When you hear that Proton OnSite is “a global leader in hydrogen energy and innovative gas solutions,” it might sound like a lot of hot air, but the company has weathered some lean years and even a bankruptcy to emerge as a renewable-energy success.
Back in the 1990s, Robert Friedland, Larry Moulthrop, Trent Molter and Bill Smith were all working at Hamilton Standard on military applications for hydrogen-generating technology when they realized that there were commercial opportunities to be had. They recruited Chip Schroeder to help raise the capital necessary to venture out on their own, and in 1996 started Proton Energy Systems. The company, which initially focused on creating fuel-cell systems that extract hydrogen from water, struggled to grow over the next decade. Unable to turn a profit, Proton ended up in bankruptcy in 2007. It was rescued by Tom Sullivan (of Lumber Liquidators fame), an alternative-fuel believer who bolstered finances and expanded the manufacturing scope to include additional renewable energy-related products.
In the past four years, Proton has been growing at an annual rate of 20 to 25 percent, according to CEO Friedland. He says the company, which currently employs 80 in its 100,000-square-foot Wallingford headquarters, will add another 15 employees before year’s end.
“The joke in the business is that we’re always ‘only five years away,’” says Friedland. “But the truth is that we’ve been inching closer. Fuel-cell technology is here, and as we’ve been able to bring costs down, we’re seeing growth.” In addition to seeing domestic sales continue to improve, he looks to China, India, Africa and Asia for increased fuel-cell opportunities. Proton also has been at the forefront of the national effort to establish refueling stations for hydrogen-powered automobiles.
- Ray Bendici