PART 1: Sam Weaver updates us on Proton Power progress
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It had been more than three and one-half years since we had an extensive conversation with Sam Weaver, President and Chief Executive Officer of Proton Power Inc., about the company’s patented process called CHyP (Cellulose to Hydrogen Power).
At the time, the company had one customer for its technology that takes cellulose-based feedstock and creates hydrogen more efficiently than existing approaches. The customer was Wampler’s Farm Sausage Company in Lenoir City where the hydrogen produced through the CHyP process is used to replace energy provided in other ways.
In our six-part series that published in February of 2013 (click on this link to find all articles in the series), the Knoxville entrepreneur said that his latest undertaking could be the most impactful of any of his efforts. That’s a major statement for an individual who, along with Dan Hensley, his business partner of 44 years, has started at least 10 companies over a more than four-decade period, yet it was reinforced at the time by his launch customer.
“It’s a game-changer for us, but it’s also a planet-changer,” Ted Wampler Jr. was quoted as saying about Proton Power’s technology. We left our most recent discussion with Weaver convinced that such a description might be an understatement.
“If all the energy in the U.S. is produced with our technology, a co-product would be three times the amount of water needed in the country annually,” Weaver says of just one societal benefit.
That alone is very significant, but it is only part of the story. There are many other benefits, most notably environmental, as well as unexpected by-products including biochar, pyroligenous acid (wood vinegar), and graphene. All add-up to impressive progress since late 2012 when we first interviewed Weaver.
“We consider ourselves in early stage commercialization,” he says of the work that Proton Power is doing. “We have our first seven customers . . . all well-heeled.” Wampler’s Farm Sausage is still one of them.
“Teddy Wampler is the perfect model,” Weaver says. “He lets us use the facility for testing technology improvements, and we give him the updates.”
Proton Power has 26 submitted patents and eight issued in 36 foreign countries. It has five locations with 136,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space. Four of those facilities are in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park where we interviewed the thoughtful, insightful, and soft-spoken scientist and engineer.
“We have 135 employees including 30 engineers, four with doctorates,” Weaver says. “It is an amazing team of professionals at all levels.
Yet, perhaps the most significant sign that Proton Power is on the right track is the amount of signed contracts . . . more than a billion dollars.
It reflects significant progress on many fronts, a fact that obviously is very pleasing to Weaver who was willing to share many of the details of what has become his proudest professional accomplishment.
NEXT: Co-products paved the way for beneficial economic opportunities.