aside from power issues, people could live 1000 kms from anyone, and have a full compliment of high speed internet, satelite phone, television and so on. Working from home in many of the newer high tech positions is a reality. Power is really the missing key, and with a small tower that is a combination wind and solar collector, one could completely seperate themselves from all of the utilities.

    Even fuel for mechanicized electric vehicles can be generated by the same technology that will be used to split water and store the hydrogen. Simply draw some off of the house's main power supply, and away you go.

    What's the last key for something like this to become reality? Faster transportation. Most people I know would love to live 1000 kms from anyone, if at a whim they could be in the city. I wonder how NASA's new single person air vehicle is coming along? This thing should definately be hydrogen / electric engine based.
  • Now I can have my very own generator without all the noisy diesel combustion. I wonder how big a Beowulf cluster it would power...
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @08:30PM (#772806) Homepage
    This looks like Ballard's [] technology, scaled down to home size. And from a major power systems manufacturer, too. Looks good.

    Take a close look at the spec sheet. Max efficiency of this system is at loads below 30% of full load. This is very different from most other generating systems, which are most efficient near full load. There's thus a tradeoff between plant cost and fuel consumption; it may pay to buy extra generation capacity. Also note that the operating temperature range is limited (-20F to +104F) without "optional upgrades". Having generation gear that quits in hot weather is not good; that's not when you want to suddenly start drawing power from the grid.

    Still, this is going to look really good to anybody who has a Diesel running off a propane tank.

  • That's an interesting thought. It brings up a question I've had for a while - how does methane compare to propane or natural gas in terms of energy generation?

    Say you did have a fair number of people living in rural areas that were interested in doing something like this. How feasible would it be to use methane produced from animal manure/organic decomposition in a fuel cell like this? Presumably in many rural areas (maybe not in the Australian outback) you'd find an abundance of farms...

    You could hook a methane generator up to your own house's septic system too I suppose. Running out of fuel? Simple: finish your lunch, grab a book ... and head for the bathroom. ;)
  • may get an injunction on these fuel cells thingies..
  • I think you misunderstand how a fuel cell works, it doesnt "store" energy like a battery does, you dont recharge a fuel cell. Fuel, in this case, natural gas goes in, and electricity, heat and waste come out. Most of the energy lost in your house is lost as heat energy, which can be a power source, but only if there is a big temperature gradient. (say your teakettle was at 500 degrees C, they you can think about producing power). It is very hard to recapture low grade waste heat like that given off by most household appliances, and you certainly cant put it into a fuel cell, unless you converted the waste heat to natural gas somehow, which is impossible at the heat levels in the home. You cant win, you cant break even, you cant get out of the game.

  • Let me start by saying for three months out of the year I carry cylinders of propane on my back into a boat, across three miles of water, back on my back and up to the generator shed. I put about two hours of labor into each 80lb cylinder of propane. I care about efficiency.

    These fuel cell units are 38% efficient at 2kw and 27% efficient at 7kw. Internal combustion generator units of similar size run from 10% to 30%. Thats not much of a gain from a high end internal combustion generator. Its probably about even with a top notch generator on a battery bank.
    I wonder how the cost stacks up? (Figure a $6000 generator set and $5000 for the battery system.)
    The HomeGen survey asks how much I make, but doesn't hint at how much their unit costs. Thats probably a bad sign.

    Cogeneration is interesting, I burn as much propane in the on-demand water heater as I do in
    the electrical plant, so the numbers work out about right. Unfortunately, most people probably have a peak hot water demand in the morning after their evening electrical use has had plenty of time to cool off so you might have to restructure your schedule in order to reap a benefit.
  • Yes it is possible to reuse spent nuclear fuel rods by breeding the U-238 into fissionable Plutonium-239. However there are serious problems with this, namely the unbelievable toxicity of plutonium, the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation that would be produced by entering said Plutonium into commercial circulation, the huge amount of waste produced in separating and purifying the Pu and the necessary use of liquid metal coolants(very dangerous, can't use water like normal reactors) in the core. It was for these reasons that the US abandoned all hopes for breeder reactors in the 70's and 80's along with Britain, France and Germany (contrary to the suggestion by another poster that "Carter did it").

    That said, you mentioned you thought there is no concerted effort to develop nuclear fusion power. I would agree that there is NOT enough money being put into research for fusion, however, FUSION IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE AND CONTROL!

    I work at the University of Rochesters' Omega Laser [] (most powerful in the world for now) which is used for inertial confinement fusion research and it takes pretty much the most clever engineering of the smartest scientists in the world just to produce stable fusion reactions that last mere millionths of a second long. No one knows how to design a fusion reactor that does not suffer from turbulent plasma instabilities and that achieves high density ultrahot ion temperatures at the same time. Pull of the design of a stable fusion reactor and the nobel is yours for the taking.
  • Most of my software development is for the power generation industry and I can say with pretty good authority that there are substantial power generation "Facilities" being deployed however they aren't the classic gigantic 300MW plant, but rather many 20MW micro-`plants' distributed throughout states. It simply makes more sense and due to a lot of convergence of technology it proves economically very effective.

  • by v4mpyr ( 185039 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @04:54PM (#772813)
    This thing would be great if it didn't require the natural gas or propane. I thought the whole point of these new fangled power systems was to move away from the dependancies of natural resources. Oh well, if it turns out to be as good as they're saying I'll be getting an extra one or two just to overclock my whole home network.

    Just imagine a Beowulf clust . . . oh, never mind. ;-)

  • Ah I stand corrected. I was under the impression that fuel cells were a means of storing energy. Shrug.
  • Grow some corn. Feed your fuel cell ethanol. While your at it, make yourself some hooch.
  • 1) They're the size of real refridgerators, not the euro crap. 2) Gas prices are already on the rise. More demand will mean higher prices. 3) Gas generated by biomass would be a better idea. 4) What next, a fart powered PDA?
  • 1) Not true. Ballard has made smaller units for distribution in China, using the same technology. They've heavily patented this technology, years and years ago. Powerplug most like is licensing this from Ballard then.

    2) This system doesn't make hydrogen on the fly. It extracts if from natural gas. Natural gas costs money. One of the benefits of Solar cells + wind power on a tower, producing power to split water, and using a compressor to store it, is that its much more effecient than batteries. Mass production of a small power producing station like this would result in a foolproof, quality system. If you've ever used rows of industrial strength batteries to store power, you'd know that the above solution is very desirable. Once the gas is stored, the power available doesn't degrade like a battery charge.

    3) I didn't say NASA was building single air vehicles. I did wonder how the vehicle THEY HAVE AN INTEREST IN was coming along, and since they ARE involved in its design, its a valid statement.

    4) Heh. You're living in the past. Electric engines are LIGHTER than gas engines that produce the same torque! The problem in the past has been the battery weight, which hydrogren/fuel cell technology solves.
  • Simple... It would take about 25 years of continuous operation for a solar cell to make back enough money to pay for it's installation. (This includes cost of support systems like necessary power converters.) That is longer than most components operational lifetimes.

    So unless you live in a remote location, it doesn't pay, not by a long shot.
  • Can you imagine what a tough time they would have selling these things if you also had to replace every single electrical device in your house? It's a real chicken & egg problem. Nobody will buy an energy source that won't work with their existing appliances & electronics, and nobody will buy a new appliance that won't work with their existing power supply. We're going to be using AC for a long time, even if it isn't the best distribution method around the house.
  • as someone said above, much of the loss/waste of power comes from the transferring that power from the plant -> your home...
  • Well, GE's spec's for this say that it can pump out 7kW continously. This is not quite 13 horsepower.

    You can't even power your Geo Metro with this :)

  • Thanks to the laws we all have so much respect for, you can pass your higher costs onto everyone else! That's right, if you can prove your alternate energy source costs more than the utility is willing to pay, you can force them to pay you that amount. This is great in that it's the absolute oposite of a free market: Everyone is forced to pay the highest bidder!

    Other costs are passed along too. One reader has pointed out that the utility is forced to hook your home generating facilities to the grid at their expense. These costs are obviously passed on to everyone else, cool. Who do you think suffers when that home station has problems? Like you know, the wind was not blowing in the heat of the afternoon, or your turbine blew chunks? Your neighbors, that's who, and those leaches deserve to have their lights flicker and their air conditioners brown out.

    Yes, I must recomend that everyone go buy one of these big fat things and become part time utility owners. If you can get propane or natural gas, you too can become independent from the local utility and force your costs onto everyone else. Hurah! This is the best thing since the SUV (Stupid Urban Vehicle).

  • Thanks to the laws we all have so much respect for, you can pass your higher costs onto everyone else! That's right, if you can prove your alternate energy source costs more than the utility is willing to pay, you can force them to pay you that amount! This is great in that it's the absolute oposite of a free market: Everyone is forced to pay the highest bidder!

    Other costs are passed along too. One reader has pointed out that the utility is forced to hook your home generating facilities to the grid at their expense. These costs are obviously passed on to everyone else, cool. Who do you think suffers when that home station has problems? Like you know, the wind was not blowing in the heat of the afternoon, or your turbine blew chunks? Your neighbors, that's who, and those leaches deserve to have their lights flicker and their air conditioners brown out.

    Yes, I must recomend that everyone go buy one of these big fat things and become part time utility owners. If you can get propane or natural gas, you too can become independent from the local utility and force your costs onto everyone else. Hurah! This is the best thing since the SUV (Stupid Urban Vehicle).

  • For that matter, you could run a turbine by burning propane or natural gas.

    The point of fuel cells is that they are at least an order of magnitude more efficient at turning chemical energy into electral energy than combustion-based systems. Because you are dealing with an electrochemical reaction instead of combustion, you have very clean emissions (pretty much pure CO2 and H2O) and much less waste heat. This means you need far less fuel to produce the same amount of electricity.
    "The axiom 'An honest man has nothing to fear from the police'

  • Some of the newer homes are being built with combo water heater/furnace systems where the hot water serves to heat air quickly, and the heat of the furnace heats the water as it heats the house. Now, let's see one of these tied into that kind of system... generate home heat, water heat, and power in one nice unit...
  • >>>the interstate highway system was created after Eisenhower led a convoy from one coast to the other and realized that twisting highways and dirt roads made for inefficient travel. The time it took for a military convoy to go coast to coast was cut by something like a factor of ten.>>> Actually, that march wasn't coast to coast us, he was in the eurpoean theater in WW II, and not only noted the 'bad' roads, but the autobahn, which provided for quick troop movement for the germans. (Interstate system also had a requirement that every 'x' miles must have a straight section of roadway to permit the system to be used for aircraft landing/take-offs as well.)
  • Could say the same thing about gas consumption.
    I guess wiht propane, that'd be different.

    As for hte 'cycle', I believe they only look for abnormally high power usage, especially in apartments where every suite is essentially the same. The power meters must be visited physically to monitor, and this would be an instant tipoff to growers. SO they don't monitor, I don't think, the exact 'on/off' cycle.
  • Maybe. That's not always true. If you, say, lived on the moon, it wouldn't be efficient at all! Or for that matter, anything in space - because the sun is an abundant source of energy, but chemical energy is very precious in space.

    Not only that, but why are all RC cars not powered by gasoline?


  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @08:49PM (#772830)
    The #1 problem with Fossil fuels isn't that they are non-renewable, it's the pollution caused by using them.

    If I understand correclty, the fuel-cell technology wil work with just about any reasonable hydrocarbon, or just pure hydrogen (and oxygen from outside osurce, ie: the air).

    Natural gas, propane, are simply compact and available sources of hydrogen.

    If Ballard ever gets their fuel cel into cars, that's great.. why? THe gas industry is happy, they can still sell gas. THe environmentalists are more happy, becuase the cars no longer have toxic emissions. ANd when we run out of petrol, we simply move to some other organic/synthetic.
  • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @06:39PM (#772835)
    H2O -->electrolysis--> 2 H2 1 O2

    2H2(from the electrolyzed water) + CO2(from your breath, the air, whatever) ---> CH4(methane [natural gas]) + O2

    robert zubrin is proposing this as the method by which a mars spacecraft could produce its own fuel for the return trip using the CO2 marian atmosphere and sunlight BTW. :]
  • Actually, that's
    2(H20) --> electrolysis --> 2 H2 + O2

  • Yeah, but aren't fuel cells *themselves* made of dangerous chemicals that need to be dug up or sythesized somehow? That takes energy, right? So, in toto (is that correct latin?), how much to feul cells really "save" as far as energy and the environment?

    Theoretically mini nuclear plants would be efficient and "emission-less". Of course that is only if you don't mind the radioactive rods in your backyard.
  • As a matter of fact that's already being done. The most common method is lay hot water pipes in the cement for the driveway, then keep warm water circulating during the winter. This is pretty expensive as you have to be careful when laying the pipes and pouring the concrete, plus can get pricey to operate, that's a lot of hot water to keep circulating. I do know of at least one guy here in Anchorage doing it, probably quite a few. Though it's not being done here, I've heard that some other northern cities are doing that to downtown streets/sidewalks, funded at least partially by the shops along said roads. In a busy commercial area the savings of not having the roads shutdown/slowed by snow and removeal equipment probably offsets the costs.

  • by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @09:00PM (#772843)
    You mention cracked from water as an alternate source for H2.

    So let's see.... you expend energy to crack the water, get H2 and O, run it thru this fuel cell, get H2O and energy.

    Am I missing something subtle here?

  • yup. there's one at [] . Ain't google [] great?

    I also put one up at http://dotslash ml [] but some of the images are still coming in. It's naturally a little slow.

    Note: as always, that mirror is there to help out the publishers of the original document. I'll remove it as soon as the original site becomes more usable (and I remember) or someone of reasonable authority asks me to.

  • The only way to fairly sell one of these things is a Watt type contract. Watt charged clients a fraction of the difference between the cost of his engines and what they replaced.

    GE has not forcast costs. These things need to be looked at once a year, and need "major components" once every five years. Design life is 15 years. In fifteen years, your payments may look small but your fuel will still cost money. If everyone buys one of these, the cost of fuel will go up, just like gasoline prices have jumped with SUV purchases. GE will swing the price of maintenance with demand too, we can be sure.

    In a free market, the price of a necessity will always hover just below above the cost of the less convenient alternative. How much GE can charge for this is going to depend on how far deregulation is actually carried and how far people will go to avoid getting raped by it. Don't count on corn to save you eat, don't play with your food []. Windmills and solar power are still much more expensive than comercially available power.

    The whole point of regulation was to provide this neccessity at a reasonable cost while giving investors a reasonable return on their investment. If this has failed, we should be looking at why and fix it. If these fuel cells are really superior, why not set them up under the normal utilites? It would be much esier to do this through large organizations with fixed profits than it would to do it like car sales for example. Somehow though, it seems like it's more expensive to distribute natural gas than electricity (pipe and pump vrs. wire and transformer) and this would fall down if all economic issues were considered rationaly.

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @09:10PM (#772850) Homepage
    Nowadays, it seems that Fuel cells are always mentioned in conjunction with natural gas. Why natural gas over water?

    Fuel cells work by reacting hydrogen with oxygen to make water and electricity. You can't put water into a fuel cell and have it work.

    You could split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then run the fuel cell off the hydrogen. If you did that, the fuel cell wouldn't actually care where you got the hydrogen; it still wouldn't be a water cell.

    There are several problems with hydrogen for the home. No one has hydrogen lines running to his house; no company is set up to provide hydrogen even if someone was ready; and hydrogen is difficult to contain safely and effectively. (The tiny hydrogen molecules can seep through many materials, even including some metals, so you would probably want to use liquid hydrogen, which you would have to refrigerate... aack.) If you want to make your own hydrogen from water, you will need to get a lot of electricity from somewhere and you will need to store the hydrogen... see above for some of the problems.

    But recently an almost magical catalyst was discovered: feed it natural gas, and it strips hydrogen off. It's simple: natural gas and oxygen in, and electricity, waste heat, and carbon dioxide out. (You can also do this trick with methanol, or even gasoline, so we may get fuel-cell cars soon.)

    With natural gas, you can just hook it up and it will just work. Direct hydrogen feed would be much messier.

    As to the science fair project... I don't think you correctly understand what was going on. It sounds to me like the fuel cell would run on hydrogen and oxygen at night, producing water; and during the day solar cells would split the water back into hydrogen and oxygen. As long as nothing wears out or breaks, and as long as the sun shines, such a device could run continuously.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    I believe you got the cycle backwards.

    It takes energy to seperate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Energy is released when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to form water.

    A fuel cell captures the electrical energy that is released when hydrogen and oxygen are combined to form water.
  • by pclinger ( 114364 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @06:52PM (#772855) Homepage Journal
    that they didn't come out with these back in November for all those y2k "it's the end of the world" idiots. They coulda made a killing.
  • I've posted elsewhere on the evils of PV. It ranks with nuclear as a time waster as far as energy efficiency or pollution are concerned. Considering it takes (optimisticlly) ten years or more for many nuclear power plants to pay back the energy investment to create them, you see where this leads. In the PV case, however, the payback for even crude systems is more than a decade. For useful power as we modern consumers use, which mandates storage and conditioning, the payback approaches more than you or I have on earth, with a high pollution penalty that makes gas or other sources of energy the winner. The real alternative energy is to use less. Efficiency, modifying use models, and less affluenza are the real winners hands down. If we were all to suddenly install roof tiles, we would a) bankrupt our energy supply, b) bankrupt our pocketbooks and those of our future generations, and c) feel really, really stupid in the morning.
  • The economics are iffy.

    I wonder if it would make more sense in particular cities/regions? NYC residents pay on the order of $0.15/kW for power.. Has solar or fuel-cell beaten that yet?

    Your Working Boy,
  • This is the coolest thing I've heard about this month! I just called the 800 number on that page, and the guy I talked to said that the target price is $7-10K.

    You missed part of their speil. The "$7-10K" price is the _introductory_ price. Once they get a decent demand volume built up, they plan to drop the price by about 50%.

    This would also be a *big* win, anywhere that storms have a nasty habit of knocking down power lines. Or, with suitable shock-mounting, anywhere there's an earthquake fault. Makes a nice way to not have to worry about PG&E getting the power lines up - I'm my own generation facility. Given that we're remodelling my partner's office (where the servers live) this winter, we may have to drop one of these in. And I'm _definitely_ including one when we do my house.

  • Also, we haven't made a new nuclear power plant in around 15 years or so.

    ... And the ones we do have keep getting shut down.

    Can't blame populist feelings totally though: Atomic Energy govdroids have screwed themselves quite a bit. Remember Shoreham? Planting a fission reactor smack dab in the middle of one of the most densely populated sections of the US? McFly???

    The problem isn't necessarily the safety of the fission process (we _can_ build safe packaging and processes for fuel storage, power generation, and waste storage) IMHO, but with the inability to trust the track record of the people tasked with doing this.

    Their incompetence has cost us billions, but what else is new with government?

    Your Working Boy,
  • by tetrad ( 131849 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @04:58PM (#772896)
    Why get off the grid? Why not stay on the grid and sell surplus electricity back to the power companies? With deregulation occurring in much of the US, this may be a real possibility...

    We've seen distributed computing, is it time for distributed power generation?

  • by gatzke ( 2977 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:00PM (#772910) Homepage Journal
    You can produce a good bit of methane yourself, without reliance on natural resources. Your poop and the excess biomass (garbage) from your house can be fermented to create a decent amount of methane. I have no idea if it would be enought to power a fuel cell, but it could be a start.

    Of course, you can always look for other alternatives, like grow corn for ethanol production (and use the excess biomass for methane) but the big oil companies don't like people looking into these kinds of ideas and technologies.
  • The 40% for conventional power plants is about right, but current fuel cell technology is normally around 55-60% efficient. They can get as high as about 85% when you make use of the heat as well.

  • by webrunner ( 108849 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:00PM (#772916) Homepage Journal
    I should hope that a refridgerator-sized generator has less emissions then an entire power plant!
  • Actually there is a method of arconditioning that uses steam and a sorption desorption cycle, I forget the name of it right now, but the problem is its rather more expensive than conventional air conditioning. In a large setting it might be economical

  • Nope, current record is 26.8 % and thats from late 1999 article on it here [] but its gallium arsenide, and is probably hella expensive. Silicon is about 12-13 % efficient, so i was being generous. article excerpt:

    "In 1997 our newest solar cell converted 21.6 percent of the sun's rays into power. In 1999 our solar cells will convert 26.8 percent, and by 2002 we hope to further improve the design to convert 30 to 40 percent of the sun's rays into spacecraft power. When you compare this to the 12.3 percent conversion efficiency of a silicon solar cell, you can see we've made tremendous improvements in order to help our customers maximize their on-orbit performance and increase revenue."

  • by zpengo ( 99887 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @11:17PM (#772939) Homepage
    I once knew a refridgerator-sized computer programmer whose emissions were just about the same as a medium-sized power plant.

  • by 1010011010 ( 53039 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:03PM (#772943) Homepage
    A number of banks use natgas fuel cells because it's much more reliable them grid power. A significant portion of the public power grid is on poles next to trees. All gas lines are underground. It's also better than grid plus deisel backup, because you do not have to depend on trucks to deliver diesel fuel. Typically a generator has a single day of fuel on its tank -- at maximum capacity. Gas comes through pipes continuously. I have gas heat, gas hot water and a gas stove currently. I look forward to supplementing that with gas power. It might even lower my bill. And keep snow off the roof!

    ---- ----
  • Altough all this sounds good, I do think that the fusion and other related nuclear energy sources are the way to go. First on a large scale and then all the way to the home and even farther - why not - to the pocket-size!
    This may not happen soon, but it will certainly do.
    Such an energy source could be all that some guys have dreamed here, truly low cost, high-power, zero emissions, _freedom_ !
  • Do you live in a cold climate, or do you have a secret method of avoiding grey hair with fuel cells? :)
  • Last year I assisted in the preparation of a friend's dissertation on the path that new technologies take through the building industry while they are collecting the amount of experience required to be understood by your "average" builder. TO summarise a complex paper (and issue) there is a significant danger with new technology (the paper focused on Low-E glazing) that "fast adopters" will have a bad experience with installation and make it difficult for architects to "sell" the technology in future jobs to clients who have all heard the one about the building where they tried technology X... Any building designers out there - you really need to make a significant extra effort to educate your installers, and to be educated yourself about new technologies. You're probably adopting them for the right reasons, but think about spending a that extra time to make sure your building doesn't become an argument NOT to use the tech in some other job! In an attempt to ward off flames - this obviously doesn't happen in all cases, but according to the research it is a significant primary problem. If you would like to be put in contact with the author of the paper I refer to above, email me on sroy at bigpond dot net dot au.
  • I can certainly think of many applications for a fuel cell, if it's fairly mobile and can run off a propane tank. At Burning Man, for example, there are literally thousands of diesel and gasoline generators making noise and spitting out fumes every year; a small fuel cell running off a propane canister would be just the ticket for much cleaner "leave no trace" power.

    Bad news is it's probably way too expensive to be mobile now. But in a few years...


  • While I agree that NIMBY is a problem when it comes to placement of power plants, and I agree with you on most of your other points, I must strongly disagree with you about "In addition, whatever pollution is produced is less concentrated."

    This is wrong. It is much easier, more effective, and requires less energy to control the pollution at one source than it is to control millions of sources. It does not matter one wit if the pollution is spread out over large areas - the total amount of pollution is still there. THAT is the problem.

    For example, you take a can of motor oil and make a hole in it. You then hold the can over a stream and let the contents start leaking out. It is much easier for me to walk up to you and whap you upside the head and say "Stop that!" than it would be for you and 2000 of your friends to all get medicine droppers, each take a bit of oil, stand up and down the bank of the stream and all start putting drops of oil into it. I would have to go around to 2000 sources and whap all of you.

    There is the same amount of pollution going into the stream and it is MUCH harder to control all these sources. GE is saying that they need to inspect all of the fuel cells every year. That is one hell of a lot of energy being spent to keep these things running.

    Remember that just because one thing produces a lot of pollution does not mean that a million smaller things are going to produce less.

    Also - you mention that NYC gets most of it's electricity from hydro. Hydro is a renewable resource. Natural Gas is not. Therefore it is costing nothing - other than plant and equipment - to make hydro power. There is no pollution that results from it. None. Zero. Nada. Natural gas on the other hand does cause pollution, though it is much less than nuclear or coal. But it is still there.

    Vote Nader []
  • If these fuel cells are really superior, why not set them up under the normal utilites?

    Well, because of transmission losses for a start. If you don't count ongoing maintenance (which, as you point out and we all know, you have to do) then it's most efficient to produce your energy right next to the things that use it. We can ship propane and the like around in tankers, stick it in storage tanks and use it later, and so on, without worrying too much about any of it getting lost. When you produce electricity far away and then send it across a wire to your house (or plant, or office, or whatever) even at high voltage alternating current will experience some transmission loss. To be sure, it's better than DC, but still.

    If you produce power at your home -- even at the same efficiency as the power plant -- then the kilowatt-hours per ton of fuel number will be better for your home + generator system than for the equivalent home + remote power plant system. That's because some of the power generated at the same efficiency over at the power plant will be lost between leaving the plant and arriving at your home.

    The real questions then are, How much will it cost to perform ongoing maintenance on my Very Own Fuel Cell(tm) and can I buy fuel at the same cost as the Big Power Company(r) or near enough so that I at least break even or maybe come out ahead?
  • Putting a passive collector next to power lines will cause the lines to radiate more?
    Not quite; a current in the collector induces a counter EMF in the the power lines. It's the same way that a load on the output coil of a transformer is "felt" in the input coil.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:08PM (#772985) Homepage Journal

    Those who run windmills or solarcells often stay "on the grid," and the electric company is forced to compensate you for your power. (Forced, at least in most US jurisdictions, your mileage may vary.) If a windmill provides more than your whole house needs, then you'll get paid by the electric company.

    However, those solutions work because you don't have to pay for the source of energy: wind or sunlight. You may have to pay maintenance on your mills or replace damaged cells, but that's about it.

    If you have to hook a propane tank to a fuel cell, you're probably NOT going to get electricity cheaper than it's sold "on the grid." You'll be more independent, but you won't want to burn an extra tank to turn natural gas into cash.

  • Is thermoelectric generation being used in this device to capture the waste heat for electricity? I didn't see any reference to the specifics of the heat conversion on the pages. Granted, the efficiencies of TEG are only now approaching 10 - 12% (last info I had), but all that heat is wasted otherwise.

    A few years back, I developed a project for microwave repeater stations with one of my sites having no possibility of commercial power available. I picked the project up in the middle after some of the hardware had already been purchased, so I didn't have full latitude to develop the power sources. I also had no previous experience in this field and really no physics background. I had to learn all this 'on the job' and on the fly. If I had it do over again, I would do it differently.

    Now, on to the meat:

    If I was doing the project again, I would use a TEG for the power source at this site. The site now has 400 sq. ft. of solar cells, a 30Kw propane generator and 3000 amp/hrs of battery capacity (there are a lot of microwave and other radios on the site.) This requires maintenance at least a couple of times a year, quarterly is better. The generator has to be serviced, the propane filled, etc. And the site is inaccessible due to weather for at least 2 months of the year (the top of an 8000' mountain.)

    TEG has been used for years with great success. The basics are that TEG is based on thermocouples. Like the opposite of the Peltier effect for you overclockers. Heat is applied to one side of a P-N junction and the other is cool, electrons flow from the junction. These have been used for remote power for many, many years. In doing the research for this project I talked to a tech at a radio station in Montana that had been using a unit to power their remote transmitter for almost 15 years. He said he checked the site once a year and cleaned the orifice on the burner every two years, but it probably wasn't necessary. He said the minimum life expectancy was more than 20 years.

    Granted, this doesn't get away from having to provide some kind of fuel to burn at a site, but there are no moving parts, no noise and little environmental impact. And no oil changes for an internal combustion generator. In my research, I found that the TEG burned less fuel than the propane generator also.

    If the GE unit isn't using TEG (or some more efficient method) for capturing the waste heat of this process, they should certainly consider it.

    I just wonder what kind of power could be recaptured from the waste heat in the average house? I did a google search and saw a unit that replaced (wrapped around) the exhaust stack of a diesel truck and generated up to 1Kw. It was intended to replace the alternator, but I can see all kinds of environment benefits, such as powering the refrigeration unit in a semi trailer without the addition fuel being burned and polluting.

    In understand that the upfront cost of TEG is pretty high, but there are certainly good applications for it. I talked to several of the vendors at an alternative energy expo in my town six months ago, and only one of them had ever heard of TEG and he didn't know what exactly it was.

    I'm surprized that this technology isn't used more.

    Here's a link [] to a place that was advertising a 27 lb. 5000 watt generator a while back.

    There are also links that describe the technology.
  • Apply the same to just about every energy source that "giant oil corporations are covering up, man".

    For example, a friend and I once calculated the carbon cost from scrapping his old Kingswood (big heavy car with a very inefficient 308) and changing to a reasonably fuel efficient small car like a Hyundai Excel or similar. The payback period was over 12 years, which is longer than the average age of cars, even here in Australia.

    In terms of carbon, the best thing he could do was to continue to drive the beaten up, dirty old v8! NOx and other emissions are a completely different story though.

    Which brings me (slowly) to my point - is covering up several acres per person with plants that are then fermented and distilled to make alcohol for burning better than digging it out a hole in the ground?
  • Gone from two something to almost six something
    per MCF the past year.
    The Oil COS win no matter what.

  • Two things that I question here:

    1) Generally, fuel cells need hydrogen; no problem here, we're using propane or natural gas to do this, but the question becomes how much hydrogen is going to be stored in the house at any time (I'd figure there's a small tank here to keep a ahead of any disruptions in gas flow). Hydrogen in labs is controlled, but southern yokels that go inspect the thing while smoking a cigar is quite different (this is the same problem with cars, at a much different scale). I wonder how big of a tank they store, and if they do any redirection to batteries as to reduce the tank size.

    2) Natural gas implies large levels of sulfur; sulfur will wreck the fuel cell material if not removed, so there has to be some way to do it; generally, this way requires the use of catalysts, but that means that the catalyst may have to be changed out periodically (on the order of a month), unless they assume that the natural gas upstream is filtered enough. (Sulfur in standard burning places isn't as a problem as with fuel cells)

  • by Frac ( 27516 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:15PM (#773016)
    Depends on what kind of family... I have enough electrical appliances in my dorm room to drain out a couple of third-world country power plants...
  • by EricEldred ( 175470 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:15PM (#773018) Homepage

    Last winter, natural gas supplies, at least to the Northeast United States, shrank, and prices skyrocketed. In California, I believe natural gas or propane increased several hundred per cent, if it was even available.

    Many contracts for natural gas in the Northeast U.S. specify only a limited supply--if you exceed that you have to pay considerable surcharges--it may be cheaper just to buy electricity for the added load.

    The situation may change, if Canadian natural gas is imported in adequate supply and a reasonable price. But natural gas supplies suffer from the problem that it is not as easy to move them to users as it is electricity or fuel oil. And the supply life may not be as long as petroleum, unless some exotic sources are located, as for example, at extreme ocean depths.

    I too would like to see a less expensive and less polluting and more reliable energy source for the home. However, in many other areas, solar power may be the better bet. I wonder whether it will turn out to be practical to install these gadgets in the northeast U.S.

    My neighbors' home a few years ago exploded and burned after a propane accident--our property was, luckily, spared, and nobody killed. Of course, they still use propane, but others are more cautious.

  • I got a notice with my last natural gas bill, explaining why prices will be higher than usual this summer. The quick explanation is that they usually stockpile the gas in the summer, while the demand is low, but due to the higher than average temperatures, and increasing draws on the grid, more nat gas was used for aux power plants, thus preventing the normal stockpiling. So when demand goes up in the winter, with less reserves to fall back on, the prices will jump again (they already rose this summer).

  • w00h00!! if I could scrape up enough money, I'd be able to stop using this
    bicycle-powered turbine! Wishful thinking anyways. Oops, almost forgot I'm
    running Netscape *pedalling harder*
  • At least here in California -- according to my ecological design prof -- not only do they have to compensate you, they also have to foot the bill to connect you to the grid in the first place!

    Just think: you could have a quaint little cabin out in the middle of BFE. Put up some solar cells and/or a windmill so that you're generating a slight excess of what you actually need... and bang, now the utility company has to connect you to the grid at their expense. Why is this so cool? Suppose its a cloudy day, or suppose there isn't any wind. You're still connected to the grid; all you have to do is throw the switch on your AC-DC converter, and viola! you're back in business.

  • by jcr ( 53032 )
    This is the coolest thing I've heard about this month!

    I just called the 800 number on that page, and the guy I talked to said that the target price is $7-10K.

    I know quite a few people who've spent that much on UPS's to feed their server racks.

    This would also be a *big* win, anywhere that storms have a nasty habit of knocking down power lines.

    This has got to be better from an efficiency standpoint than sending power through high-tension lines, and taking the hit for transformer hysterisis at both ends.

  • Thanks for the info.

    I think another reason, though, is efficiency. I believe I read that these fuel cels are much more efficient than our typical coal generating stations.... so that would seem to cut donw on the power/polution ratio?
  • Is there a reason these things don't use solar power? Considering it's already as large as a fridge, there is lots of surface area to absorb sunlight. You would need to put this outside, but I suppose you could have it built into the roof of a (new/old) house.

    It would obviously use a battery so that if the day is too cloudy, you won't lose power. Plus, the existing gas power infrastructure could be used as a backup.

    Why are people not using this already? Will it be used any time in the foreseeable future?

  • by cybercuzco ( 100904 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:42PM (#773046) Homepage Journal
    1: hydrogen is not as explosive as you might think, yes it is explosive, most energetic molecules are, however, if a hydrogen tank leaks, the hydrogen will disperse to nonexplosive levels extremely quickly, since it is so much lighter, and therefore a faster moving molecule, than say gasoline. leave a hydrogen tank open for 10 minutes, and everything is gone, leave a gas tank open for 10 minutes, its still highly explosive. Id be more worried about local yokels inspecting the gas tanks on their car while smoking a cigar, theyd be evolved out of the species quite quickly

    2.This is true, however when the NG is reformulated to extract the hydrogen, the sulfur is extracted as well. I think the figure that ive heard is its down to about 2 ppm, and the acceptable level is about 10 or so but im not sure on that. Even if they do need a catalyst that has to be swapped out, it would be like getting the oil changed on your car or something, plus the article says they will check the things and service them yearly, at which time i assume this would be done

  • Fuel Cells are _much_ more efficient then a power plant. Power plants are only ~40% efficient. Fuel cells are ~85% (i believe) and the other 15% can be used to heat your home. As long as you get a good price on the fuel you should be able to create electricity for less then it costs the power company.
  • that pretty much everything except kitchen appliances and air conditioning uses low voltage, are we ever going to move to a lower voltage DC power standard? If we have our own power plant in the back yard, the distance is short and we don't need high voltage AC.

    It seems weird to generate electricity and then immediately rectify it and lower the voltage with bulky power supplies, giving off heat, etc. Plus lower voltage would be safer.

  • by alex_white ( 218415 ) < minus bsd> on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:45PM (#773050)
    My Pentium IV? And never mind using the generated heat for space heating. Powering up the PIV should be enough..
  • by cybercuzco ( 100904 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @05:28PM (#773055) Homepage Journal
    This thing would be great if it didn't require the natural gas or propane.

    Its all about the efficiency. Home fuel cells can get up to 80% efficient with cogeneration, 40-50 without. A natural gas power plant would be very very lucky to hit 40 % efficiency, and forget about seeing that with a coal power plant. Not only that but the emissions are much cleaner than even a NG turbine, since theres no combustion, NOx is reduced significantly, its mostly just giving off carbon dioxide and water. This is not a revolution in power generation, but an evolution, so far for fuel sources weve gone from solar to wood to coal to oil and now to natural gas and maybe back to solar again. Coincidentally each transition has resulted in a massive economic boost. Also, you can use electricity and air to actually produce natrual gas, which is what they did back in the 1880's before the discovered they could mine the stuff, so in theory you could just hook up a big solar array out in the desert somewhere and make natural gas and pipe it out to people everywhere.

  • Um, no. solar power hits the earth at about 1kw per square meter ( on a good sunny day) the best conversion efficiency for solar panels is about 25%, which means you need 4 square meters to get 1kw of power. The average house uses 7 kw of power so you need 28 square meters to supply the needs of the home. But thats 7kw averaged over a day, and the sun isnt out all day, so say 3 times as much to account for that, plus to charge up the batteries, so 84 square meters of solar panels. at 25% efficiency, this will cost you about $50k (US) wheras you can buy a fuel cell for $5-7k or about on order of magnitude less. Solar is nice, but it has a long way to go.

  • hmm, well before i get flamed, the process i was talking about above to produce natural gas is called the sabatier process, technically you only need heat to make it run,since they didnt have alot of electricity in the 1880's but they could make heat with coal. You need electricity for the water seperation, but thats only if youre going to be conserving your water and dont have a handy source ( like in a desert). Also you would either use elctricity as your heat source, or the sun diretly, eithe r work nicely. You do need electricity for the zeolite sorption-desorption cycle which also requires some heating/cooling ( zeolite extracts CO2 out of the atmosphere)

  • Yes, except that in this universe, we obey the laws of thermodynamics. Nice try at a perpetual motion machine though

  • Solar power. In Canada. In wintertime.

    Puhleeze. You're killing me!

  • The beauty of distributed generation is that increases the efficency and reliability of electricity. By having a hundred thousand mini-power plants all over a city you reduce the overhead in transmitting the power and reduce toxic emissions! In addition, whatever pollution is produced is less concentrated.

    *ALOT* of electricity is wasted while it is being transported over long-distance transmission lines, since nobody wants a power plant near their home. A good percentage of the power delivered to New York City comes from hydro projects in Canada; about 35% of that power is lost in transmission.

    Gas and Propane, on the other hand are forms of energy that can be transported with little or no loss of energy. Natural gas costs are very high right now because until recently recovering natural gas has not been very lucrative.

    Also note that North America has massive supplies of untapped natural gas.

    I think you can look at this issue much like computing -- it is cheaper to do complex scientific computation with a beowulf or similar cluster than it is to go out and by a Cray or other supercomputer.

  • I wonder how one of these would compare to a gasoline or propane generator for amateur radio field use. It would seem that without moving parts, there would be less electrical noise from the arcing. (There may be more noise, though, from the inverter circuit used to convert the DC output from the fuel cell to AC line levels.) Even if the electrical noise were the same, the audio noise would be much less. (Anyone who has been to a 10+ transmitter field day, or other temporary station using a generator, knows that generator noise can be a real problem.) Also, would the fuel cell be too fragile to transport on a trailer?
  • maybe not in the Australian outback

    While approx 2/3's of Australia's surface is arid, there are still very large areas that aren't (or are irrigated), and many areas except the absolute driest still support massive cattle stations the size of Switzerland or Ireland. The really remote areas are of course not on the main power grid and rely on deisel generation (or solar cells), and would be naturals for this technology.

    As for using the methane produced by animals, it might be feasible for feedlot/intensive farming, but it doesn't really make sense for extensive grazing, as you would likely use more energy collecting the manure than you'd get from burning / catalyzing the methane. In that case, it's generally more efficient to let the animal waste go back into the soil.

  • Could the revolution in fuel cell power start in the outback?

    Australia, like the US, has large areas of relatively sparsely populated country over which mains power is delivered. Thanks to government subsidies, this power is made available at similar rates to city dwellers. These days, however, power generation has been privatised, and subsidisation for mains power installations have been greatly reduced. While piped gas isn't available, it's fairly easy to truck in large amounts of propane and store it in tanks. Isn't it possible it might make more economic sense to encourage the installation of these fuel cell systems rather than maintain the massive mains infrastructure?

  • Stuff like this happening quietly on the side makes me a bit more enthusiastic about the future of Mars settlement somewhere down the line...

    After all, if we can make life easier (more efficient) here on Earth first, it'll translate well into technology the Martians can use to establish a colony.

    And the fact that this is *GE* that's developing it makes it even more exciting. It appears that its not one of these weird-science type projects that dont seem to go anywhere... With GE's resources, this will go places.

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