New hydrogen plant hires badass women veterans to kickstart the economy

Doug Doan
Feb 28, 2024 9:57 AM PST
4 minute read
Left: Navy Veterans Ally Islin and Lindsay Rheiner on a job site pose for a photo. Photo courtesy Doug Doan. Right: Independence Hydrogen worksite. Photo courtesy Doug Doan.

Left: Navy Veterans Ally Islin and Lindsay Rheiner on a job site. Photo courtesy Doug Doan. Right: Independence Hydrogen worksite. Photo courtesy Doug Doan.


Launching a green hydrogen company is no small task, but Independence Hydrogen founder Bill Lehner knew who he needed to hire to get it done. Enter the Valkyrie.

A new green hydrogen plant opened this month in Petersburg, Virginia, producing one ton per day of green hydrogen. The plant was commissioned by Independence Hydrogen, a small, gritty start-up in Virginia, founded by Bill Lehner, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. It is a notable achievement. Despite lots of enthusiasm and unprecedented government incentives, the building of a new hydrogen economy in the United States is moving very slowly. Turns out, building green hydrogen plants is technically challenging, and most, if not all, of the anticipated new production that the Department of Energy hoped to accelerate is suffering industry-wide delays. Hence, the commissioning of a new plant by IH is unique.

So, why has a small start-up been successful in bringing on a new production plant when so many other projects remain stalled? It’s a good question with some surprising answers. First of all, CEO Bill Lehner developed a very different business model that focuses on building lots of smaller plants by taking waste gas from other industrial plants and turning the wasted gas into usable hydrogen. IH also, wisely, decided to avoid many of the costs and more complicated engineering challenges by keeping the hydrogen in gaseous form and selling it all to nearby big retailers for use in forklifts. By capturing hydrogen that is currently being vented from industrial gases, IH was able to further lower the production costs, making Independence Hydrogen the low-cost producer. Meanwhile, bigger, better-funded companies with plans for expensive (we’re talking in the billions…) facilities are waiting for government loans, grants and tax breaks before construction can even begin. 

Independence Hydrogen is a Virginia-based energy company that recently commissioned the first green hydrogen plant in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Doug Doan.

But building simpler, smaller plants comes with lots of technical challenges, too. The company’s first plant in Petersburg started falling behind with an assortment of technical gremlins. Building the hydrogen economy is going to require a whole range of engineers and technical experts. In the early days, IH struggled to find the talent required. 

Enter the Valkyrie! Lehner went on the hunt for smart, fierce, ass-kickers that had the ability and a ferocious work ethic to bring new energy and dynamism to the building of the first green hydrogen plant. New engineers and operations officers were hired - and most of them were women. 

But not just any women, either. Warrior Women, Valkyrie. Lehner recruited a bunch of fellow Navy grads with just the skills he needed. The first, Lindsay Rheiner (USNA ‘15) had served as a Logistics Officer in the Marine Corps Tank Battalion. She was followed by Ally Islin, who served as a construction Officer in the Seabees, deploying all over the world in some truly dangerous places to build facilities for the Navy. Another vet, Lyn Yatko was also hired. As a Navy Captain (ret.), Lyn had broad responsibility to help build high-performance teams to execute the most difficult jobs in the Navy. She was a perfect fit. The next critical hire was one of the top women engineers in the country, Tauna Rignall. Tuana was the only non-military vet that Lehner recruited but like the other Valkyrie, Tauna had also excelled in a male-dominated industry. In her spare time, Tauna was a Roller Derby Star in Colorado so she fit right in. 

Ally Islin at a power plant facility at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, 2015. U.S. Navy Photo/Released.

Within hours of arriving, the IH women brought a new sense of urgency. Industry consultants, all of them men, were shown the door as the ladies stepped in and stepped up. It wasn’t easy, and to be sure, the Valkyries at IH got lots of help (by some men, too). Another Navy grad, Todd Carlson joined the team and he was joined by some Army vets and several West Point grads. In fact, 70% of all the employees are military vets and many of them are combat veterans. Turns out, a bunch of military vets with a keen mission focus, was the exact group of people needed to kick-start the hydrogen economy. “I have the honor of leading a team of fellow veterans with fierce execution skills, and we are on a mission to make our communities safer and more energy resilient with reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly hydrogen,” Lehner said in a press release.

Lyn Yatko. Photo courtesy LinkedIn.

What’s next? IH is a subrecipient on the Appalachian Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) and is in the early stages of planning to build the next green hydrogen plant in Ohio which will add another five tons per day of production. To be sure, the nation is in the early stages of building the hydrogen economy; this is still a nation that values entrepreneurs and fierce execution skills. So, look to the smaller, more innovative and entrepreneurial companies like Independence Hydrogen to bolster the hydrogen economy and bring the first production plants online. Go Navy!



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