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December 13, 2016 | Tom Ballard

PART 3: Weaver reflects on significance of Christmas Week in 2013

Proton Power(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third 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

Do you remember Christmas Week of 2013? Chances are most of our readers don’t recall anything specific about that holiday period, but Sam Weaver certainly does.

The President and Chief Executive Officer of Proton Power Inc. vividly describes something he calls the “Christmas Miracle.” It actually occurred eight days before Christmas on December 17, but the data arrived on December 23.

“We knew we could make synthetic diesel, jet fuel and gasoline through our CHyP (Cellulose to Hydrogen Power) process,” Weaver says. Simply stated, it was taking its existing process of using biomass to produce hydrogen and modifying it to make synthetic fuel.

“We struggled to figure-out how to make it economical,” Weaver explained of the process. If Proton Power could address the financial aspects, it had a solution that also brought significant benefits to the environment like a 97 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

“In addition to good economics, we wanted to be sure we had a good energy payback,” he explained. Both goals have been realized.

The answer to the economics came two days before Christmas in 2013, but there was a technical hurdle that still had to be met. Proton Power spent the next 18 months finding a way to reduce the Sulphur content to an acceptable level of less than 15 parts per million.

“We now have a low distillation process to make #2 diesel,” Weaver says, adding with his dry-witted humor, “We have color in our diesel. We call it the color of money.”

What gives Proton Power such an advantage? Weaver cites several reasons.

“Our system is modular,” he says. “Almost all other competitors build bench scale and then try to make one large unit.” Proton Power makes multiple smaller units rather than larger.

In addition, there’s the fact that the Proton Power process produces co-products – biochar, pyroligenous acid (wood vinegar), and graphene. They can be sold.

“This puts real pressure on our competitors,” Weaver says. “Their processes do not allow the spreading of costs over other products. With co-products, you can drive down the cost of diesel.”

Proton Power is finalizing its first commercial scale synthetic fuels plant in the Roane County Industrial Park in Rockwood, utilizing a former recycling facility.

“We are building it for a customer, and the plant will come on line later this year,” Weaver says. “Proton Power will run it for a period of time.”

The plant will use wood as the feedstock to produce 7.2 million gallons of diesel fuel a year. That is roughly 10 percent of the needs of the Singapore customer for which Proton Power is building the facility. If all goes well, Proton Power will build nine additional plants, at an average cost of $48 million.

In addition to the fuel, the Rockwood plant will also produce 11,000 tons of biochar or graphene annually. Sales from the co-product improve the economics of the operation.

“Most of our customers want synthetic fuels,” Wampler says. The first of those was the University of Tennessee which installed a Proton Power bio-oil system.

As far as the “Christmas Miracle,” the soft-spoken entrepreneur offers this thought.

“It’s not that we’re smarter than our competitors,” Wampler says. “There are brilliant ones out there. We just out work them.”

NEXT: Proton Power has a strong commitment to improving the lives of citizens everywhere.

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