Groveton Hydrogen Energy Plan Could Be 'Just The Beginning' Of Path To Lower Costs

Oct 31, 2018

Q Hydrogen Solutions' process separates hydrogen from water with less energy than existing plants.
Credit Q Hydrogen Solutions

The company behind a first-of-its-kind hydrogen energy project in the North Country says it could cut energy costs in half for local businesses.

The Utah-based company, called Q Hydrogen Solutions, is turning part of Groveton’s former Wausau Paper Mill into a hydrogen power plant.

It will strip hydrogen molecules out of water, and use that hydrogen to power engines.

It expects to generate around 30 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power businesses in the surrounding industrial park, which has been built up on the mill site since the facility shut down a decade ago.

“Initially when I saw it, I couldn’t imagine what we could do there,” says Whitaker Irvin, Jr., the hydrogen company’s CEO. “You have the water offtake, which is still in the river, which is great. You have the building, which is great. But it’s kind of a clean slate.”

But what the mill lacks in existing infrastructure, he says, it makes up for in a ready customer base.

One company that’s already signed on to buy power from the plant is a data center, which Irvin says is relocating from Massachusetts. He says that company would have otherwise left the region due to high energy prices.

Irvin says hydrogen itself is clean – it emits only water or water vapor – but it hasn’t gone mainstream because it can be energy-intensive to derive from water, using expensive processes based on other, dirtier fuels such as natural gas.

Existing hydrogen power plants in the U.S., he says, “are really just more pilot, demonstration-type projects, but they’re not really financially viable.”

The Wausau Paper Mill in Groveton closed in 2008.
Credit AlexiusHoratius / Creative Commons

His company hopes to change that, with a process that uses less heat to get the hydrogen.

“It’s a new way of doing it,” Irvin says. “You can’t create these types of gains trying to make a slight improvement on currently existing technology. You have to go way out of the box.”

His company will be able to sell the power they make in Groveton at about 50 percent of the industrial rate offered by the main local utility, Eversource.  

“This is really just the beginning,” Irvin says. “I know that what we’re doing is very different, and the hydrogen economy has been something people have been talking about for a long time.”

Irvin sees the project, which will employ 27 people, as a way to boost Groveton's struggling economy. He says the plant and its cheap energy should attract new businesses and help those already on-site expand and add jobs.

And he hopes the project will show that his company’s new hydrogen process is feasible – which could make connecting to the larger regional grid easier later on.

The proposal has support from local and state officials, including Gov. Chris Sununu. It’s awaiting state air and water permits.

Irvin says they’re applying for an exemption to the Site Evaluation Committee approval process, because the project won’t be interconnected with the larger grid, and it’s near the low end of the minimum capacity that the SEC must approve.

Construction is set to start in January.