Steel wire and coating-technology giant Bekaert has invested in Albuquerque-based Pajarito Powder, which makes alternative, low-cost catalyst materials for fuel cells and electrolyzers, the companies announced Thursday morning.
The investment amount remains confidential, but the new money will help Pajarito Powder scale up its Albuquerque operations, said Pajarito Chairman and CEO Tom Stephenson.
“I won’t disclose the amount, but it’s a big investment,” Stephenson told the Journal.
Bekaert — a publicly traded, Belgium-based firm — is the latest entity to contribute to a large round of venture investment that Pajarito Powder began raising last year. That investment, which included South Korea automaker Hyundai Motor Co., is financing Pajarito’s move to a new facility in Albuquerque.
Bekaert’s new investment will help accelerate the facility build out, Stephenson said.
The company, which launched in 2012, has developed a low-cost, non-metal catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells that can reduce, and potentially replace, platinum in catalyst materials, lowering fuel-cell costs by up to 40%, according to the company.
Fuel cells are a critical component in hydrogen-based vehicles to convert the hydrogen to electricity. The catalysts initiate the chemical reactions that power fuel cells.
But precious metals like platinum significantly drive up fuel-cell production costs, and automakers like Hyundai are looking for cheaper alternatives as the industry works to transition cars an trucks to clean energy.
In recent years, the company has also worked to apply its alternative catalyst material for use in electrolyzers, which produce hydrogen from water by separating out the hydrogen and oxygen molecules through a process known as electrolysis. But, like fuel cells that rely on platinum, electrolyzer catalysts use iridium, an extremely expensive material that drives up the costs of clean-hydrogen production.
Bekaert, which makes components for electrolyzers, is working to improve product performance and lower the cost of electrolysis, said Bekaert Vice President for Fiber Technologies Inge Schildermans.
“We are committed to innovation and the scale-up of components and equipment that will make the vision of a global hydrogen economy a near-term reality,” Schildermans said in a statement. “We see Pajarito Powder as a key part of that reality.”
Pajarito currently operates at a 6,000-square-foot facility in north Albuquerque. But with commercial demand for its product rapidly growing, that space has become extremely cramped for its 20 employees.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” Stephenson said.
The state and city approved $275,000 in Local Economic Development Act funding this year to help finance the company’s move to a larger facility.
“We haven’t announced the location yet, but it’s in Albuquerque,” Stephenson said. “It will allow us to increase overall production capacity by an order of magnitude.”
Under its LEDA funding commitments, the company expects to create 50 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Pajarito’s product is based on technology originally licensed from the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory.