Economic Development

Hyperion Looks at Local Partnerships to Advance Hydrogen Tech

WARREN, Ohio – Since he founded Hyperion Motors in 2011, Angelo Kafantaris has known that he wanted to someday expand the company to his hometown of Warren. But since arriving in the Mahoning Valley earlier this week in advance of formalizing Hyperion’s agreement with the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, something stood out to him: the partnerships the company could develop. 

On Tuesday, he and others from the hydrogen-fuel company’s executive team met with staff at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland – the center is the lead site in the space agency’s research into hydrogen fuel cells – before meeting Wednesday with representatives of Youngstown State University, America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“Everyone is really coming together to support us and the positivity has been overwhelming,” he said. “We love it.”

With the agreement with TBEIC signed, Hyperion will move ahead on building out an engineering office at the incubator to develop its fuel cell technology. Eventually, Kafantaris said, Hyperion will likely move into a larger space to better suited to its research and development needs. 

“It’s all engineering based,” he said of the initial jobs at the TBEIC office. “Computer science jobs, programming, some mechanical engineering and research. We’re working with some research centers nearby like NASA Glenn to do some research here in conjunction.”

When it comes to building the cars – two prototypes have been built and an unveiling will come “very soon,” Kafantaris said – connections to additive manufacturing will likely be crucial for the company. After meetings with YSU, America Makes and the YBI, Kafantaris was excited by the prospects of local partnerships and said he met with companies that were excited as well.

“Additive manufacturing is key to all future manufacturing, especially when it comes to our type. It’s low volume to start, so it’s very, very important,” he said. 

He noted that he met with Mike Garvey of Center Street Technologies, whose company is developing carbon fiber printers, and has been talking with Barb Ewing, the CEO of YBI, for close to two years.

Those kinds of partnerships will cause a ripple effect inside TBEIC and the rest of Warren, said the incubator’s president and CEO, Rick Stockburger.

“It’s not just about progress here, it’s about progress outside of here. I hope they spend a year or two here and buy another building downtown and keep things growing here. We like to be the lever that moves the rock,” he said.

Added Mayor Doug Franklin as he introduced Stockburger and Kafantaris: “That career path took him out of our city and out of the state. He never forgot where he came from and always had a desire to come back. … Angelo didn’t make this decision just based on hometown sentiment and charity. He saw the opportunity and real potential that exists in Warren.”

With education institutions like YSU, as well as Kent State University and Ohio State University, Hyperion can work toward a goal held by both Kafantaris and Stockburger: keeping local talent local.

“One of Rick’s famous lines is that the state’s greatest exports is our young people. We can’t keep losing those guys. We have to keep them here. Let’s give them opportunities to pursue their passions here at home,” the Hyperion CEO said. 

Though nothing has been formalized, Mike Hripko, vice president for external affairs at YSU, said the university and other local partners can offer tools that will make Hyperion Motors successful in the region.

“There are assets in both manufacturing and testing that they may not have yet in their own laboratories. Between what we have at YSU, TBEIC and America Makes, we can share the assets we have – and the talent and people who can utilize them – and help build this company,” he said. “We have resources – research, faculty and students that we’re glad to offer as Hyperion needs. We’ll be there as best we can to make sure they’re a success.”

Later this month, Kafantaris will take part in a panel at TBEIC’s Energy Storage and Building Efficiency Conference, joining Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns and Tesla business development manager Tiara Thurston to discuss the use of electric-powered vehicles and energy storage.

Like Tesla, Hyperion positions itself as a technology company first. Out of the company’s headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Orange, Calif., Hyperion’s other divisions are devoted to the energy storage and infrastructure aspects of putting a hydrogen fuel-cell car on the road.

In 2004, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order for the creation of the “Hydrogen Highway,” an effort to install power stations for hydrogen-fueled vehicles in the state. With further expansions of the order by his successors in office, the Hydrogen Highway now boasts 50 stations, halfway to the goal established two years ago by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“The keys are the stations. Let’s get those built and maybe we can build a little Hydrogen Highway here in Ohio as well. That’s TBD in our future,” the Hyperion CEO said.

While there is an aspect of automaking to Hyperion, it is a technology-first company, Kafantaris reiterated.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. General Motors has built cars for over a hundred years. To reinvent that wheel would be extraordinarily difficult. We want to build the technology that goes into cars,” Kafantaris said. 

In recent years, major manufacturers have started turning their attention toward the development of technology, with Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler and GM pouring billions into their autonomous vehicle projects, among other efforts. 

“[GM] decided to shutter [the Lordstown Complex] because they wanted to focus the money they saved on new technology. GM purchases companies like Cruise Automation. They want to focus on technology,” he continued. “Companies like Hyperion can help build that technology and maybe help keep that plant open for a different purpose.” 

Since it was founded, Hyperion has operated in “stealth mode,” largely due to the competitive nature of the auto industry, especially when it comes to technology. Later this year, the company will unveil its car and share some of its capabilities. The only details he shared at Hyperion’s introduction at TBEIC was that it had a range well beyond 400 miles on a single charge and could be taken from empty battery to fully charged in about 3½ minutes.

“The first car we’re building is to show off all the great things hydrogen can do. When we launch that vehicle in the coming months, you’ll see those benefits,” Kafantaris said. “After that, we want to help the rest of the industry grow when it comes to hydrogen. One thing that’s holding it back is infrastructure. We hope to bring those things to consumers in a more viable way.”

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Pictured: Hyperion Motors CEO Angelo Kafantaris, right, joined Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and TBEIC President and CEO Rick Stockburger in welcoming the company to Warren.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.