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Hyperion Continues Collaboration with UMass Amherst

Hyperion Systems LLC, an Amherst company which designs, manufactures, and markets an innovative (patent pending) photovoltaic system designed to keep farmland in production while generating solar energy, will continue its history of collaboration with UMass Amherst by sponsoring teams of students in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department for their senior design capstone projects. “We at Hyperion Systems LLC are grateful that you are considering us to participate in both a capstone and senior engineering project in the upcoming year,” wrote Steve Daniel, the company’s vice president of business development and a 1981 graduate from the College of Engineering.

“Both David Marley, the founder of Hyperion, and I are UMass graduates from the early 1980s and are interested in engaging with the university for the mutual benefit of educating students in the engineering department and furthering the success of Hyperion’s solution.”

Hyperion will be working with one mechanical and one industrial engineering professor. The new relationship with Hyperion will be mutually beneficial, with Hyperion providing sponsorship money for the teams of students, and the students taking on real-world industrial projects.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Frank Sup teaches the Senior Design Capstone Project course for MIE, and his students will strive to understand the current physical design of Hyperion’s solar arrays and explore ways to make the systems lighter in weight and less expensive to build and maintain.

“As we start the semester, the students are excited about getting to apply their engineering skills to these real design challenges," explains Sup. "Having companies like Hyperion take an active role in the students' projects really energizes the learning experience.”

Industrial Engineering Professor Ana Muriel’s students will be charged with analyzing the company’s current supply chain and investigating methods to optimize it for reduced costs, delivery and installation times, and ability to scale. They will also determine an appropriate manufacturing strategy and distribution of the finished product.

"We are very excited about our collaboration with Hyperion,” says Muriel. “Steve's and David's commitment to mentor our students is exceptional. It is a win-win situation: Our students will get a real practical lesson working closely with them in applying many of the tools they have learned throughout their curriculum, and Hyperion will get to infuse fresh ideas into their processes. I expect terrific outcomes!"

Hyperion is the sister company of Diversified Construction, founded by Marley and headquartered in Amherst, which performs multi-million dollar commercial and residential construction projects.

Marley began his pioneering work in large-scale solar production in 2008 after he installed a 100-kilowatt rooftop solar array at his construction company’s headquarters in Amherst. Born and raised in Massachusetts, he knew that there was no scrub or unused land in New England as there is in the Southwestern U.S., which is where most large-scale solar production occurs. Any large-scale solar production in the Northeast would either have to take the land out of production, which is very expensive for farmers, or co-exist with productive land.

So in 2009 Dave began working with Professor Stephen Herbert, the Associate Dean at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, to conduct research and test the theory that solar arrays can be installed over farmland while allowing crops to grow unaffected. Once this theory was proven, the next big hurdle was to devise a system that allowed construction without disrupting fertile land.

By strategically spacing the solar panels on farmland, Hyperion’s solar arrays allow crops to be grown around and underneath them, thus creating dual use of the land. Hyperion’s 17-kilowatt demonstration test installation has been operational at the UMass Agriculture Experiment Station in South Deerfield since 2010.Installations at other farm sites in Western Massachusetts are ongoing. Hyperion is building a “best practices” portfolio with each installation refining the value proposition for farmers: Increase farm revenue by producing clean, renewable solar energy while still utilizing the land for crops and livestock.

“By providing dual use of farmland for solar energy and agricultural production,” explains Daniel, “our solution solves a very important problem facing farmers and solar developers; how to increase our creation of clean, renewable solar energy while not removing farmland from production.”

Besides UMass, Hyperion is collaborating with a number of government and educational institutions including: the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Additionally, Hyperion recently won a $1.05-million U.S. Department of Education grant to provide Solar Learning Labs and associated curriculum to 13 middle and technical schools in Western Massachusetts. As part of that grant, Hyperion is implementing photovoltaic systems, accompanying STEM curriculum modules, and teacher training at no cost to the schools. (September 2012)