Governor Announces Plans for Hydrogen Aircraft Plant in Albuquerque That Would Employ 500

March 11, 2022
A California-based startup company plans to build a manufacturing plant in Albuquerque to power passenger aircraft with hydrogen capsules, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday.

Mar. 11—ALBUQUERQUE — A California-based startup company plans to build a manufacturing plant in Albuquerque to power passenger aircraft with hydrogen capsules, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday.

Universal Hydrogen, of Hawthorne, Calif., is expected to build hydrogen storage modules, assemble aircraft retrofit kits and perform aftermarket maintenance services at the Albuquerque International Sunport.

Lujan Grisham said its opening is expected in 2024, and the company said it will employ 500 people within seven years.

According to the company's website, the company's mission is to "decarbonize aviation." One co-founder and chief executive officer, Paul Eremenko, served as chief technology officer for Airbus and United Technologies Corporation.

Universal Hydrogen was established in 2020 at the Hawthorne Airport — "between the private hangar of Elon Musk and the private hangar of Harrison Ford," said co-founder Jon Gordon — located near Los Angeles International Airport.

The Hawthorne location serves as company headquarters and the research and development site for Universal Hydrogen's powertrain development. The company has another R&D facility in Toulouse, France, where the capsules for gaseous hydrogen and liquid hydrogen are developed, said Gordon, who was in attendance at the announcement at Hotel Albuquerque.

Gaseous hydrogen capsules can power aircraft for 750 kilometers (about 466 miles) and the liquid variant has a range of 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles), Gordon said.

The company does test flights in Washington state.

Both gaseous and liquid hydrogen capsules will be manufactured on 50 acres at the Sunport, where Universal Hydrogen will build its manufacturing and distribution facility on land once occupied by a north/south runway that was decommissioned in 2012.

Universal Hydrogen will invest $254 million in New Mexico, and the New Mexico Economic Development Department is pledging $10 million from the Local Economic Development Act job creation fund, according to a news release from the Governor's Office.

"I can't imagine a better place to be," Gordon said. "We need a highly skilled workforce, and we need it immediately. We see New Mexico as a place that will give our employees an affordable, high quality of life with access to culture and the outdoors. It's really a dream location."

Gordon said Universal Hydrogen will first work on converting turboprop aircraft to be powered by hydrogen. But he said the company is also targeting Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 aircraft — the workhorses of U.S. commercial aviation.

He said the company has contracts with 11 aviation operators to retrofit the first 100 existing aircraft.

Lujan Grisham had made the creation of a hydrogen hub in New Mexico a key part of her legislative agenda, but the plan never gained traction during the recently completed 30-day session. But at the conclusion of the session, the governor had promised a hydrogen effort would continue, and Thursday she signed a clean hydrogen executive order.

"This sets the stage with priorities and a strategic guide for policymakers and cabinet secretaries to work together [to create] a clean energy economy in the hydrogen space," Lujan Grisham said.

Before the public announcement, Lujan Grisham led a hydrogen roundtable discussion with Cabinet secretaries, other government and tribal officials as well as business and hydrogen industry leaders.

Five Democratic legislators who support the governor's push for hydrogen sat at the head of the table with Lujan Grisham as she announced Universal Hydrogen's commitment to Albuquerque, as well as the signing of the executive order.

"We didn't get the legislation we wanted, but we got the framework," said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D- Gallup and chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

"We are in the middle of a transition to clean energy," said House Majority Leader Javier Martinez, D- Albuquerque. "I believe hydrogen is an important part of this."

The governor's executive order directs the departments of Environment, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Indian Affairs, Taxation and Revenue and Economic Development to collaborate in the pursuit of funding and developing economic opportunities to build a hydrogen economy.

The governor in February signed a memorandum of understanding with the governors of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to compete jointly for a portion of the $8 billion allocated in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for the development of regional clean hydrogen hubs.


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