- Hyperion CEO Angelo Kafantaris has positioned himself as a leading advocate for hydrogen as the alternative-energy choice for the future.
- Hydrogen has been seen as losing out to battery-electric technology in the auto industry, even though hydrogen is abundant and, with fuel-cells, offers a lightweight counterpoint for all-electric propulsion.
- Hyperion has auto, aerospace, and energy divisions, but Hyperion Motors made waves by launching an exotic hypercar, the XP-1, to showcase hydrogen's capabilities.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Talk with Hyperion CEO Angelo Kafantaris for a few minutes and it rapidly becomes obvious that he isn't in the auto business, despite the fact that he just launched a wild-looking hypercar, the XP-1, that could notch 0-60 mph in under 2.2 seconds.
Hyperion Motors represents just one facet of an ambitious hydrogen-powered business strategy. Along with Hyperion Aerospace and Hyperion Energy, the auto arm and its debut product are designed to achieve Kafantaris' ultimate goal: to reinvent and revitalize hydrogen power.
Hydrogen fuel cells have been a viable form of energy generation - they've long been used by NASA - and automakers including Toyota, Honda, and GM have pushed them as a way to leave the internal combustion engine behind. But advances in battery-electrics and the ascent of Tesla over the past decade have put fuel cells in the rear view mirror, even if not everyone agrees with Elon Musk's dismissal of the tech as "fool cells."
Kafantaris is eyeing a comeback, and that starts with changing the narrative.
"We needed to focus on a car, to tell the story in a compelling way to the consumer," Kafantaris said in an interview with Business Insider. Thus, the XP-1, a car that's quicker to 60 mph than any Tesla, with double the range to boot.
Show them the hypercar, and they will come
The XP-1 is "designed to function as an educational tool for the masses," Kafantaris said. The overarching point is that hydrogen's combination of abundance and portability makes it an ideal fuel for all-electric vehicles. And, of course, the only by-product is water, which is synthesized by a fuel cell's power-generating process.
Kafantaris, who studied engineering at Ohio State before moving to Transportation Design at Detroit's College for Creative Studies, is quick to point out that hydrogen is actually a way to store useful energy, particularly if you want an efficient, zero-emissions way to go fast.
"You don't have the extra battery weight," he said, referring to the bulk of lithium-ion batteries, which are the main way that energy is currently banked for EVs. "So you can have better acceleration and handling - and the same amount of energy as a car that weighs twice as much. This is why NASA has been using hydrogen for 60 years. When you go to space, you want to be as light as possible."
The XP-1, at 2,275 pounds, is a potent featherweight. Made of composites, Kevlar, aluminum, and titanium, it has no hefty engine or battery pack to haul around, just electric motors serving up punishing torque, so using hydrogen to max out performance made sense.
True, hydrogen refueling infrastructure is in its infancy. But with just 300 vehicles slated for production, Hyperion doubtless expects to localize XP-1 sales in places like California, where a smattering of hydrogen stations serve those few buyers who drive one of the three fuel-cell cars on sale in the US today: the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai NEXO, and Honda Clarity.
While those cars have their fans, Kafantaris bills the XP-1 as the far more compelling pitch for what the most abundant element in the universe can do.
Energy is the focus
"The XP-1 will be the least exciting vehicle from Hyperion," Kafantaris said, but he doesn't plan on becoming another Tesla rival. "I don't want our focus to be manufacturing," he said, echoing sentiments recently offered by Henrik Fisker, whose struck a deal with contract builder Magna to assemble his new Ocean EV.
"Our focus is on the energy side," Kafantaris said, adding that hydrogen has its most "impactful applications in aerospace and industrials." To support that vision and enhance the consumers' understanding of hydrogen as a medium of energy storage, he said Hyperion would undertake the assembly of a nationwide network of refueling stations. But he's also managing expectations.
"To be an innovator, you have to set aside your biases," he said. "In five years, if hydrogen isn't the best solution, I'll know that."
Still, he puts a lot of stock in atomic number one.
"Until we have cold fusion, hydrogen will be best."