Hyperion fuel-cell company to open largest Columbus factory in a decade

Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch
Hyperion Cos. plans to open a hydrogen fuel-cell research and manufacturing center in the former Columbus Dispatch printing plant on the Far West Side that will employ nearly 700 workers.

A California company plans to move its headquarters back to Columbus in an operation that will employ nearly 700 workers developing hydrogen fuel cells.

Hyperion Cos., now based in Orange, California, plans to relocate next year to the former Dispatch printing plant, 5300 Crosswinds Dr., which closed in 2020.

The 65-acre Far West Side plant will be the largest new factory in Columbus in a decade.

Hyperion plans to invest nearly $300 million in the facility to research and manufacture hydrogen fuel cell stacks, which will be used to power a line of energy storage products, including Hyperion's XP-1 sports car, unveiled in August.

Hyperion, a Southern California firm relocating to Columbus, has unveiled a prototype of the XP-1, a sports car fueled by hydrogen.

Hyperion said the facility will create more than 680 jobs over the next six years, with an annual payroll of up to $58 million. 

For Hyperion CEO Angelo Kafantaris, the move is a return home. Kafantaris grew up in Warren and graduated from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. He took some classes at Ohio State University and co-founded Hyperion in 2011 while in Columbus.

"We’re so happy to be here, where it all started, 10 years ago in fact," Kafantaris said in a Tuesday news conference in the building, while standing next to the XP-1 car.  

"We didn't come back because we liked Columbus, or because we had nostalgia or because it was something we were used to," he said.

"We came back because we looked at many of the top leading states across the country. We looked actually a long time, and we went through the process of analyzing every piece, every metric, and Columbus had the perfect blend because it’s so diverse, from the tech resources and the manufacturing base."

Kafantaris and city officials said Hyperion expects to eventually employ more than 100 engineers, 230 manufacturing workers, 40 warehouse employees and 35 facilities jobs, among other positions. The manufacturing jobs are expected to pay about $61,000 a year, the warehouse jobs about $75,000 and the facilities jobs a projected $62,000, said Columbus City Council member Nick Bankston.

"This is an opportunity for families all across our city to have a better life," said Bankston, who chairs the council's economic development committee. "Columbus is on the map and is ready to take its place as the Silicon Valley of the Midwest."

Kafantaris said workers at the facility will make fuel cell stacks, including a new product the company expects to announce in a few weeks. The stacks are about the size of a car engine but flat and about 9-inches high. 

Hyperion will manufacture a new "green hydrogen" product in the plant that will address hydrogen's biggest drawbacks: its reliance on heavy metals and its cost. 

The plant will also manufacture "the majority" of the XP-1 sports car, but the car will be assembled in another location, he said.

"It is not our goal to focus on automotive," he said. "The car is just a great way to tell a story because people can relate to cars. Our focus is to revolutionize energy storage."

The futuristic-looking XP-1 is capable of going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.2 seconds, with a top speed of 220 mph, and a range of 1,000 miles, much farther than traditional electric cars. Hydrogen-fuel-cell cars are uncommon, but at least three – the  Honda Clarity, Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo – are available.  

Kafantaris, who drives a Mirai, hinted that the Columbus site could see additional growth. 

"One reason we love this location ... it's a decent-size factory, without question, but it’s on 65 acres of land," he said. "There‘s a lot of room to grow."

Kafantaris said Hyperion also chose the former Dispatch plant in part because its assembly-line layout is similar to layouts used to coat fuel cell membranes.

Hyperion joins a small but growing industry in Columbus devoted to using hydrogen as a fuel source. 

Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Such fuel cells can be small enough to power a laptop or large enough to serve the power grid.

City, state and economic development officials welcomed Hyperion's move. 

"It is a great day here in the city of Columbus," said Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. "It's an exciting day, not just for folks here on the West Side of Columbus, but for our entire city, our entire region, our entire state and I'd like to think for the entire country."

Several speakers mentioned that the Hyperion announcement comes on the heals of Intel's announcement that it plans to invest $20 billion to build a semiconductor assembly complex in New Albany. 

"This is an amazing announcement for Ohio," said Stuart Lichter, president and chairman of Industrial Realty Group, which handled the real-estate deal. "Intel, the Super Bowl and now this."

J.P. Nauseef, president and CEO of the state's economic development organization, JobsOhio, said JobsOhio will provide incentives to Hyperion to relocate. He did not provide details.

“Ohio is poised to lead in the development of hydrogen fuel cells," he said in a news release. "JobsOhio plans to provide assistance following the company’s achievement of operational milestones."