Q Hydrogen: Whitaker Irvin Jr’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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We all believe we listen to people, but we are often trained to quickly absorb the information being told to us and instantly respond. Essentially, we are coming up with our answer while someone is speaking, and therefore we are not truly listening to what is being said. Take the time to be present, pay attention, and hear what is being said. It’s okay if it takes a little time to respond, as what you say should, in many cases, be better received by the other party.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitaker Irvin Jr.

Whitaker Irvin Jr. is a founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Q Hydrogen, a pioneer in alternative energy. He is responsible for the commercialization of their innovative hydrogen technology, and his background includes technology deployment and program management at the aerospace and defense firm Raytheon Company. Previously, he worked in the financial sector, including Fidelity Investments. Mr. Irvin graduated from Babson College in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with concentrations in Finance and Global Business Management and is a certified Project Management Professional. Mr. Irvin also hails from a 5th Generation Oil, Gas, Ranching, Mining, and Industrial Development family out of West Texas. He represents his family’s transition from these roots to their current focus on renewables and the environment, and he currently resides in Park City, Utah.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers want to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my journey early on with an interest in what you’d describe as an Entrepreneurial Business Direction. At the age of 7, I started an online auction business where I would take a digital camera my parents had purchased for me and then work with family, friends, and acquaintances selling items for them on eBay. This business kept me going in my early years when I was interested in antique clocks and mechanical watches. I would buy and sell those from an early age as well. This path funded the purchase of my first computer, which I built myself, and my first car.

Once I reached my senior year in high school, I started the career exploration path and was lucky to have completed enough credits for an internship. I worked for a law firm on K Street in NW, Washington D.C. as their first high school-age legal intern. The experience was terrific, with exposure to everything from digesting legal depositions to scanning microfiche and serving subpoenas. It also made me realize that although I loved understanding the legal profession, I didn’t want to be an attorney. Since my senior year was also the time to figure out where to go for college, this understanding pushed me towards my choice of Babson College, which has been consistently known as the top entrepreneurial business school in the United States for decades. Thus, I focused on business and went through a slew of internships in college in the world of consulting finance and more. I began my post-graduation career at the defense company Raytheon in a program that exposed me to several areas of the company over many years. This program and Raytheon as a company provided an invaluable experience I could not have duplicated anywhere else.

Towards the end of 2010, I got a call from my father, the developer of the technology that is the base of Q Hydrogen. He asked that I join the business, leaving my program management-related work for Raytheon to become a part of the family enterprise. I served in a role primarily focused on the company’s operational side until becoming CEO in 2015.

Can you please share with us the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There isn’t necessarily one story I could classify as “the most interesting” thing per se, as this has been quite the wild ride. That old saying “when one door closes, another opens,” or not getting what you think you want is just a way of bringing you in the direction where you receive something you NEED, has occurred more than I can count. One such example was when I thought I would go down the route of working in finance in New York. This was based on the trajectory I believed I wanted, and then the possibility of Raytheon’s Leadership Development Program popped onto my radar. I hadn’t thought of applying since they required a master’s degree, and I was only finishing up my undergraduate in Business Administration. I got a phone call and decided to interview for the first round. It went exceptionally well, and I was fast-tracked to the final round of interviews at the company headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this final round was how they went about the interview. It was a very additive process, and it took over 8 hours that day, starting with people that had completed the program up to the C-Suite level. Their questions ranged from very thoughtful personal questions to my ideas on philosophy and business, as well as knowledge of the firm. I loved it! All of this contrasted greatly with the New York interviews, where I felt like I was being torn down to build myself back up defensively. It also put me on a path of work and continuing education that has proven extremely useful today. The combination of moving throughout the company for several years while working with the firm’s top leadership was invaluable. The experience of working with Raytheon and my time at Babson brought me more than I could have ever imagined, and I will always be grateful for that.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your Life? Your career?

This may sound cliché, but I always like to start the answer to a question like this with the first thing that pops into my head, as I feel it comes from my heart. The old golden rule is “ treat others how you want to be treated.” This saying is familiar to almost all of us growing up. However, these words represent an ideal I try to embody as much as humanly possible. It shouldn’t matter what you do, where you are from, or any externalities. I base how I initially interact in a manner my parents would be proud of. These changes, of course, are based on the interaction and how the relationship with that individual matures, but I think the main point is to enter every first interaction on a level playing field with a clean slate. Nobody is more important than anyone else, and all deserve equal respect. This ideal helps set the tone for communicating with others but also helps reduce potential anxiety when meeting or speaking with a new contact. I am not saying that things always go well utilizing this method. However, more often than not, it does.

Okay, thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Q Hydrogen is based on an entirely new method of working with energy and matter that has been under development for over 25 years. The body of technology is based on what we call QuasarWave Science. The world has discussed hydrogen for several decades as a potential solution for many of our energy and carbon emission-related issues. The critical barrier stopping this realization was that the cost of producing hydrogen via known methods was too high. Over many years, much work has gone into what part of QuasarWave technology should be commercialized first. The discovery of the ability to produce Hydrogen quickly and efficiently back before 2010 occurred while working on other aspects of the science; therefore, making hydrogen one of our priorities made much sense. This led to a lot of time and effort being put behind our hydrogen initiatives, hence the creation of this technology we are unveiling later this year. Q Hydrogen is almost finished with building what will be the world’s first hydrogen-based power plant that is economically viable and environmentally friendly. Of course, many exciting aspects underpin why this technology is so different and why we can do what we claim, which is also why we are building this facility. We can spend a lot of time trying to convince people that what we have is real. However, we believe building a fully realized commercial facility and having a policy where all potential partners can have a place for all necessary verifications to occur is essential.

How do you think this will change the world?

The world has been ready for clean, renewable hydrogen for decades. The main barrier to entry has always been the cost of producing it! As mentioned earlier, there are grey or blue forms of hydrogen that are less expensive. Still, the environmental toll isn’t getting us much further toward a carbon neutral or negative posture. We will introduce the world’s first cost-effective method of producing clean, renewable hydrogen energy. We will do it with this new hydrogen powering modified reciprocating engine to produce electricity. So, in short, we will demonstrate our ability to produce this fuel at a large scale and provide this fuel to some of the most common forms of energy production and propulsion on the planet today. It will be a profound moment for the industry that will be physically and tangibly demonstrated at the opening of our first commercial facility.

Keeping the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks to this idea that people should think more deeply about?

We have done our very best to make our technology the new standard in the world regarding hydrogen energy production. In contrast to other green methods of producing hydrogen that require massive solar, wind, or hydro power to create hydrogen, our approach requires comparatively very little energy. This means that using resources to produce the hydrogen is a small fraction of all other methods, and there are many ways the base load to produce the hydrogen can come about. Regarding how little this amount is, more on that subject will be revealed upon the opening of our facility later this year.

There are also discussions around the emissions profile of hydrogen, especially around power production subject if you are combusting the fuel. We have done a great deal of work in this space and will show that our emissions data, especially when it comes to NOx, is much lower than anyone will anticipate.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My father came up with this technology, which was quite a happy accident. Our hydrogen technology is one aspect of a much larger intellectual property body developed over the last 25 years. To make a long story short, my father was working on a concept he had: putting hyperbolic waveforms in motion on a solid surface in the form of a turbine. He created the first prototype of what we call QuasarWave Technology back in the late 2000s with the idea of solving issues in the world of industrial HVAC. He thought this new turbine would create two differentiated flows of air, one hotter and one colder, leading to more development in the HVAC space. What happened was a profound difference that made him, and the team realize that there had to be a great deal of consideration to the first commercial application of the technology and a concentrated focus on intellectual property protection. This reaction is because this small turbine, prototype one, produced two differentiated flows of air simultaneously. One of these flows was around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. With such a profound result from the first example of this technology, more research had to be done before deciding on the ultimate direction for this technology.

Then, shortly after the first prototype, another version of the turbine was tested in a sealed stainless-steel chamber. The work on this turbine was to model flows and observe other possible changes. Well, one day, my father returned to the lab and left the valves on the unit closed overnight. The facility was in Maryland, one of those days with extremely high humidity. The next morning, he opened the valves, and there was a loud BOOM. He realized that there was gas being produced inside this sealed chamber, and the only way that could be the case as if the moisture in the air was interacting with the surfaces of the turbine while it was sitting idle overnight. This was indeed the case, as he and his team were able to recreate this reaction the next day. They then decided to create a manifold attached to the back of this stainless-steel chamber and added a mister normally used in CNC Machine Milling to add more moisture to the environment. The result was the ability to sustain a hydrogen flame with this setup within a day of beginning testing. All of this occurred before 2010 and led us to where our company is today after some twists and turns.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

One of the main issues new technologies have been the ability of those in the marketplace to understand it well enough to employ their use in areas where the technology could make an impact. The first major step will be opening our Q Hydrogen Power Plant in northern New Hampshire later this year. We have taken a lot of the guesswork out of this step by building a facility that will be a technological showcase of our capabilities, as well as a location to make all the testing and engineering discoveries necessary to ensure our hydrogen technology will be appropriate for whatever the use case for this potential partner might be. For example, several power companies from the United States and Europe will have their groups involved in due diligence shortly after we cut the ribbon. Further, some companies in the steel industry want to switch to producing Green Steel. In far less time, they see what we are doing as a viable method to make Green Steel possible and way more efficient than they had ever imagined. Then there is the use of our technology for industries such as Global Shipping and Island Power.

Over the years, we have spent much time socializing our technology with whom we view as the right potential partners or users of our product. This pipeline of potential users, clients, and partners come from some of the largest industries around the world, so our goal is to be able to answer their questions tangibly with real-life experiences and data. We also have plans for mid-level and large-scale production of our turbines and technology. The goal is for our units to be modular, so if something fails that isn’t a straightforward replacement, like an external electric motor, we will just put another unit into service and bring back the one that has an issue to be retooled for the next customer. We focus on some of the largest or potentially most significant hydrogen users, then move on to more consumer-focused uses.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Trust your instincts.

After a few bumps on the head dealing with people that could be categorized after experience as toxic, I’ve learned my lesson. In the past, I spent a reasonable amount of time trying to intellectually rationalize a business relationship that I felt in my gut wasn’t right. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.

2. Sometimes, things take longer than expected.

Timing is everything, and sometimes trajectories are changed for reasons we don’t understand. Throughout the last decade, there were many times when I was expecting a project or technology we were developing to be out there and ready for market. For excellent reasons, many of these technologies were put on the back burner and led to the focus on our current hydrogen initiatives. As a result, we are now better positioned than we could have ever imagined based on global awareness of issues and desires to utilize hydrogen at all levels. It would have been too early if we had been here five years earlier.

3. We create our reality.

Though this was a statement I had heard growing up, it took me a while to truly understand it and put these ideas into practice. Where we place our energy makes a difference and how we frame situations is so important. It’s the difference between feeling like the world is taking you down or showing you a different path or lesson that will make you stronger.

4. Work and life don’t need balance, they need integration.

Life and work should harmoniously combine and not be at odds with each other. This way, you can live a life without needing a vacation. This idea seems easier said than done. However, again it is all about how someone frames this information. It took me a while to come to this conclusion. However, now that I frame working and experiences as pieces that work together, I am so much happier. For example, I may have two weeks of work somewhere in the world where it almost seems like back-to-back meetings. To create that harmonious integration, I’ll add a stop at a fun restaurant or some time outside at a park to enjoy a little of wherever I happen to be. Adding these moments creates a greater satisfaction for me, and I hope if others do the same, they might also be a little happier.

5. Active listening is one of the most important things you can do.

We all believe we listen to people, but we are often trained to quickly absorb the information being told to us and instantly respond. Essentially, we are coming up with our answer while someone is speaking, and therefore we are not truly listening to what is being said. Take the time to be present, pay attention, and hear what is being said. It’s okay if it takes a little time to respond, as what you say should, in many cases, be better received by the other party.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Everyone will have a different idea of what helps create their success, and for me, it is a combination of the lessons learned in the previous question and daily routines.

In my case, exercise every day is key to my ability to function mentally and physically throughout the day. It helps manage my stress, and if I’m going through a challenging time, exercise is a way to work through situations and come up with what hopefully is a helpful solution.

Additionally, I am a spiritual person who spends time every day on some form of meditation. This helps center my thoughts and provide a frame of mind geared towards whatever my direction will be on a particular day. Every few months, I go into a mode of a day or two with very limited to no electronic usage. This integration with meditation and breath work helps prepare me for challenges ahead and as mentioned before, assists in reframing and re-orienting problem-solving towards a more positive overall view.

Always being open to learning something new is one of my keys to success. I look at various news sources daily. However, at least once a week, I like to augment these sources with something new, like a Podcast on a subject that I might be interested in. This can include a new twist on history and philosophy or something as simple as old ghost stories. I find that mixing things up helps keep me on my toes and opens new creative avenues internally that come in handy when I least expect it.

Stepping outside my comfort zone has also proven helpful over the years. Something as simple as being on a business trip and going to a crowded restaurant alone was how I started to shake things up. Being a little uncomfortable has been a way to take things to the next level in whatever I do. Continuing along this line, doing large public speaking engagements and interviews, hosting large social events, and taking a class on something new are all additional avenues I always employ to keep growing and learning.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Q Hydrogen is opening the world’s first renewable power plant that is financially viable in Northern New Hampshire later this year. This technology represents a new method of working with energy and matter and has been under development for over 25 years. Our project pipeline includes several hundred megawatts of follow-on power plant projects in Europe, and negotiations are in process to include some of the world’s largest utilities and energy users.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/whitakeri

Twitter: @wirvin2

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market