Renewable energy technologies move toward commercialization, still compete for government $$ | The American Ceramic Society

Renewable energy technologies move toward commercialization, still compete for government $$

0903 ctt Bloom feature

0903 ctt Bloom feature

A bank of Bloom’s Energy Servers supplies power at Amazon headquarters. (Credit: Bloom Energy.) 


The email message was short and very to the point: “Is there a reason the American CERAMIC society featured the development of POLYMER based fuel cells in its weekly newsletter?”

Given our normally laser-like focus on ceramic technologies, the question, a response to last week’s CTT coverage of a DOE project to install PEM fuel cells on refrigerated trucks, was a fair one. Of course, last week we also covered advances in SOFC fuel cell technology that are based on some pretty dazzling ceramic science.

And sometimes things just go that way. The week before, CTT featured two stories on developments in the solar energy field. And, we’re no strangers to covering the debate about which renewable energy technologies  might be more viable in the long run, and which might be more deserving of federal funding. Obviously, we’re prejudiced toward ceramic-based technologies. But we have no intention of inserting ourselves into that debate. We just take the stories as they come, and the two fuel cell posts—one about SOFCs, one about PEM technology—seemed to make nice bookends to last week’s coverage.

And, we should all be encouraged to see companies such as Redox Power Systems, one of the subjects of last week’s fuel cell coverage. The company is working to commercialize the low-temperature SOFC technology referred to above without government subsidies. In a similar vein, Bloom Energy Corp., which has been supplying commercial SOFC technology since 2001, recently announced that it will partner with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to enable customers to lease its Energy Server SOFC technology. The program’s first two projects will be at a supplier of golf equipment in Carlsbad, Calif., and at the Anaheim venue that is home to the National Hockey League’s Ducks franchise. Bloom recently announced a similar arrangement with Japan’s SoftBank Group to deploy the company’s technology to customers in that country, and the company claims its SOFCs have generated more than 700,000,000 kWh of electricity for customers such as Google, Amazon, and the Coca Cola Co. over the last five years.

For its part, the Obama administration continues to try to pursue an “all-of-the-above” strategy when it comes to supporting renewable energy research. Just a month ago, DOE announced $4.5 million in funding for two fuel cell projects. However, the debate over funding may become moot if Congress follows through on a House plan that calls for draconian cuts to research funding at two DOE offices.