ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – A green energy company is looking to bring hundreds of manufacturing jobs to Albuquerque. One city councilor is introducing a proposal Monday night that would give the company an incentive package worth a couple of million dollars. The company wants to help airlines run on hydrogen.
Universal Hydrogen is looking to set up its first manufacturing plant right here in the Duke City. “It would be one of the country’s first hydrogen hubs to help transition off of fossil fuels,” says Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis.
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The company is looking to put the new 300,000-square-foot facility next to the Sunport. “Right now, the company has two engineering centers: one in Los Angeles and one in Toulouse, France. “Albuquerque will be our first manufacturing location,” says Jon Gordon, co-founder of Universal Hydrogen.
The Albuquerque plant would be making kits for airplanes to allow them to use hydrogen as fuel. “It will be assembling both the retrofit kits as well as building the modular fuel tanks that will store the hydrogen,” Gordon says. “We’re taking out the existing jet-fuel burning engine and we’re replacing it with a powertrain that includes an electric motor as well as hydrogen fuel cells and our modular containers go in the plane itself.”
Gordon says New Mexico was a natural fit for this facility. “The second that you arrive in New Mexico, you realize you’re someplace special. The natural beauty, the culture, it is fantastic. It’s just a great place to work and to live…If you look at the support that hydrogen has at all levels in the New Mexico government starting with Governor Lujan Grisham but also Mayor Keller, Senator Heinrich – the state is very forward-looking into hydrogen and hydrogen economy,” Gordon says.
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“One of the most exciting things for us in New Mexico is the quality of the workforce. So, these are very highly-skilled jobs. It’s a lot of work with composites, with advanced metals; we really need top engineers, and we really need a lot of them,” Gordon says. “Frankly it was a no-brainer, and we looked all over the world.”
He says they are trying to make hydrogen the universal fuel for aviation. “Hydrogen for aviation is a zero-emission fuel. The only output is water. We’re able to fly planes based on green energy and energy from solar and hydro and it emits only water,” Gordon says.
“It sounds like something out of science fiction but it’s true and we’re going to bring it to market a lot sooner than people think; in 2025,” Gordon says. “It hasn’t been pursued because the excuse has always been the lack of infrastructure. And that’s really what we do that’s different is we made the hydrogen fuel tank modular so we can fill it up at the source of production and deliver it to airports.”
“There’s a whole network of hydrogen fueling stations being built up and down interstates thanks to the federal infrastructure bill,” Davis says.
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To make this facility a reality, Councilor Davis is introducing a bill to give the company an incentive package from the city. “The state is offering them $10 million from economic development funds to help build out their facility, to make it commercial ready. The city’s adding up to $2 million more to help with things like leasing the terms at the airport, etcetera,” Davis says. The proposed ordinance says this facility could create around 500 new jobs.
“As they do construction [and] they meet benchmarks, the state will reimburse them or provide them incentives for the next phase. And if something happens, there’s [sic] clawback provisions, meaning they have to pay taxpayers back so that we can invest in the next project,” Davis says.
“The city leased them this property last spring and they’ve been developing how they’re going to build out. Now they’re coming to the city and the state and saying, ‘we’re ready to go. Help us build this so we can hire those jobs and start generating hydrogen and exporting it out of New Mexico,’” Davis says.
He says the legislature ramped up efforts to transition away from fossil fuels last year. “New Mexico wants to be a leader in this and this is one of those first projects to come to New Mexico to take advantage of that invitation,” Davis says. He says the city has offered a decommissioned runway off of the airport for this.
It will cost nearly $400 million to get the facility built and running. The company says a lot of plans are already in the works. “We hope to have a shovel in the ground as soon as April and hire architects basically this month,” Gordon says.
“We’re hoping to get the planes into service in late 2025, which means we need thousands of these modulars built by then, built and tested and certified. So, I feel a lot of pressure to get the site built and start manufacturing as soon as possible,” Gordon says.
City Councilor Davis says new industries like these are picking up in New Mexico. “New Mexico is in the middle of an energy transition. And it’s exciting that a place like New Mexico that’s so reliant on oil and gas is becoming a place that other industries are looking at for alternatives,” Davis says, “We don’t want to get left behind and New Mexico needs that revenue. This is a way to ensure that the state can invest in companies that are going to help us be a leader in that.”
The ordinance is being introduced into the city council Monday night. There will be a hearing in December where the public can hear from the company and chime in. A date for that hearing will be announced at Monday night’s meeting.
Once completed, the company homes to bring $700 million into the community over the span of the next ten years.