November 5, 2004 in Business

ReliOn gets boost of capital

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Valley fuel cell maker ReliOn has landed an additional $25 million in financing to launch its second stage of development, the company announced Thursday.

“It allows us to beef up our technical staff, beef up the marketing and sales and basically gives us the money to commercialize faster,” said Sandra Saathoff, ReliOn’s spokeswoman.

Leading this second round of financing was Oak Investment Partners of Palo Alto, Calif., a multi-stage investment firm with more than $5.8 billion in committed capital. Oak Investment joins existing partners Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, Wall Street Technology Partners, Chrysalix Energy and Buerk Dale Victor, along with ReliOn’s former corporate parent, Avista Corp.

ReliOn, formerly called Avista Labs, secured its first $12.5 million worth of financing in July and September of 2003. In the past year and a half, Saathoff said about 125 of the company’s one-kilowatt units have been purchased for use in various fields, including government applications and the telecommunications industry.

Fuel cells are promoted as a nonpolluting way to produce electricity. They convert pure hydrogen into electricity through an electrochemical reaction with heat and water as byproducts.

Saathoff said the company would be hiring in the engineering and sales areas as a result of the additional financing, but hasn’t determined how many employees will be needed. The company currently has 50 employees, up from 34 last May.

ReliOn projects reaching profitability in mid-2005.

Oak Investment general partner Bandel Carano will join ReliOn’s board of directors and brings an extensive background in high-tech and telecommunications, ReliOn said in a news release. Carano noted ReliOn’s “near-term market opportunities in premium power back-up markets that are increasingly demanding longer run times.”

During Hurricane Frances a couple months ago, ReliOn fuel cells installed at a telecommunications site kept power running for 22 hours after primary power was knocked out, a recent company news release said. It was the second time the company’s fuel cells provided back-up power during a hurricane. Last year, fuel cells powered a microwave radio site in Maryland during Hurricane Isabel.

ReliOn’s goal is to replace industrial batteries as a back-up power supply in the 50-watt to five-kilowatt range. To add running time, fuel cells require only additional bottles of hydrogen, making them more cost competitive with batteries the longer they’re needed.

ReliOn’s strength has been its unique design, which makes its fuel cells customer-serviceable. The fuel cells are set up in cartridges, installed into a unit about the size of a microwave. If one cartridge fails, the rest keep running, with no interruption in power.

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