A cancelled NASA Mars project is the base for today’s Bloom Box, a device that can take the chemical energy contained within molecules and convert it directly into electricity through a chemical reaction.

On 24th February 2010, Bloom Energy, a San Francisco-based energy company, unveiled a ground-breaking innovation Bloom Box, a little powerplant-in-a-box that will power houses.

The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.

In order to understand the Bloom Box, you need to understand more about the man behind the technology, K.R. Sridhar, co-founder of Bloom Energy.

While working as the director of the Space Technologies Laboratory at the University of Arizona, the India-born co-founder of Bloom Energy was asked by NASA to come up with a way to make life sustainable on Mars.

The result of his initial project was a device to use solar power and Mars water to power a reactor cell that made oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to power vehicles.

Sridhar led a project that built a Mars oxygen production cell using a yttria-stabilized zirconia solid-electrolyte ionic conductor to electrolyse carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

The oxygen production unit was to fly as part of the MIP (Mars ISPP Precursor) experiment package that was to be sent to Mars on the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander mission. However, the 2001 Surveyor Lander mission was cancelled after the failure of the Mars Polar Lander, which used an identical spacecraft.

Sridhar started working on reversing the process, using oxygen and hydrogen to create power after NASA canceled the project. The reverse reaction is the heart of the Bloom Box.

Bloom Box, also known as Bloom Energy’s servers, are made up of solid oxide fuel cells, cells that can be powered by any number of fuels, including but not limited to methane, natural gas, and even biomass.

Each Bloom Box produces 100kW of clean energy, enough to power 100 average homes or a small office building, in roughly the footprint of a standard parking space.

Companies such as Adobe Systems, Ebay, Google, FedEx, and Wal-Mart have already purchased larger-sized boxes. The company is also developing a smaller, less expensive cell to allow homes to generate their own electricity.

How the Bloom Energy fuel cell technology is different from hydrogen fuel cells?

1.Bloom Box Fuel cells use a common sand-like powder instead of precious metals like platinum or corrosive materials like acids.

2.It can convert fuel into electricity at nearly twice the rate of some legacy technologies.

3.The systems are capable of using either renewable or fossil fuels.

4.Technology is capable of both energy generation and storage.