You know what New Hampshire needs? It needs a secret system to create hydrogen gas as the ultimate clean fuel, operating inside an old mill building next to a giant power-hungry data center that might be used to mine bitcoin.

Sounds improbable, yes – but we just might get it, and in a most unlikely place: Groveton.

This North Country community, part of the town of Northumberland, is where a Utah firm called Q Hydrogen Solutions wants to build the first of its proprietary hydrogen production systems. It says it can split H2O molecules taken from the Upper Ammonoosuc River and use the hydrogen to create cheap power.

Q Hydrogen wants to do this on the grounds of a massive Wausau paper mill that closed in 2008, and they’re charging ahead. The local planning board has accepted the plan and the company is working on building permits and a state regulatory okay.

Company CEO Whitaker Irvin Jr. said in an email exchange that Q Hydrogen hopes to start construction at a former cogeneration plant on the 140-acre Wausau site as early as January 2019, and to begin operating a year after that.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and it’s fairly straightforward to use it to create electricity or heat producing only water as a byproduct. If we could replace fossil fuels with hydrogen, then our climate change problem would be solved and we’d have access to almost limitless power, basking in what is often called the “hydrogen economy.”

Alas, hydrogen doesn’t exist in pure form on Earth. We get it by tearing apart hydrogen-containing molecules of other substances, such as water or alcohol or biomass. The process of breaking up those molecules requires energy – lots of energy, which negates all the environmental benefits. For example, there’s a proposal to create hydrogen at a facility in Australia that would burn the dirtiest form of brown coal in the process.

Q Hydrogen claims to have solved this problem “through integration of our novel and economical methods to produce hydrogen as a fuel source.”

How, exactly? Ah, that’s secret.

“Hydrogen and its technology is underpinned by a vast amount of intellectual property that has been developed over the last 20 years. The hydrogen production technology has been put through its paces over the last several years in Utah, and is commercially ready for implementation in our New Hampshire project,” Irvin wrote in response to my questions.

At Groveton, the hydrogen would power a reciprocating engine that would generate 29½ megawatts of electricity which, to put it in perspective, is about twice the output of the Garvins Falls hydropower dam in Concord. Backup capacity would put the plant over the 30-megawatt mark that requires approval from the state Site Evaluation Committee.

Q Hydrogen claims the electricity it produces will be half the cost of traditional power.

All that is cool from a geek point of view, but there’s also an interesting twist for the business majors out there: Q Hydrogen doesn’t want to sell the electricity into the power grid, but says all the power from the plant will be used on site.

Some would go to NSA Industries metal machining, the only company operating on site at the moment, or to future commercial clients but a lot of it would feed a proposed data center, one of those giant buildings full of computer servers that make sites like Google and Amazon possible.

“That data center is part and parcel of them coming onto the site,” said Robin Irving, project administrator for the town of Northumberland, which is very excited about this whole idea as you might expect.

Details of the data center haven’t been released but one very real possibility is that it would be used to mine bitcoin – that is, it will contain hundreds of connected computers that spend all day cranking through enormous but pointless mathematical calculations in order to create new pieces of cybercurrency. Bitcoin mining operations are being set up in all sorts of obscure locations, usually near hydropower plants, because their one requirement is lots of cheap electricity.

(Bitcoin mining, by the way, is a staggering waste of resources. It’s like leaving 1,000 school buses idling full-time all year-round, consuming fuel and spewing out pollution, so you can use the wasted heat from their engines to mold plastic figures for sale on eBay. But that’s another story.)

This is pure speculation, however. I don’t know if bitcoin is part of the business plan.

I also have no idea about the legitimacy of Q Hydrogen’s technical claims. Even if it’s not an out-and-out scam, the firm’s claim could very easily represent wishful thinking that won’t actually work, a common result when an outsider says they have breakthrough technology in a field which has already been studied by many other people.

But you never know. Sometimes claims of breakthroughs do actually break through.

Which would be cool. And if it breaks through an hour north of Mount Washington, that would be even cooler.

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