During a 60-Minutes broadcast on CBS (February 18, 2010), Bloom Energy was described as amajor innovation in fuel cell technology. The Bloom fuel cell is composed of relatively inexpensive materials, and it produces electricity from oxidation of natural gas or bio-gas.
It was claimed that an investment of $3000 in a Bloom box could be used to provide power to a residence and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That would add up to a cost of around $300 billion in the US for residential needs and another $200 billion investment for businesses (my estimate).
The total of $500 billion would buy infrastructure to produce cleaner energy — but not clean energy. We would still need to extract and oxidize huge amounts of natural gas because bio-gas supplies are not adequate to fuel all our energy needs. Using natural gas does not constitute a long-term solution to either energy needs or to climate change. We need to think about ways to eliminate the need to burn natural gas and other fossil fuels.
Another (perhaps alternative) step would be to produce electricity from (a) solar, wind, and geothermal sources on “energy farms” in America’s heartland and (b) off-shore solar, wind, wave, and tidal energy sources on “energy islands” that would be positioned in proximity to population centers near our coasts. (See http://24-7-360.com/EnergyIsland/patappAndFigures.doc.)
Still, we would need to figure out a way to provide sufficient electricity even when the sun does not shine or when the wind does not blow. A backup source of energy is needed.
One solution could come from recent developments in an effort to store energy in the form of elemental carbon. Elemental carbon can be produced from carbon dioxide by a reduction process that uses clean energy. Elemental carbon could be used like a battery, storing energy that could later be released, as needed, from oxidation to carbon dioxide; but that process would not add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, given that the carbon-dioxide-to-carbon reduction process would offset any net increase in carbon dioxide levels.
Being able to store energy as carbon and to release it without increasing overall carbon dioxide levels would allow us to use only clean energy. The process of recycling carbon from carbon dioxide could conceivably break dependence on continually extracting and burning fossil fuels. See this article about recycling carbon dioxide to elemental carbon and using carbon as a recyclable energy resource: http://www.carbonoffsetsdaily.com/press-release/green-carbon-dioxide-recycling-technology-emerging-in-british-columbia-a-feature-of-industry-today-on-industrialinfocom-9964.htm .
Tom Manaugh works as an inventor, an internet marketing consultant for Dolphin Blue, Inc., and a Web designer/developer in Dallas, Texas.