Loudon Company turns switchgrass and trash into power   

ERICA ESTEP  6 News Reporter

LENOIR CITY (WATE) - A Loudon County company called Proton Power is turning paper, plants and even trash into power. Could it be the answer to escalating electric bills? A local sausage manufacturer says yes, and he'll be the first in the world to try it.

Using Tennessee switchgrass for alternative fuels is nothing new, but scientists are now using it and other materials for electricity.

"We make cheap hydrogen, and we make it from biomass. It's renewable, sustainable, on demand," explained Proton Power President Dr. Sam Weaver.

He invented the CHyP System. He showed us two prototypes in his laboratory. Bio-mass, like switchgrass, goes in and hydrogen comes out.

"With the hydrogen that we make, we can actually put out the energy in all the forms that we use energy. That is electricity, heat, and we can actually make liquid fuel," Weaver said.

The technology was presented to a room full of business leaders in Loudon County on Thursday.

Wampler's Farm Sausage Company, which is already using solar power, will be the first to install a commercial Proton Power CHyP system this fall.

"This is a legacy for us, and for our company and for our family," said Ted Wampler, Jr. "But I also feel like that it is a legacy to the rest of the world."

Wampler says once his Proton Power system is up and running, it will be housed next to his solar field. Both energy sources combined, he says, will take him off the power grid.

He also plans to start a new business with the bio-product his system will produce. 

"One of the co-products that we generate, along with water, is bio-char," said Dr. Weaver. "That bio-char can be used as a soil supplement and it increases plant growth anywhere from 70% to 250%. That's because we're returning to the soil all the nutrients that the plant took out of the ground, plus some carbon."

"Biochar is going to do a lot of amazing things for people that are growing crops," added Wampler. "We are going to bag it and sell it, hopefully to organic farms, nurseries, the big retail houses, anybody like that."

The machine works with more than just switchgrass. "We started with junk mail, moved up to sawdust, then hay and straw and switchgrass, and yard waste," Weaver said. 

It even works on garbage, and that's why Sevier County Solid Waste Manager Tom Leonard is interested. "We're pretty excited about it," he said. "We use a lot of electricity so it would be great if we could use some of our material to produce some of our own electricity."

Leonard said he even hopes to one day market Sevier County trash for power. "We would be able to sell the material. We would be able to offset about $350,000 worth of power bills a year. So it would be a huge savings, and a huge opportunity for Sevier Solid Waste."

The University of Tennessee recently installed a Proton Power CHyP System to use for bio fuels research. The inventor says his system is unique because even the bio-product produced is good for the environment and can be marketed.

Officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority also attended Thursday's demonstration.

The cost to install and operate a ChyP system depends on the business it will be used for. For more information, contact Aries Energy.