Sunnyvale start-up unveils sand-based fuel cells

February 24, 2010 6:52:55 PM PST
New technology unveiled in Silicon Valley promises to provide clean, affordable electricity for the masses. It's called the Bloom Box, and some familiar companies are already testing its power.

The much anticipated Bloom Box unveiling had an all-star cast that included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. But the main attraction was Bloomenergy's revolutionary fuel cell made primarily of sand.

"A flat piece of sand, inexpensive materials, but this is the core of the technology," Bloomenergy CEO K.R. Sridhar said.

The technology is designed to replace the power grid as we know it. Bloomenergy's founder is a former NASA scientist who says the solid oxide fuel cells stacked together act like a mini power plant producing clean, reliable, and affordable energy.

"All your energy needs for the average U.S. home," Michael Kanellos from Greentech Media said.

The Sunnyvale start-up raised $400 million in venture capital money and spent eight years perfecting a large scale system. It's called the Bloom Energy Server, or Bloom Box. Google was the first test site and eBay is another.

The five servers on the eBay campus are powered by 100 percent renewable gas and since July, they have saved the company $100,000.

"It's a wonderful example of something that's good green sense and good business sense," eBay CEO John Donahoe said.

Each Bloom Box costs between $700,000 and $800,000, but with state and federal tax incentives, the actual cost to the company is literally cut in half.

While subsidies now support the growth of green tech technology, Colin Powell says Bloomenergy could help power the world. He joined the company's board of directors.

"We want to keep this product moving forward in new models of the product eventually that can go into an African village and provide electricity to people who have never had it before," he said.

Bloomenergy says home use of its fuel cells is still about 10 years away.