Rising StarRising Star: Darrel Smith of HydroStar Delivers Clean Fuel that’s Actually Clean

Darrel Smith of HydroStar
Darrel Smith, founder of HydroStar.

“Clean fuel” sounds compelling, but how clean is it, really? Hydrogen, for example, turns into water when combined with oxygen—how much cleaner can you get than that? But, and here’s the big but, how do you go about getting the hydrogen? The solutions to date are either cost-prohibitive or result in dirty carbon waste.

Well, that might be about to change. Darrel Smith, founder of HydroStar, tells us more:

The spark that inspired the birth of HydroStar: About five years ago, my business partner, a British Citizen living in Beijing China, and I were working together on a project that we thought had all the right ideas but none of the right technology. Those ideas were to make a safe, clean, low-cost system for generating hydrogen. We knew that there were a lot of people looking at the problem, but none had found a viable technology.  So we set out on our own path.

The problem HydroStar solves: Hydrogen has gotten a great deal of press and scientific study. But the vision of a hydrogen economy has failed to this point since the only two viable options at this time are to either separate hydrogen and carbon from natural gas and dump the waste carbon to the environment, or to use an expensive device called an electrolyzer that breaks water apart into hydrogen and oxygen components.

Our technology, on the other hand, is low cost, can be operated either continuously or intermittently when lower cost energy is available, connects directly to renewable solar power, and uses a electrolyte (catalyst) that is made from food grade materials and is non-toxic. We solve the problem of a high carbon waste from natural gas and we have a system that is cost competitive for the hydrogen economy.

With the right team, you can have a history of ‘aha’ moments that are both fun and fruitful. (Tweet this.)

Recently we’ve also aligned ourselves with an exciting technology that takes our hydrogen product and produces ammonia for either storage, to use as an end product, or for use as fertilizer for agricultural purposes. Our combined systems allow us to produce ammonia on site, on-demand and with either renewable power or with stranded power that is currently not being used when the power companies have a demand drop at night. Our ammonia for fertilizer cost 1/3 less than ammonia fertilizer produced in large factories and shipped to the fields for use. We have some large farms that are very excited about controlling the cost and availability of their fertilizer needs, and we think this also has some exciting uses in developing economies for food and energy production.

How you differentiate from your competition:  We do not use any fossil fuels, and  we can compete with fossil fuel methods where other expensive electrolyzer devices cannot. That said, we are as efficient as “best in class” electrolyzers and have all the flexibility and scalability needed to meet any market situation. Our technology enables the hydrogen highway in a way that no other technology can.

The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: One of the most difficult things to do is communicate just what your vision is and bring others in line with your thinking. Once you have someone that understands, it surprises me how often they take it leaps past our original concept. With the right team you can have a history of “aha” moments that are both fun and fruitful.

What keeps you up at night: Bookkeeping and accounting. These are not my strengths, but are important aspects of a business. My background is engineering, and I really enjoy working on and with our systems in various development aspects but I know that at times and with our small group currently the financial area is something that needs attention to as well.

Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone and it’s not enough to have a great idea. Not all great ideas will succeed, but if you believe in your idea and can get real and honest input, listen to it. In the end, you have to be dedicated and bring all of your energy to bear on executing your ideas, but don’t be surprised if the end result doesn’t resemble your original vision. Evolution is part of the process. Be open to tweaks and adjustments—you might just find there’s even more to your idea than you initially thought.

What wild success looks like: You and I would have alternatives that we can choose from for our energy needs. Our technology would be accepted globally as an alternative to making hydrogen from fossil fuels and could be positioned in any home, vehicle, factory or commercial enterprise. Developing countries would have access to technologies that not only meet their energy needs, even in remote off-grid locations, but also would have access to safe, clean fertilizer to grow their crops and to help feed their families, communities, and our growing world. Energy expansion and power generation would not be done in large centralized facilities; instead, we would have the means to capture, store and use the energy from clean sources as necessary. Essentially, wild success looks like a new energy and agricultural renaissance.

The challenges/benefits of starting a business in Oregon: I’ve found that Oregon is a unique and exciting place to start a business. I am a returning Oregonian, so for me this is where I’d planned to bring home a technology or business opportunity that could positively impact our State.

But for me, there was more than just the desire to return to Oregon. As a business climate, Oregon currently ranks among the top 10 business climates in the United States. I hope that the legislature and the state of Oregon will continue to look for ways to encourage businesses to come to Oregon, but perhaps even more importantly, to encourage and create incentives or support systems for locally grown businesses to start and thrive. Access to capital is key, but other components, like legal support systems and quality and safety guidelines are also important.

Oregon needs only to look to the South to see a bad example of how to treat small business. I previously owned a business in California, and the burden that the state has put on small businesses motivated me to start any future business ventures somewhere else.

Closing thought: Launching a company is a process and a journey; enjoy it and keep notes. The book at the end of the journey, even if it’s only for you, could have lasting impact on your life.

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