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Fuel-Cell Backup Power Under Your Desk 220

Posted by timothy
from the and-a-nikon-d1x-please dept.
An Anonymous Coward writes "Just up this evening on the Coleman Powermate web site: This is the first commercial fuel cell product that I am aware of. Who wants one under their Christmas tree?" I just wish the fuel wasn't quite so expensive.
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Fuel-Cell Backup Power Under Your Desk

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  • by nick255 (139962)
    POWER=1000 Watts (Batteries Charged)
    RUN TIME @ 50% LOAD=6 Hours

    For the price, looks like it could be worth it.....
    • Re:Specs (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Are you nuts??? The price works out to about $139 per amp hour... (6 canisters at $2500, supplying only 3 hours of power each at 1kw)

      You'd be better off buying a bank of rechargable lead-acid batteries and a charger/inverter. [tracebackuppower.com] Not to mention that you'd probably be able to generate output at much more than 1kw with such a setup.

      The only benefit I can see here is space savings, and the ability to generate power indefinitely assuming that you have a big stock of these hydride canisters on hand. Otherwise, this stuff is way too expensive, and I'm assuming that you can't recharge empty canisters with utility power...
    • Do I read this right? 65dB sounds pretty horrendous to me. Surely fuel cells aren't supposed to sound that bad?

      For this price, buy a lot of car batteries and a transformer. Charge it up, ensure it's topped up, and it'll go much cheaper without any CO poisioning or danger of blowing up and taking your office block with you. It's certainly kinder to the environment, and if you want to be extra good, get a green tariff from your electricity suppliers. Which you should have done anyway if you're going to get this picky over how clean it is.

      Nice to see fuel cells turning up, but I honestly don't believe theat this is actually a commercial application of them. Overpriced and underspecced. Apart from the amount of power it supplies. But you could daisychain UPSes for half the price.

      Widget
    • Re:Specs (Score:4, Informative)

      by blkros (304521) <blkros@yahoo. c o m> on Sunday December 09, 2001 @10:05AM (#2678324)
      You can put in this much solar capacity, or more, for this price. And guess what, no noise.
    • By my figuring I get the device actually pricing at $6246 and individual fuel canisters at $416.67 each.

      OUCH!

      I could by a gasoline-powered generator for far less and have it run continously. Heck a propane generator would still be cheaper and better without the need to run it once-a-month like a gasoline generator.
      • Re:Specs (Score:2, Informative)

        by Belvario (166489)
        Actually, you have to run a propane generator once a month too. Generator cycling is necessary to keep the genset windings clear of moisture, not just to exercise the engine.
  • Ridiculous... (Score:3, Informative)

    by s390 (33540) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @07:55AM (#2678170) Homepage
    at $7,500 for the "Starter Pack", $10K for 24 hours. A generic (Honda, or something) gasoline generator is only a hundred bucks or so, and gasoline is only about $1.25/gal here in the US now. Who does Coleman think might buy this stuff? Osama bin f-ing Ladin? (Just the thing to keep your satellite phone lit in the caves on those long winter nights in Nowhere, Afghanistan?) It's amazing that they'd even advertise this product at the prices they're quoting. Until they meet reality, they'll never sell these things.
    • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tap (18562)
      But can you run that gasoline or diesel generator inside a machine room? You've got to somehow put it in a furnace room with ventilation or outside and run wiring. Building additions like that cost a lot of money, so this could be competitive. You also don't have to pay for the super expensive fuel unless the power goes out.
      • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by leucadiadude (68989)
        Ever hear of a new invention called an extension cord?

        You put your generator outside (roof for example), and run the power cord inside the building. Power cord and the penetrations through walls for it are orders of magnitude cheaper than ventilation ducting.
        • That's fine for home use. You might be willing to put up with a jury-rigged solution like that for your home. Most companies I know would shell out for the infrastructure needed to make the generator a part of the whole power system. My concern would be with how this affected the humidity of the machine room, and whether or not any unreacted hydrogen made it out of the machine.

          • Who said anything about jury rigged? This can be done in a durable, tough, and cosmetically apealing way quite easily.

            Also, if you route your conduit properly, you interface with your existing power utility box with a transfer switch for selected circuits (although 1kW should be quite enough for a standard U.S. household - don't know about other countries).

            And your concern about machinery room environmental conditions, while valid , isn't a real problem since a business would front the cash for proper HVAC systems anyway. If they don't, they're too cheap to be buying this unit anyway.
        • Um, let's see. Could I use this?
          1. I work on the 32nd floor of a 38 story building.
          2. I have no ability to get the landlord to run me an extension cord to the roof for my UPS.
          3. And he'll have to build me a lean-to on the roof to keep the thing out of the rain.

          Naw, you're right, no one has any use for it.
          • If you work in the 32nd story of a 38 story building, you do indeed have no need for this, if your landlord provides reliable electric service. If your service is so unreliable or poor quality that you are seriously thinking about buying one of these, you need to move or pressure the landlord to fix his electric distribution problem.

            If you live there, then I submit you have no need for a backup power supply. An UPS maybe, but not a generator.
    • Osama bin f-ing Ladin? (Just the thing to keep your satellite phone lit in the caves on those long winter nights in Nowhere, Afghanistan?)

      Funny you should say that. I can imagine a similar conversation just twelve years ago.

      Inventory clearance, Area 53, 1989

      CLERK #1 (C1): Carbon composite toilet seats, 200?
      CLERK #2(C@): Ship to Lockheed.
      C1: Titanium hammers with gold anodized grips?
      C2: Ship to General Dynamics.
      C1: Portable fuel cells, 50, with starter pack, 500?
      C2: Ship to OBL via Donkey Tain.
      C1: What the fuck?
      C2: Who cares, here are the lables.

      Sold!

    • Well, $7500 is pricy, but only because the output is so low... while it is true that you can get a 7,000 watt gas or propane generator for a few hundred dollars, they require major maintenance: oiling every 25 hours, and rebuilding every hundred. And they tend to run at 3600 rpm, making a heck of a racket.

      The same specs, on a decent generator (runs at 1800 rpm, requires rebuilding every 1000 hours) raise the price by a factor of 10 to 20.

      So, if the problems with wear and tear have been worked out, and the power output nudged up a bit, the price is not all that crazy.

    • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bdow (67803)
      People said the same thing about computers when they started out (why would I pay that much money for something to tell me how many hats I have in my closet?), but you don't see that many abacuses (abaci? I don't know) or slide rules in use anymore. The new technology is always unwieldy and expensive when it first comes out, but fuel cells could well replace batteries in laptops someday in the not-too-distant future...
  • by NoWhere Man (68627) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @07:56AM (#2678171) Homepage
    Fuel Cell Generator
    Creates computer-safe electricity from hydrogen and oxygen

    Uninteruptible Power Supply
    Seemless power transition keeps systems running smoothly

    Surge Protector and Power Conditioner
    Protects sensitive electronics from high voltage jolts and sags

    MODEL NO. PMXXXXX
    POWER 1000 Watts (Batteries Charged)
    OVERLOAD CAPACITY 1600 VA for 2 Seconds
    VOLTS 120 VAC +/-3%
    FREQUENCY 60 Hertz
    WAVEFORM Perfect Sine-Wave
    NOISE 65 dba @ 1 Meter
    FUEL CELL Ballard Nexa
    FUEL 3 Hydrogen Fuel Canisters
    RUN TIME @ 50% LOAD 6 Hours
    SURGE PROTECTION 360 Joules
    BATTERIES Sealed Lead Acid
    WEIGHT (LESS CANISTERS) 101 lbs.
    DIMENSIONS 27.3" x 15.8" x 19"

    WARRANTY 1 Year

    Really cool, but the fuel cells are expensive for only 6 hours of back up time @ 50%. I wonder what the unit itself will set you back.
    • A big marine battery with a DC/AC inverter and a trickle charger can match these specs (or close, anyway) for about 1/10th the price.
      • Except, of course, if the fuel cell runs out, you just replace a fuel canister, whereas a backup battery has a very definite time limit before failing.

        /Janne
        • Well, this is basically targeted to California power utility failures. These are much less likely now. The blackouts were 1/2 - 2 hours when they were imposed. This product is still too expensive and too late, I think. Want to tell me how you'd justify $15+K for a home website backup? This is just a far too ezpensive solution seeking a problem.
    • >Really cool, but the fuel cells are expensive
      >for only 6 hours of back up time @ 50%. I wonder
      >what the unit itself will set you back.

      Golly, I wonder...

      AirGen Starter Pack
      Model # PAXXXXX

      Generate up to 8 hours of continuous, clean
      electricity. Replacement canisters are just a
      click or phone call away.

      Includes:
      AirGen
      3 Fuel Canisters (shipped separately)
      $7495.99

      Read, then talk, [colemanpowermate.com]
  • by Gunstick (312804) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @07:57AM (#2678174) Homepage
    It seems not to have a serial or ethernet port.
    If you are not having it under your desk but in machine room like they show on one of the pics, you will never know if it's actually in good health.
    Also I did not see an indication that it could tell a computer to shutdown before it runs out of fuel.

    George
  • by stuffman64 (208233) <<stuffman> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday December 09, 2001 @07:59AM (#2678177) Homepage
    According to the website, it is $7495.99 for the generator and three fuel bottles. For the generator and nine bottles, the price jumps to $9995.99. Doing some basic math, the cost of a fuel comes out to about $416.66 per bottle, unless I am missing something major. Also, it claims the nine-bottle pack is a 24-hour supply. If you live on a non-Bill Gates budget, nobody can afford spending $3750 a day on fuel.

    Granted, this baby can supply a constant kilowatt of power. But doing the math, you are paying $156.25 per kilowatt-hour. This has to be the most ludicrisly expensive method of power generation I know. You may as well hire 10,000 hampsters to run on a wheel to supply your backup power. I'm sure they can generate just as much power, not to mention the only fuel required is cheap dried food and water. But you do have to clean up all those hampster pellets...
    • by mmontour (2208) <mail@mmontour.net> on Sunday December 09, 2001 @09:29AM (#2678283)
      Doing some basic math, the cost of a fuel comes out to about $416.66 per bottle, unless I am missing something major.

      One thing you might be missing is that you are paying for two things with each bottle of fuel: the fuel itself, and the bottle that's holding it.
      For example you might pay $416 for a new bottle of fuel, but get a $350 credit when you return the empty one (I couldn't find their actual price for fuel refills, but since they're using a metal-hydride storage technology, the cost of the cylinders will be significant).
      • Ok... that may seem reasonable. Except, if you look at the pic on the website, the container looks like a bottle of motor oil. Empty bottles of motor oil weigh in at about an ounce. The current going rate for gold is about $260 an ounce. I can not imagine a container costing more than its weight in gold. Of course, they can make it out of platinum, and I would be wrong...
        • I think you are comparing apples to oranges.

          If the canister was simply priced by the weight of the raw materials of it's construction, that would in no way repay the cost of the research and development of the canister, the method to safely encapsulate the H2, and of course testing, testing, testing and certification for whatever government agency would concern itself. All this could easily be multiples of the simple cost of the raw materials - even it's weight in gold.

          And all of that ignores the cost of mining, refining, and manufacturing the canister itself.
        • the container looks like a bottle of motor oil.

          That must be a default icon for fuel on Coleman's site. Probably database generated on "product_type = 'fuel'". Yes, this is lame.

          The neat-o animations (works in Mozilla 0.9.6 on Linux) depict the canisters as blue cylindrical tanks.

        • Except, if you look at the pic on the website, the container looks like a bottle of motor oil. [...]I can not imagine a container costing more than its weight in gold. Of course, they can make it out of platinum, and I would be wrong...

          1. The pic on the website doesn't just look like a bottle of motor oil, it is a bottle of motor oil. It's a symbol, just like the PC motherboard that appears next to this story on the Slashdot homepage. They're not actually selling hydrogen in cheap plastic containers.

          2. The storage container wouldn't be made of platinum (although the fuel cell itself probably contains some), but it could be filled with palladium [resource-world.net] or other exotic metals. More information about metal-hydride storage is here [ectechnic.co.uk], but the bottom line is that you're paying for a lot more than an empty jar. These fuel bottles are like rechargeable batteries, except you can't recharge them at home.
    • But doing the math, you are paying $156.25 per kilowatt-hour. This has to be the most ludicrisly expensive method of power generation I know.

      Unless you lived in California this past summer, then you mighta actually saved some money

  • Very Nice (Score:4, Informative)

    by pmc (40532) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @08:06AM (#2678188) Homepage
    Very good piece of technology. Could be a bit better: being able to swap hydrogen canisters on the fly to give unlimited life; or being able to plumb in a hydrogen supply. This gives the possibility of using solar power during the day the power a computer and generate hydrogen, and to run of the hydrogen at night in a closed cycle. This would be better than lead acid batteries as these do not have a particularly high power density.

    The cost of the hydrogen is outrageous - you can buy a J cylinder (big) of hydrogen for about $100.

    Despite what the article says there is no way that this is the first commercial fuel cell - see this page [ecoworld.com] for a manufacturer near you - but it is a great indication that they will soon be mainstream.
  • ...I dunno... if it's not safe to store gasoline cans or propane cylinders in my house, why would it be safe to store hydrogen in my house?

    Under "safety" they don't really seem to address this issue except to say that "hydrogen is supplied through safe, low-pressure canisters."

    And why does the unit have "sealed lead acid batteries" in it?
    • The hydrogen is actually stored in metal hydride pellets or powder. The metal hydride absorbs and desorbs the hydrogen and is non cumbustible. Gas and propane are more flammable than hydrogen and I have some propane in my basement already.

      Now the trick here would be to have a system that can reinfuse the hydrogen into the pellets when power is available.

      Cat
    • by pmc (40532) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @08:49AM (#2678232) Homepage
      why would it be safe to store hydrogen in my house?

      You would be amazed at how safe hydrogen is. When I was working in reseach we had an outside gas bottle room which consisted of rows of bottles plumbed in and gas lines going to the relevent lab. Some of these were hydrogen and it was decided to fit a hydrogen sensor to detect leaks and shut it down automatically when the hydrogen concentation reached about 50% of the lower explosive limit.

      Anyway, this was installed and seemed to be working. We then decided to test it by gently cracking open a hydrogen bottle under the sensor (which was on the ceiling) and watching the output. Nothing. We opened it a bit more - still nothing. Finally we opened up full and only then did the sensor start to register (but nowhere near the set point).

      What was happening was that because the room was well ventilated, the hydrogen dispersed so quickly that it only just got high enough to show on the detector. Any leak apart from a catastrophic failure would be safe.

      Propane, on the other hand, is a floor hugger and does not disperse very well. You also beed a lower concentration of it to go bang. So if this leaks it tends to hang about the cylinder and you quickly have a bomb waiting to go off.
    • The reason why it is unsafe to store, for example, gasoline in your home is because the vapors from gasoline are heavy. They flow like an invisible fluid. If the vapor reaches an ignition source, it will catch fire/explode. The dangerous part is that the flame will follow the vapor trail *back to its source*, where there may be an entire tank of the stuff. Something like hydrogen disperses much more readily, thus alleviating the vapor trail hazard. However, as someone else pointed out, this thing probably doesn't use gaseous hydrogen.

      And for everyone who's complaining about how expensive this fuel cell unit is... well, are you really surprised? Things that are new are always expensive! It takes awhile for technology to come down in price after it has been introduced to the commercial market.
    • by miniver (1839) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @09:02AM (#2678251) Homepage
      And why does the unit have "sealed lead acid batteries" in it?

      The batteries are there to: (1) provide power for you (and the unit) while you're switching hydrogen canisters, and (2) depending upon the design, to even out the line voltage.

      [Lecture Mode On]

      There are two basic designs for UPSes: continuous and intermittent.

      The UPSes that you buy for SOHO use are intermittent -- line voltage feeds a battery circuit (battery charger + batteries + inverter) and goes to a relay, which switches between the battery circuit and the normal line voltage. When line voltage goes off, the relay switches; when line voltage comes back, the relay switches back. While the relay is switching, there will be a short interruption in power, but most AC equipment can handle the (very short) interruption. This type of UPS will also have surge protectors built in to filter out high voltage and spikes, but can't do a lot for brownouts other than switch to batteries.

      Continuous UPSes work differently -- the line voltage is used to charge the batteries, which run the inverter, which provides clean, uninterrupted power. No relays, no interruptions, no worry about power spikes or brownouts. Unfortunately, you're continuously charging and draining the batteries -- which significantly reduces the working life of the batteries. This type of UPS requires hot-swappable batteries, and is generally a lot more expensive to purchase and maintain (which explains the popularity of the intermittent UPSes).

      [Lecture Mode Off]

      From what I read on the site, the AirGen acts like an intermittent UPS -- when line voltage shuts off, the AirGen switches to generated power, and switches back when line voltage returns. The batteries are probably there just to provide the necessary power to start and maintain the generator, and to provide power while you're switch canisters. The AirGen *could* be a continuous UPS, with the fuel-cells supplementing line voltage for charging the batteries, but I doubt it -- everything they've posted on their site points towards the intermittent UPS design.

      • It takes a fair bit of time for a fuel cell to start making power after you start the fuel feed. The batteries are there to a) allow the unit time to come up and b) to allow the unit to respond to surges like your monitor coming up.
    • ...I dunno... if it's not safe to store gasoline cans or propane cylinders in my house, why would it be safe to store hydrogen in my house?
      Because hydrogen is lighter than air, and propane is heavier than air.
      Suppose you have a tiny leak in the propane cylinder: the propane will accumulate in your cellar, it'll reach the explosive concentration (IIRC around 5 percent), and your house explodes when something creates a spark.
      Hydrogen is lighter: it can't accumulate in the cellar, it'll leave through your roof. Therefore it won't reach the critical concentration and it can't cause a big explosion.

      But that's only true if you don't have a huge leak in you hydrogen tank.
      #insert picture of the exploding spaceshuttle.
      According to their description they store the hydrogen bound to metal atoms.
      Metal hydrides inside keep gas under low-pressure
      That's the safest and most expensive way to store hydrogen. It's expensive because you need special metals, but it's absolutely safe because the metal only releases hydrogen at a very low rate - too low to create an explosive concentration.
    • And why does the unit have "sealed lead acid batteries" in it?


      The units probably has three functions within it. The batteries in the 'middle' of the process. The fuel cell is responsible for converting the fuel to electricity, probably low voltage DC current, the batteries are charged and kept charged (and provide electricity while changing cylinders), and an inverter to actually output the 110 AC current.

      But the price is totally absurd. There are units in the works, not that far out, that will produce current for your entire house, that will run on natural gas (and I believe it's expected to expand that with propane or methanol units not long after)... they'll provide continuous power, a lot more of it, and not absurdly priced. I can't see anyone really interested in units at that price point.

  • This technology if amazing and I am certainly that most of us will have something like this in the folloing 5-10 years. But it is very expensive now, and as someone here pointed out it can be replaced by a common no break for a fraction of the price.
  • You could hire someone to pedal a bike to generate electricity for less!
  • Why just H2? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hughk (248126) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @08:20AM (#2678204) Journal
    Why just hydrogen? Propane/butane or methane would be much better due to their availability. You can get butane almost everywhere. Propane is well known and there is plenty of tank technology for it and methane is for many people, now on tap, being the main component of natural gas.
    • I know it's late, but I had to reread this comment a few times to figure this out:

      "methane is for many people, now on tap, being the main component of natural gas."

      If you can come up with one that burns methane...I've got a friend who could keep the thing running indefinitely on 1 serving of Mexican food a day.

    • Because H2 is the most abundant element in the universe, and much more conviently obtainable then methane or propane. Just stick a couple of leads into some water and apply electricity. More importantly, H2 is not likely to end up creating CO and killing your systems staff, which can get expensive :). (Remember, any exhaust from this thing is being vented to room atmosphere, so it has to be carbon based lifeform compliant.)
    • You'd lose the "No carbon monoxide; safe to run indoors" claim if you were running on a hydrocarbon fuel. Also you'd need to add the equipment to convert the hydrocarbon fuel into hydrogen (and waste CO2), so the initial cost of the device would be higher. It would make sense for a continuous-duty device or a vehicle, but for standby UPS applications I can see the logic of just using hydrogen.
    • Propane, butane or any other hydrocarbon would require ventilation for the generated CO2, which this aviods by just running on hydrogen. Its only waste products are heat and water. It's still insanely, ludicrously expensive.
    • The whole idea of fuel cell technology is that hydrogen is cheap, clean, and renewable. Petroleum products like propane are limited, non-renewable resources. As they become more scarce and harder to extract, prices will continue to rise. H2 can made cheaply from seawater and solar cells. Burning hydrocarbons generates greenhouse gases and other pollutants -- bad enough outside, completely unacceptable inside -- too much CO2 or worse CO and you're down for the count.

      Here's a bit on the basic science of the technology: What is a Fuel Cell? [ttcorp.com]

      As an aside, is it just me or does anyone else get a "SecureIIS application firewall security alert" on this animation [colemanpowermate.com] URL?
      • The whole idea of fuel cell technology is that hydrogen is cheap, clean, and renewable. Petroleum products like propane are limited, non-renewable resources. As they become more scarce and harder to extract, prices will continue to rise. H2 can made cheaply from seawater and solar cells.

        Except the H2 is nowhere near as cheap, clean, or renewable as it's proponents would have you believe.
        • Solar cells aren't cheap and generate some ghastly wastes in manufacturing. (And require maintenance and replacement on a regular basis.)
        • There are few areas where there is enough clear land, available sunlight, and available seawater or fresh water to generate commercial quantites of H2.
          • If you have to pump or transport sea or other water any distance you lose more energy than you gain
          • If you haven't looked recently almost all waterfront, high insolation property is in high demand for residences.. And no one is going to build the bombs these plants will be in a populated area.
        • If you extract the H2 with generated (fossil/nuclear) energy, the cycle is endothermic. (You get less energy out of the H2 than you put into manufacturing it.)
        • Generating H2 chemically requires some pretty nasty acids and catalysts, more toxic waste...
        H2 and fuel cells are cool technologies for certain special purposes and uses, but do be sure and talk to the man behind the curtain.
        • Got a bite! Solar cells were the bait, but what really does it take to generate electricy? There are many ways to do it that are far more sustainable than fossil fuels. Wind and geothermal are possibilities, but we have at hand already in use a near-perfect H2 source: hydroelectric power. Water, electricity, all in one place. With a bit of thought beyond the petroleum cultural assumptions there's a great deal to like about fuel cells.
          • Got a bite! Solar cells were the bait, but what really does it take to generate electricy? There are many ways to do it that are far more sustainable than fossil fuels. Wind and geothermal are possibilities, but we have at hand already in use a near-perfect H2 source: hydroelectric power. Water, electricity, all in one place. With a bit of thought beyond the petroleum cultural assumptions there's a great deal to like about fuel cells.

            The problem is that the US (at least) does not have all that much spare generating capacity. It's a waste to use what little we have to generate a fuel, that even at 100% conversion efficiency, will generate less work (energy) than that used to create the fuel.
        • There are few areas where there is enough clear land, available sunlight, and available seawater or fresh water to generate commercial quantites of H2.
          If you have to pump or transport sea or other water any distance you lose more energy than you gain
          If you haven't looked recently almost all waterfront, high insolation property is in high demand for residences.. And no one is going to build the bombs these plants will be in a populated area.


          Haven't spent much time on the Texas coast between Freeport and Aransas Pass, have you? 100 miles of sparsely populated seacoast with a *lot* of available sunlight. Hell, they made an orbital launch from Matagorda Island, which lies along that stretch.

          Fits the bill perfectly.
          • Haven't spent much time on the Texas coast between Freeport and Aransas Pass, have you? 100 miles of sparsely populated seacoast with a *lot* of available sunlight. Hell, they made an orbital launch from Matagorda Island, which lies along that stretch. Fits the bill perfectly.

            Except the insolation is pretty low for this kind of application, and large amount of that area are protected wetlands / national parks / etc.. A solar plant to generate commercially useful quantities of H2 will take tens of square miles, and needs sunshine 200+ days out of the year. (The risk of hurricanes along the stretch you mention is also going to be a huge factor in site selection as well.)
      • H2 can made cheaply from seawater and solar cells.

        Assuming you're making the H2 near where you're selling it, and you better be or you're gonna go broke, solar cells cost more energy to make than the energy you'll get out of them over their lifetime.

        A better idea, since you're near the water anyway, would be hydroelectric power.
    • Re:Why just H2? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Mike Greaves (1236)
      I'm guessing that this is an alkaline-electrolyte fuel cell - the cheapest and most mature type. This type is also more suitable both for indoor use and quick start-ups than most of the other types. I am *not* positive that this is the type they are using - it might be a low-temperature proton-exchange membrane variant.

      However, alkaline electrolytes (probably potassium hydroxide) are poisoned very quickly by CO2 contamination, and stop working. So you have to feed it pure hydrogen - the chief downside to this fuel-cell type.

      Other types, principally phosphoric acid, proton-exchange membrane, molten carbonate and solid oxide, can tolerate traces of CO2, to varying degrees, but may have other drawbacks. So then you can reform natural gas, propane or methanol, for instance, with steam, to produce CO2-contaminated hydrogen, and use that.
  • Kudos to Coleman (Score:3, Interesting)

    by imrdkl (302224) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @08:29AM (#2678212) Homepage Journal
    As a UPS, this thing could probably be matched (6hr/500w) by a few more lead/acid batteries under your desk. The cool thing is that you can buy these now just like any other (very expensive) generator. Coleman has invested the capital to make clean power available, and I for one hope they find a way to make it extremely profitable. (and somewhat more affordable)
  • Expensive? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by r1_unknown (542289)
    The prohibitive cost of the generater itself - $6245.00 without fuel - and the cost of fuel will deter most people from owning one. What about the cost to clean one up? I know the Coleman advert doesn't really discuss it, but what if the (flammable / volatile) hydrogen is no longer safely contained in the 'low-pressure' containers? Filling a room with hydrogen is roughly the equivalent of filling the room with oxygen - it will combust (see references to the Hindenburg). While all this fuel-cell development is great for the environment / atmosphere / economy, I am not sure the consumer-level products are ready for distro... Interesting aside: on the Coleman webpage, you can (almost) order refills of the canisters - there is no price, no weight, and no canister dimensions...
    • >Filling a room with hydrogen is roughly >the equivalent of filling the room with oxygen - >it will combust (see references to the >Hindenburg).

      Um, except for the fact that oxygen isn't actually flammable.

      • Um, except for the fact that oxygen isn't actually flammable

        A classic experiment that I saw at the pyromaniacs lecture when I was at university was to burn oxygen. Yeah - we all went "huh?!" too. What the nutte^Wlecturer did was fill a large glass tube with hydrogen and light top of it (so we had a huge hydrogen flame from the top) and then introduce oxygen at the bottom of it so there was a mini-flame in the large tube that was burning oxygen.

        The point is that if you lived in a hydrogen atmosphere you would consider oxygen very flammable indeed.

        Classic lecture - everyone was just about deaf leaving it. There are hours of fun to be had with liquid oxygen, not to mention what you can do with aluminium, rust and a little magnesium.
        • so there was a mini-flame in the large tube that was burning oxygen.
          No. By definition, what was happening was that the hydrogen was undergoing combustion (i.e., burning). Naturally if the oxygen supply is limited, the hydrogen can only burn at a slow rate, and where the oxygen is physically present.
      • roughly >the equivalent
        roughly is the key, in our usual room there are plenty of combustibles that we don't see as such until we introduce a large % of Oxygen.
        Horrible example is the Apollo-1 fire on January 27, 1967.
    • Re:Expensive? (Score:5, Informative)

      by lightray (215185) <tobin@splorg.org> on Sunday December 09, 2001 @09:07AM (#2678259) Homepage
      Although the Hindenburg disaster is the posterchild for the flammability and hence perceived danger of Hydrogen, you might want to read ``Hydrogen Didn't Cause Hindenburg Fire'' [ucla.edu]
    • You ask
      [W]hat if the (flammable / volatile) hydrogen is no longer safely contained in the 'low-pressure' containers?

      If you really wanna know, their advice (from this fascinating page [colemanpowermate.com] is:

      Problem: Hydrogen sensor has detected a fuel leak. The AirGen will cease operation immediately.

      Action Required:

      Move mode switch to MANUAL position, depress reset button, open doors and windows in the vicinity and evacuate the area. Call Customer Service at 1-800-445-1805 for further instructions.

      Anyone remember the Bloom County strip in which the black genius kid asks his parents to ``Move away from the basement'' while he tests his nuclear experiment? When asked ``How far?'', he suggests New Jersey.

  • Is this released? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Piquan (49943) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @08:50AM (#2678234)

    Aspects of this page indicate it's not yet released. For instance, lots of stuff is XX'd out; and if you click on "Fuel Cells" in the nav bar, you get a notice implying that the product is not yet ready.

    Is it possible that this is not the final pricing? It could be an early number, could be the very top (so nobody claims "false advertising" if they stumble across it later, when they set the real price), could be misinformation for competitors, whatever.

    Oh, nobody's mentioned numbers yet, but to get a single data point, you can get an APC's Matrix 3000XR [apc.com] (which sustains 500kW for about 5:15, and is in many ways more capable-- higher peak, for instance-- but obviously-- can't be refueled during a power outage). It's listed at $3750 US.

  • Green Bait (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    what they DON'T tell you is it probably takes 10kwh of good ol' off the grid polluting fossile fuel energy back at the factory to make 1 Kwh of nice clean green marketroid sucker bait fuel for the wealthy tree hugging crowd. The most effecient (and hence less polluting) energy is the most direct - the more steps involved the more loss there is during the conversion. Untill they can drill for or dig up plentiful supplies of hydrogen in the first place your just using even *more* oil/coal/gas/plutonium to create the illusion of enviro-friendly power. (not to mention lining the pockets of the illusionists).
    • Re:Green Bait (Score:2, Interesting)

      by andykuan (522434)
      I especially can't stand the comment that these fuel cells are powered by "two of the most abundant elements". Please. That implies that you can acquire H2 in much the same way you can drill for oil (the process of which, incidentally, still requires massive inputs of energy). Unless they're breaking H2O with solar power, there's some oil or coal being burnt up in order to generate the H2.

      What I think is sad is that the journalists covering this stuff and the public officials setting environmental policy are just as guilty of this energy-source-misdirection as the marketers of the technology are. How many times have we heard that electric cars are 100% environmentally friendly and will solve all of our pollution problems? Where do these people think electricity comes from?

      Now if someone will merge solar power into the equation, then we'd be on to something. If Coleman provided a means to refuel those H2 canisters yourself you could hypothetically power the refueling device with a solar array. Now THAT would be environmentally friendly.

      • Moreover, everyone knows that two most common elements in the universe is a hydrogen and stupidity. Since they're specially mentioning the former, i can't but assume they're also implying the latter ;-)
      • No they're not 100% environmentally friendly, and the fact is Hydrogen *will* be obtained from fossil fuels, but it is much more environmentally friendly to burn all the fossil fuels centrally (i.e. in power stations, which have much more carefully-controlled emmission standards), than it is to ship fuel out to household generators, or whatever, which are inherently less efficient than larger power stations.

        Also, when the relevant authorites take it upon themselves to do something about greenhouse gas emmissions , the switch to alternative power is much more cost-effective and easy if it's done centrally.

        On a related note, and slashdot has covered this before, GE is working on a home fuel cell which uses the methane from natural gas:

        http://www.gepower.com/dhtml/distributed_power/e n_ us/microgen/index.jsp/

        It's potentially much more interesting and cleaner (not to mention cheaper) than the coleman cell.
        • That run off of LP or Natural Gas. They're a little largish, but produce something like 10kW of electricity and enough waste heat to act as a pre-heater for your hot water system. They've been selling them for people over on the West coast for past couple of years. Now the GE system's unique in that it's designed to run off of Methane and thereby allowing you to use biomass sources to power the unit instead of LPG/NG- which would be a pretty "green" system indeed.
    • Try running an internal combustion generator in an enclosed space with you in it. They'll most likely be planting you in the ground when they find you later. Try doing that with this and you'll be around to tell the tale because it does specifically have no emissions other than water.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What a gas... put a tow sled on Ginger, use it to carry the fuel cell and go coast to coast without stopping except for burgers at Checkers [Gotta eat] and potty breaks [Gotta poo after the burgers]... who'll be the first?
  • by mr.e (182543) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @09:56AM (#2678314)
    Everyone seems to be assuming that the because the price per cannister works out high the fuel is really expensive. I would have thought they would have a similar system to calor gas (bottles propane/butane) where the cannister is more expensive than the fuel _but_ is reusable, so if you want 9 you pay a lot (for the 9 bottles) after that the fuel is cheap.
    I guess we'll wait and see.
  • by ivan256 (17499) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @10:04AM (#2678322)
    It's the tanks to hold the high pressure hydrogen while being safe enough to be kept indoors that are expensive. The hydrogen is cheap...

    This isn't bad for something that can be used indoors. It's also especially good for extreme environments where it's too cold outside for a gas powered generator to start in the winter.
  • "Perfect signwave electricity to protect sensitive electronics"

    This must be so that deaf people can use the electricity, too.
  • by inicom (81356) <aemNO@SPAMinicom.com> on Sunday December 09, 2001 @11:48AM (#2678471) Homepage
    GE has been selling their fuel cell systems for over a year. Sizes from whole house residential systems to commercial building-sized units.

    They use propane (or natural gas?) and extract the hydrogen from there. Still have the problem of storage, but at least propane/natural gas storage is common and suppliers abound.
    • GE is not selling the home unit - they're just talking about it.

      The GE unit is made by Plug Power [plugpower.com] and has been on GE's web site for close to a year now. Evidently, they've hit some snags. The fact Plug Power recently laid off almost 1/4 of their work force and their press releases talk more about financial than technology milestones doesn't bode well.
  • by mlas (165698)

    Of course, this thing is expensive, seemingly inefficient, and probably impractical... for now. But keep in mind a few things:

    First of all, Ballard (the company that makes the fuel cell in this thing) has said all along that they're going to have the really practical consumer devices in the market in 2005 (I think it's in their annual report [ballard.com], if memory serves). I think anything you see out there earlier is going to be a test product to smooth out the edges in production.

    The infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel (the price of those canisters, for example) is one of the things that needs to be smoothed out as well. The price of fuel should come WAY down with centralized production.

    Ballard fuel cells can also run on other fuels (methanol, for one) but at a reduced efficiency and with a slight hydrocarbon emission (still something on the order of 3-5% of what comes out of a combustion engine, but enough that you couldn't run one in a closed room).

    Yes, hydrogen fuel takes energy to produce, but so does fossil fuel extraction and then once you've got, say, gasoline, it gets burned inefficiently and with lotsa nasty waste products. I know cars seem to be getting more efficient all the time, but every car I know of requires a separate system to keep the engine cool (read: waste heat) and I wouldn't put my lips on a tailpipe. Fuel cells do their thing at 75-80 degrees F, and when hydrogen-fueled, the only output is distilled H20. That's it.

    Once practical devices come to market , they'll have the potential of decentralizing power, with that huge advantage of EFFICIENCY. And aside from the abovementioned advantages, don't forget to factor in power loss from transmission through wires. A world where fuel cells are practical everyday devices is nothing less than a PC revolution for power: power plants for all! Think an power Gnutella as opposed to the power grid. After all, I'm sure some folks were saying "Two thousand dollars for 64K of RAM? These things'll never catch on" twenty years ago...


  • i did some research years ago about fuel cells. the viable solution is to buy the fuel cell generator that provides 200kwatts from UTC Fuel Cells [utcfuelcells.com].

    this is actually a cool device that allows source from methane or natural gas.

    they also have numerous installations made.

    although at this time, i am not sure if there are other companies that have created generators made from fuel cells.

  • This is what I get from http://www.colemanpowermate.com/fuelcell/airgen.sh tml ...
    SecureIIS application firewall security alert


    HTTP Request caused a security alert, please contact our web master if you are getting this alert in error.


    What is SecureIIS
    SecureIIS offers websites running Microsoft Internet Information Server a broad range of protection from common vulnerabilities, both known and unknown. Because SecureIIS does not protect against specific vulnerabilities, but classes of vulnerabilities, it allows for a much more far reaching layer of security.


    For more information on SecureIIS, please visit http://www.eeye.com/SecureIIS/ [eeye.com]

    eEye? Digital Security - Vulnerability Is Over...
    Yes, the Vulnerability is over! I cannot view the web page on their product. Guess I can't click on `Buy'! eEye saves the day and my pocketbook from this particular class of vulnerability!
  • It's too bad that it can't use AC to refuel itself
    by cracking H2O back into hydrogen to refill its fuel tanks when the AC is on. Now this would be cool.
  • Correct URL (Score:3, Informative)

    by SnapperHead (178050) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @01:29PM (#2678710) Homepage Journal
    The URL posted above isn't correct. Try, http://www.colemanpowermate.com/fuelcell/ [colemanpowermate.com]

    BTW, this site doesn't support Netscape. They don't know how to close off tables. Why is it that more then 40% of the websites I have gone to recently do that ?
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @01:58PM (#2678779) Homepage
    This is a Ballard Power Systems [ballard.com] fuel cell, sold by Coleman. Ballard has been selling fuel cells for a while, and they reportedly work, but they seem to have trouble getting the price down.

    Ballard builds big systems. Their shipped product is a 250KW unit the size of a standard truck/ship container. They've been talking about a 1KW unit for a while, but their site still doesn't have photos of it.

    Ballard was supposed to be the hot company in fuel cells, but they've been at Real Soon Now for a few years, and it's not clear what's wrong.

  • Here's the spec sheet from Ballard [ballard.com] of the Nexa module used in the coleman. Some interesting differences:

    1200 W, not 1000W.
    Lifetime: 1500 Hours (~2 months)
    Control interface: RS485
    Output: 46 Amps @ 26 volts
    Unit must be protected from weather, sand, dust, marine, and freezing conditions in product packaging (I assume coleman does this to some extent)
  • by Hobart (32767) on Sunday December 09, 2001 @03:29PM (#2679043) Homepage Journal
    Seen when attempting to follow the link in the story:
    SecureIIS application firewall security alert
    HTTP Request caused a security alert, please contact our web master if you are getting this alert in error.
    What is SecureIIS
    SecureIIS offers websites running Microsoft Internet Information Server a broad range of protection from common vulnerabilities, both known and unknown. Because SecureIIS does not protect against specific vulnerabilities, but classes of vulnerabilities, it allows for a much more far reaching layer of security.
    For more information on SecureIIS, please visit http://www.eeye.com/SecureIIS/ [eeye.com]
    eEye Digital Security - Vulnerability Is Over...

    Wow... good to know that eEye is protecting innocent IIS users from the horrors of the Slashdot Effect [tuxedo.org]!! ;-)

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