Hoku opens assembly plant
KAPOLEI » High-technology startup Hoku Scientific Inc. unveiled a new 14,000-square-foot building yesterday that the company hopes will drive its growth as a maker of key components for fuel cells, which may someday power everything from homes to automobiles.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann joined Hoku's chairman, Dustin Shindo, and other senior company officers in untying a maile lei to officially open the two-story facility in the Kapolei Business Park in West Oahu.
Hannemann praised fuel cells as a promising, environmentally friendly technology that could blossom in Hawaii.
"Talk about something that will go a long way toward dispelling that image that all we exist for is sun, sand, sea and surf," Hannemann told about 80 well-wishers and employees gathered for the ceremony. "Science and technology is indeed where I would like to see the city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii move."
Shindo said the dry, flat expanse of land near the base of the Waianae Range was one of the few places where Hoku Scientific could build on Oahu at a reasonable price and still have enough room nearby to expand in the future if needed.
Kapolei is also closer to more affordable housing, Shindo said, a key issue for startup companies in a state with some of the most expensive housing in the nation.
Hoku has come a long way since Shindo and two friends, including a fellow classmate from Waiakea High School in Hilo, launched the company in 2001.
It has built up a client list that includes Sanyo Electric Co., Nissan Motor Co. and the U.S. Navy. In August, Hoku became the first Hawaii company to go public in six years when it debuted on the Nasdaq market.
Shindo said the new Kapolei facility will enable Hoku to produce the key component for fuel cells -- a membrane electrode assembly -- that is its specialty. Right now, Hoku still primarily researches the technology for the part.
"Moving here gives us that capability, the facility, and the space we need," Shindo said after the opening ceremony.
Shindo said Hoku's key challenges in coming years will be getting its production line going and selling its products to companies that are successfully marketing fuel cell systems.
Few fuel cells are commercially sold anywhere in the world. Japan's Sanyo is developing fuel cells to power homes and Nissan is developing them for use in cars.
Eventually, Hoku hopes to mass produce fuel cell components in Kapolei, Shindo said.
Hoku employs about 25 people, but will hire more if the business grows, Shindo said.