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December 12, 2016 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: Weaver says “it’s a whole new way of thinking about energy”

Proton Power(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a multi-part series providing an update on the pioneering work of long-time Knoxville entrepreneur Sam Weaver.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Sam Weaver has never been an entrepreneur who was unwilling to take-on a big challenge, and he has certainly done that with Proton Power Inc. over the past decade.

During our recent interview with the company’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Weaver methodically took us through a well-prepared and thoroughly documented presentation on the technology and the proven results.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking about energy,” he says of the company that brings economic benefits and alternatives to its customers while simultaneously producing benefits for society.

Weaver uses the words abundant, inexpensive, green, scalable, clean, on demand, and in all forms to describe Proton Power’s CHyP (Cellulose to Hydrogen Power) process.

“We are feedstock agnostic,” he says, citing about 85 different biomass materials that have been tested. “We release less carbon back into the air than the plants take in.”

The CHyP process also results in the creation of several co-products that are beneficial themselves as well as valuable in terms of making the economics work for one of Proton Power’s latest initiatives – synthetic diesel production from biomass.

Weaver says he knew that two offshoots were being produced – pyroligenous acid (wood vinegar) and biochar. The former has several uses in agriculture such as for pesticides and fungicides, for disease resistance, and as a growth enhancer. It is particularly popular in Asia Pacific countries.

Biochar is a soil supplement, used to enhance growth of plants and even chickens.

“Ours is different,” Weaver says. “Our material has a high surface area. When you put it in the ground, it will stay forever. Native Americans learned the value of biochar years ago.”

Another benefit of biochar is the fact that it helps plants retain water at their roots, reducing the need for regular watering by as much as 75 percent.

“This is particularly beneficial in water-deprived regions,” Weaver explains. In addition, as plants grow faster, you get the benefit of both carbon dioxide capture and sequestration.”

Ironically, even though Proton Power knew it was producing biochar, it did not know that its biochar was somewhat unique.

“We found it might be primarily graphene,” Weaver says. “We initially said no,” but learned it really was.

Today, he says that, while “it’s real early” to determine the value, Proton Power does know that “our biochar is highly conductive.”

As such, it might have uses in areas like battery storage for electric vehicles and super or ultra-capacitors.

“We’re trying to understand what we have,” Weaver says, but quickly adds with a laugh, “We’ve been accidentally making it for six years.”

For Proton Power, the co-products make the economics of its CHyP technology much more attractive, particularly with its new synthetic fuels initiative.

NEXT: Synthetic diesel from biomass offers significant opportunity for Proton Power.