Plan for hydrogen facility in former North County plant is on track for 2020

Monitor staff
Published: 1/1/2020 6:57:14 PM

A company that plans to produce hydrogen as the ultimate clean fuel in an empty North Country mill is getting closer to opening a factory that it says will be unique in the country.

“They’ve been doing some renovations, getting it ready for reciprocating engines to be put in, probably about April,” said Robin Irving, project administrator for the town of Northumberland. 

The project is being built by Utah-based QuasarWave in the former Wausau Paper mill site in Groveton, which is part of Northumberland, a small town on the Vermont border north of Franconia. 

QuasarWave did not respond to Monitor requests for comment in time for this article, and the company is releasing few details of the project.  Judging from past public announcements, the firm thinks it has developed a better way to electrolyze water taken from the adjoining Upper Ammonoosuc River, breaking it down into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be burned to produce electricity.

QuasarWave says its technology will allow it to produce electricity more cheaply than if the river was simply spinning a generator, and the initial business appears to involve selling that electricity to other firms.

“We expect the plant to be completed by the end of summer 2020,” QuasarWave CEO Whitaker Irvin said in a statement last week, reported by the Caledonia-Record of St. Johnsbury, Vt. “Regarding future expansion of the plant capacity, much of this will depend on users coming to the site.”

However, if it works as described the QuasarWave technology holds far more promise than just another way to generate power.

Because hydrogen is plentiful and produces virtually no pollutants when burned in air, it is often touted as the clean fuel that could replace oil, coal and natural gas. Some speculate about the creation of a “hydrogen economy” in which transportation, power and industry would be based largely on that fuel.

However, although hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe it bonds easily with other elements, meaning that large amounts of energy are required to separate out the hydrogen. This has limited its usefulness as a fuel.

If QuasarWave has invented a better, cheaper way of producing that hydrogen, it could be a huge business. The initial project will involve a 7½-megawatt facility, which is not as big as initially anticipated by the firm but has the advantage of being so small that it avoids the long and complicated process of approval by the state Site Evaluation Committee.

The company will be electrolyzing water taken from the Upper Ammonoosuc River, which for generations powered the Wausau mill with traditional hydropower.

“They did get a withdrawal permit from (state Department of Environmental Service) to take water from the river,” said Irving.

The plant is being built on a 2.7-acre parcel in the huge former plant that was recently sold by Bob Chapman of Gorham to the company.

Irving said installation of a pipe to bring from the river had found some contamination in the ground left over from industrial days, apparently caused by oil, but that renovation is continuing.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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