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Bloom Box Energy Machine Unveiled

Updated 2:34 p.m. EST

Following its television debut on CBS News' "60 Minutes" last Sunday, the Bloom Box was formally introduced to the public at eBay's headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Founder and CEO K.R. Sridhar took the stage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who touted his state's green jobs initiatives and noted, "160 years ago people flocked to California for the Gold Rush. The same spirit is still alive and can be seen as Bloom Energy."

After running through the science behind the machine, Sridhar dropped the curtain on his invention.

"It's the plug-and-play future of electricity," he told the crowd.

Live Blog: CNET News Covers the Announcement

More about the Bloom Box at Company Site

With an estimated $400 million in venture capital and high profile advisors - famed venture capitalist John Doerr and former Secretary of State Colin Powell are on the board of directors - Bloom Energy hopes to revolutionize the energy industry, ushering in an era of cheap, relatively clean and personalized power plants.

Sridhar said he began developing the technology as part of an effort to make Mars habitable for humans. While the key technologies for sustaining life - oxygen systems, shelter, and power - developed quickly, the rocket technology didn't keep pace.

But Sridhar now sees the Bloom Box as important technology in global development - an equalizer for poorer countries with nothing like the energy infrastructures of the United States and Western Europe.

The technology is based on solid oxide fuel cells, which works like a battery but has a persistent source of fuel, such as natural gas, to keep the electricity flowing. However, at this juncture the Bloom Box is still pricey compared to cost per kilowatt for wind and solar power. The question is if and when Bloom Energy can drive down the costs to about $3,000 for a shoebox-sized fuel cell to power a house in the United States.

According to the company's press release, each box fits the size of a parking space and delivers 100kW of power.

EBay's CEO John Donahoe said that the five Bloom Boxes installed on his campus 9 months ago have saved the company more than $100,000 in electricity costs. The Bloom Boxes cost an estimated $700,000 to $800,000 each.

Executives from Google, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Staples, Coca-Cola and other blue-chip companies lauded the technology, saying it cuts both their carbon footprints and their energy costs.

California makes adopting green technologies like the Bloom Box attractive, with a 20 percent subsidy, in addition to a 30 percent federal tax break.

Other companies, such as United Technologies Corp., are working on fuel cells but cite reliability and cost as key barriers to broad adoption. Sridhar maintains that his company has come up with a solution, including a special, patented black ink that is painted on the fuel cells, which resemble floppy disks.

One attendee asked Powell - also a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - whether the Bloom Box might be employed by the military.

Powell said that while he has no role in current military planning, it would be "incredibly useful" to the military since right now troops have to drag around heavy, loud generators that show up on heat maps. He said the armed forces could paint the Bloom Box camouflage.


Watch the "60 Minutes" Report:

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More "60 Minutes" Coverage:
Web Extra: The Magic Box
Web Extra: Plug-In Power Plant
Web Extra: Naming The Bloom Box
Web Extra: A Skeptic's View

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