This morning, we unveiled a new, state-of-the-art technology at our PayPal campus in San Jose. If you’re a fan of the show 60 Minutes, you might have heard about this already. It’s called the Bloom Box, and some are saying it will revolutionize the world.
The boxes use what are called fuel cells, which are similar to skinny batteries, but a fuel source needs to be fed into them and they can run at all times. The point of fuel cells are like most other alternative energy sources that have become popular in recent years—everyone is trying to find a way to power our lives in an inexpensive way that doesn’t leave a huge impact on our planet.
The fuel cells are made by an innovative Silicon Valley startup called Bloom Energy, which was started by a former NASA scientist. They work by feeding air and fuel—often natural gas or biogas, but even energy from solar panels—into its system, which converts the two into electricity that can be used by homes, offices or even cities. The cool part about fuel cells is that they don’t need some big process to happen in a power plant somewhere; they don’t need huge smokestacks spewing out pollution into the atmosphere. They are much more efficient and have virtually none of the environmental impact compared to other ways electricity is generated. In fact, a stack of fuel cells the size of a brick would be good enough to power an average home, according to the folks at Bloom Energy.
Despite the space-age feel of Bloom, fuel cells have been around for a long time. They were first invented around the 1830s, but they’ve always been considered too expensive to be a reality. One technology expert even calls them the “divas” of the energy industry, because they typically have needed platinum, zirconia (think: cubic zirconia, or artificial diamonds) or some other type of metal typically found on a wedding band to create electricity.
Bloom, on the other hand, figured out how to make their fuel cells with something completely different—sand.
They take ordinary beach sand, bake it and compress it into a ceramic disc about the size of a Polaroid image. Because Bloom figured out how to make these cells with a readily-available resource, and they didn’t need to use lots of harsh chemicals or leeching metals to power the process, they not only created something affordable, but something that’s good for the environment as well.
Hundreds upon hundreds of those mini, Polaroid image-sized discs get stacked and go into a box the size of an SUV. At eBay, we installed five of these boxes nearly nine months ago. Imagine the amount of environmentally-friendly, inexpensive electricity that can be generated!
In fact, the boxes already power a noticeable portion of our PayPal campus in San Jose, and sits beside our LEED-Gold certified “Mint” building. We even found that they are five times more efficient than the solar panels we installed on our roofs there, at only a fraction of the size.
eBay has always believed in the power of its business to make a difference in the world, and the way its business is powered is no exception. By utilizing innovative new technologies like the Bloom fuel cells, we can have a huge impact on the planet.