Next Big Thing You Missed: Bigger, Cheaper Fuel Cells Will Eliminate Power Outages
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
General Electric has a bright idea for keeping the lights on even when the electrical grid short-circuits. The 122-year-old company wants to bring clean, reliable, affordable energy to the masses with hyper-efficient fuel cells , and in a rare move, is launching a startup to do it.
On Tuesday, the energy and electronics conglomerate unveiled GE Fuel Cells, an internal startup that’s working to commercialize fuel cell technology that runs on natural gas, creating energy that’s not only cleaner than dirty power plants, but more energy efficient, too. In the race to create a more environmentally sound alternative to power plants, fuel cells have emerged as a viable option, alongside solar and wind power. But unlike solar and wind power, fuel cells can provide steady, nonstop energy that doesn’t fade when the sun goes down or when the wind stops blowing.
Instead, they’re similar to batteries and use a chemical reaction, rather than combustion, to generate energy. The problem is, fuel cell technology has been prohibitively expensive, because it often requires costly materials like platinum, to trigger the chemical reaction. But GE is working on making advances in technology known as “hybrid solid oxide fuel cells,” which use less expensive materials like ceramic and stainless steel to deliver 65 percent energy efficiency—5 percent higher than anything else on the market today. And while GE might not be alone in this field—Bloom Energy, a NASA spinoff, has had some success with a similar concept—experts say that GE’s entry into the space could turn what has been a fringe industry into a mainstream success.