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solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)

A solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) is a fuel cell that derives its energy directly from the oxidation of a solid or ceramic material called an electrolyte. Ordinarily, fuel cells are powered by substances that are gases or liquids at room temperature, such as hydrogen, methane, propane or gasoline. SOFCs can provide power to any device that normally works with batteries, as well as various residential and commercial appliances including computers.

A typical SOFC uses a solid ceramic electrolyte placed between ink-based anode (positive) and cathode (negative) electrodes. When air, fuel, and heat are provided, the device produces electricity. The byproducts are heat (which keeps the process running), water, and carbon dioxide.

In 2010, Bloom Energy introduced a fuel-cell product known as the Bloom Energy Server or Bloom Box. Several designs exist. One of them uses a modular assembly of SOFCs to produce whatever amount of electricity is required for a given application. A single Bloom Box SOFC, for example, can power a 25-watt light bulb. A Bloom Box comprising a bread-loaf-sized SOFC stack can produce several kilowatts of electrical power, enough to serve an average residence. Large SOFC stacks can produce hundreds of kilowatts, and in some cases more than a megawatt, of electrical power continuously. A kilowatt equals 1000 watts; a megawatt equals 1,000,000 watts.

As electricity prices rise, the number of SOFC users grows along with the general popularity of alternative energy sources. Because electricity from SOFCs is produced constantly as long as air, fuel, and heat are available, SOFCs can minimize or eliminate reliance on costly and cumbersome backup power systems such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) and fossil-fuel-powered generators in data centers and other facilities where electrical power interruptions and outages are particularly undesirable.

This was last updated in June 2013

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