An inventor from California who claims to have found a commercially viable way to produce hydrogen from water wants to test the patented technology in Yarmouth.

The pilot project would use effluent from the town’s wastewater treatment plant and hydroelectricity from the Royal River to produce hydrogen and other gases to supply all of the energy for the plant, and perhaps other town buildings.

The project could put Maine on the map as a demonstration site for the concept of using hydrogen as a carbon-free energy source that can power the world past the petroleum age.

Maine is an unlikely place to test such technology, but Ronny Bar-Gadda, founder and chief executive officer of Genesys LLC, said the state’s small population and interest in energy independence and climate-change issues make it an appealing laboratory.

“If we could show this works in Maine, it would be an example for the nation,” he said.

After seven years of development, Bar-Gadda has proven the technology on a small scale in his lab in San Jose, Calif. He now wants to scale it up for commercial applications, using Yarmouth and Taos, N.M., to showcase the ability to use wastewater to produce renewable hydrogen energy. Other applications are being contemplated in other states.

Genesys is a startup company, and the proposals are in an early stage. Yarmouth’s town manager has been reviewing the plan and is supportive, but it’s still being studied by town officials and has yet to go before the Town Council.

The company also will need to get government permits and raise money to start a venture, which could take three years.

The project in Yarmouth is estimated to cost $9 million, some of which would require federal funds. The exact amount will depend on how much Genesys can attract in private capital.

Bar-Gadda plans to be in Portland on May 20 to present the plan to officials, potential investors and business partners at an invitation-only event at the University of Southern Maine.

He has developed a proprietary technology called radiant energy transfer. It uses electromagnetic radiation to break the hydrogen-oxygen bond at certain frequencies. The process was demonstrated last fall in the lab by filling a balloon with hydrogen made from wastewater. The radiant energy transfer unit, as Bar-Gadda calls it, can be scaled up in modules, uses minimal energy and produces hydrogen at a rapid rate.

While the science behind the discovery is complex, the concept is simple, Bar-Gadda said. Skeptics should remember that other life-changing inventions, such as the light bulb, sprang from simple concepts, he said.

A chemical engineer, Bar-Gadda has a long background as an inventor, with 12 patents and five commercial projects developed. He commercialized biomass and coal-to-gasoline technologies as biomass energy program manager for what’s now Exxon-Mobil, and held key management positions for other technology and research firms.

Bar-Gadda’s interest in Maine, and in Yarmouth, is serendipity.

He’s a college friend of Patty Johnson, a graphic artist for Swardlick Marketing Group in Portland. Johnson, who now is Bar-Gadda’s publicist, told her boss, David Swardlick, about Genesys.

Swardlick was intrigued. He visited Bar-Gadda’s lab last year during business trips to California.

When Bar-Gadda asked Swardlick if he knew of a wastewater treatment plant with a renewable energy source nearby, Swardlick thought of his hometown, Yarmouth. The Sparhawk Mill, which has hydro turbines, is a mile upriver from the treatment plant.

Swardlick put Bar-Gadda in touch with Nat Tupper, Yarmouth’s town manager. Bar-Gadda prepared a presentation showing how the pilot project could make the plant energy-independent, reduce its operating costs and heat other buildings.

The project would have three phases. The first would produce hydrogen from wastewater and store it in a fuel cell. It also would produce ozone for disinfecting wastewater.

Phase two would use turbines at the mill to power additional radiant energy transfer units, producing enough hydrogen and ozone to eliminate chemicals and aeration at the treatment plant and get it off the power grid.

The third phase would use excess hydrogen to heat buildings such as Town Hall and the fire station.

The radiant energy transfer units also can pull off other gases, such as nitrogen, which have a market value and can be sold.

Details of the proposal have yet to be studied by the town engineer, fire chief and other officials. The town would likely have to enter into a formal agreement with Genesys, and perhaps lease some land.

But Tupper said it seems reasonable that he could present the plan to the council before Bar-Gadda’s visit in May.

“There are a lot of benefits for the town of Yarmouth,” he said. “Unless we discover some health and safety risks that we’re not anticipating, I would think the council would say, ‘This is cool, let’s try it.’“

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: [email protected]