PORTLAND — Maine could become a national model for testing a new way to produce hydrogen from water, and break its reliance on fossil fuels, an inventor from California told government officials and energy industry representatives Thursday.

“Energy independence is not fiction,” said Ronny Bar-Gadda, founder and chief executive officer of Genesys LLC.

Bar-Gadda came to Maine to outline his vision for using the proximity of Yarmouth’s wastewater treatment plant, the Sparhawk mill and the Royal River to take his patented technology from the lab to a small commercial scale.

The pilot project would use the treatment plant’s effluent to produce hydrogen and other gases, creating competitively priced energy to fuel the plant and other town buildings.

Bar-Gadda introduced his idea last winter to Yarmouth, which has been studying it informally since then. Thursday was the first time he presented the technology to a wider audience, at an invitation-only event at the University of Southern Maine.

Town officials said at the presentation that they still have many questions but are keeping an open mind.

“We want to understand what the implications are for our facility and our staff,” said Nat Tupper, the town manager.

The state’s energy director, John Kerry, said he was encouraged by what he heard. He asked Bar-Gadda to be in touch with his office and wind energy researchers at the University of Maine.

But for the project to move ahead in Maine, Yarmouth has to agree to host the experiment, and Genesys has to raise about $6 million for the first phase of development. It then could take two years or so to develop a commercial prototype and get it in the field, Bar-Gadda said.

If the project succeeds, Maine could become an important demonstration site for the idea of using hydrogen as a carbon-free energy source to help power the world past the petroleum age.

Hydrogen has great potential for clean energy applications, such as fuel cells. But most of the hydrogen produced today for industrial purposes uses a steam process involving natural gas. Another technique, using electrolysis, needs pure water. Both rely on fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.

Bar-Gadda is producing hydrogen with a proprietary technology called radiant energy transfer. It uses electromagnetic radiation to break the hydrogen-oxygen bond at certain frequencies.

He is a chemical engineer who is credited with developing the catalyst for boosting octane in gasoline, and has been refining the hydrogen production process in a lab in California for seven years. His startup company is funded now by private investors; he would also seek government funds to move to commercial production.

Bar-Gadda used an hour-long slide presentation that relied on formulas and charts to help explain his work to Thursday’s audience.

The information was heavy on physics and quantum mechanics, and was probably over the head of anyone who struggled through high school chemistry. But his practical message is that the technology could use geothermal heat from abandoned oil wells, low-capacity wind turbines, solar panels, the temperature gradient in ocean waters, or the effluent from a sewage treatment plant, like the one in Yarmouth.

After the presentation, Bar-Gadda answered a few questions before time ran out.

Kerry said the technology seems possible to him. What Bar-Gadda is proposing fits well into the state’s energy plan, he said.

The idea of using dirty water and producing other useful gases, such as ozone, is an appealing development, said Richard Smith, president of Maine’s Hydrogen Energy Center. The challenge now is to see if what Bar-Gadda has achieved in the lab can be replicated in the field, Smith said.

Some experts in the audience withheld judgment. Laurenz Schmidt, a renewable-energy researcher and technology adviser at the Ocean Energy Institute, said the radiant energy transfer may have advantages over electrolysis. “But in my opinion, it’s not a silver bullet,” he said.

Bar-Gadda is expected to follow up by phone or e-mail in the weeks ahead. He met Thursday with utility representatives and gas distributors. His goal, he said, was to make key people in Maine aware of his technology, and develop partnerships with Yarmouth and businesses that want to develop a pilot plant.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]