A Solar Energy Research Firm Has Big Plans For Wyoming. The Homegrown Company Called 9H Energy Wants To Catapult State To New Heights.

By Camille Erickson

A Solar Energy Research Firm Has Big Plans For Wyoming. The Homegrown Company Called 9H Energy Wants To Catapult The State To New Heights In The World Of Clean Energy, Especially Solar. That starts with investing in the University of Wyoming and building new curriculum to train future solar energy engineers.

To make that dream a reality, the company established an ambitious education and philanthropic arm called 9H Research Foundation. The nonprofit has a vision to launch a clean energy student research facility to support hands-on learning at the university. The project is the brainchild of Gene Humphrey, a UW alum who studied mechanical engineering and wants to give back to both his alma mater and the state. Humphrey is also the president of the Nevada-based technology company, International Test Solutions.

Last year, 9H Energy obtained a permit needed to construct the 0.5-megawatt solar facility. The research hub is set to be built on private land owned by Humphrey and located alongside Interstate 80 in Albany County. The ranch includes 12,000 acres near the university campus with access to transmission lines and electrical substations. Bonifas, a UW alum who focused on petroleum and chemical engineering, wants to make the state a magnet for clean energy researchers and students eager to advance the field.

The organization has already started collaborating with Cameron Wright, UW’s interim dean of the College of Engineering, and dozens of students across disciplines. Recently, it funded a student competition in solar and energy storage design. “We just want to add to the university’s repertoire,” Bonifas said. “We’re not trying to replace anything. We just want more jobs, and more opportunities for students in the state, whether that be from traditional mining operations, oil and gas or the renewables sphere.” “Our goals are to identify ways of generating, storing and delivering clean energy,” Bonifas continued.

But the company’s plans appear to go beyond that too. 9H Energy is conducting feasibility studies for the potential construction of a data center using utility-scale solar to power it. “They were already extremely important, but data centers are growing more than they otherwise would have, as you can imagine, especially in this world during COVID,” Bonifas said. He envisions the utility-scale solar facilities eventually attracting companies that consume a lot of energy to Wyoming — think massive data, tech or manufacturing firms. With new industries come new tax bases and jobs for Wyomingites.

“We want to attract industry, and show them that we can provide them with solar energy, abundant Wyoming natural gas, a skilled workforce and state tax incentives,” he noted. The project has already caught some national attention. The American solar manufacturer Solar First chipped in over 2,000 solar photovoltaic modules, a form of solar panels, for the first phase of the student research facility.

This news was originally published at Trib.