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Published March 05, 2021
A University of Wyoming College of Engineering and Applied Science alumnus is using his Laramie ranch to create a solar energy research facility that will donate its energy proceeds to the university while also creating research and curriculum opportunities for students and faculty members.
Gene Humphrey, co-founder of 9H Research Foundation, studied mechanical engineering at UW and went on to run the highly successful technology company International Test Solutions. A Wyoming native who grew up in Burns, he owns 9H Ranch in Albany County, just north of Laramie, and was looking for a way to give back to his alma mater.
“9H Research Foundation is committed to the long-term future success of the University of Wyoming and the Laramie community,” he says. “Our solar research center will allow students to gain hands-on experience for their future careers. Through our partnership with UW, we will be creating endowed professorships and student scholarships to attract the best minds in the clean energy sphere. This will help position Wyoming as the best university for clean energy, driving jobs and economic growth for the state.”
The 9H Research Foundation will donate possibly millions of dollars to UW in the form of clean energy installations and in-kind support services. 9H has begun the construction of a philanthropic student research facility, which includes a 3-megawatt solar installation powered by First Solar Series 6 modules. The research facility also will support the creation of a world-class clean energy engineering curriculum at UW.
First Solar, the largest U.S. solar manufacturer, made a $300,000 in-kind donation to 9H, giving more than 2,000 advanced thin film solar photovoltaic modules totaling nearly 1 megawatt of capacity.
“We are thankful to the 9H Research Foundation for the opportunity to lend our support to such an impactful project,” says Adam Smith, director of business development for First Solar. “It is always exciting for us to see our American technology powering American communities and, in this case, also the next generation of American clean tech engineers. The clean energy industry is set to be one of the most important industries globally in the coming decades, with solar energy making up a big portion of it. It is our hope that these modules are the start of an illustrious story for not just the University of Wyoming, but for all Wyomingites.”
The partnership between 9H and UW kicked off this school year with 9H sponsoring a yearlong senior design competition. Thirty-one UW engineering seniors competed in a $5,000 renewable energy design challenge. Two team winners were announced in February at a celebration event hosted by UW President Ed Seidel and attended by Gov. Mark Gordon.
To drive innovation and provide students with hands-on research experience, 9H also is hiring additional student interns and funding $15,000 worth of projects for seven student groups to design and build solar and energy storage projects out of the new research facility.
“The 9H project represents an amazing opportunity for students and faculty from the University of Wyoming College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) to be closely involved in a cutting-edge, large-scale renewable energy installation,” says CEAS Acting Dean Cameron Wright. “Gene Humphrey wants to give back to the university and wants to build this facility near campus, with maximum participation of students and faculty. While a typical installation of this size would never have opportunities like this, 9H Research Foundation is willing to adjust the overall design, as it is developed and installed, to better facilitate research, student involvement and general benefit to the UW and CEAS community. We are very fortunate to have Gene and the 9H team so dedicated to working with the college. There is no other project like this in the world.”
In addition to First Solar, partners helping fund the 9H student projects include Creative Energies Solar, Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, Alt E Wind & Solar, RiskThinking.AI and Black Bean Capital Partners.
“This partnership has really opened my eyes and guided me toward a different career path,” says Taylor Romshek, a mechanical engineering and energy systems engineering student from Windsor, Colo., who participated in the student contest. “I’m really excited for 9H and hope to be a part of the future innovation that will come from this. As a student, it’s nice to see that what we’re working on will have an impact.”