Pajarito Powder headed to Monaco

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From left, Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, and Steve Case listen to Barr Halevi, chief technology officer at Pajarito Powder, during a tour of the company’s production facility in October. (Kevin Robinson-Avila/For the Journal)

Albuquerque-based Pajarito Powder LLC is taking its hydrogen fuel cell technology to Europe as one of a select few companies invited to this year’s CleanEquity Monaco conference.

The event, now in its 10th year, is hosted by the London-based specialist investment bank Innovator Capital. It allows companies with particularly promising clean technologies to meet with global investors and industry leaders. Pajarito is one of 30 companies from about 600 applicants worldwide chosen to present at the invitation-only event, which is backed by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Monaco Economic Board and corporate sponsors.

“It’s a big deal,” said Pajarito CEO and chairman Tom Stephenson. “It’s recognition of the opportunities our technology offers and the success we’re gaining in the clean technology sector.”

The company, which launched in 2012, has developed a low-cost, non-metal catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells that could eventually replace platinum. That’s something developers are seeking to reduce expenses, since platinum catalysts, which are widely used today, account for nearly 40 percent of a fuel cell’s costs.

The catalysts initiate the chemical reactions that power fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. The catalysts cause oxygen to separate into single molecules, creating a negative charge. They also break down the hydrogen, freeing up electrons and creating a positive charge.

That creates an electric current through an environmentally friendly process that generates only wastewater when the hydrogen combines with oxygen molecules.

Pajarito developed an iron-nitrogen carbon catalyst based on technology licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico and other places.

In Monaco, however, the company will present a new, re-engineered carbon material created from its original technology to reduce, rather than eliminate, platinum. That can help manufacturers immediately lower costs while increasing fuel cell performance and durability. That’s because standard carbon used in platinum catalysts today rapidly wear down fuel cells through corrosion, said Pajarito senior director of business development Webb Johnson.

“It’s a re-engineered carbon that better supports platinum catalysts to help them withstand all the heavy-duty lifting needed for cars and trucks,” Johnson said.

Marketing the original catalyst material for platinum-replacement is still the company’s long-term goal. But more development is needed to increase the energy derived from non-platinum catalysts before fully transitioning away from platinum.

“The long-term solution is platinum replacement, but we need to change the economics of hydrogen fuel cells now, and our new technology can help with that,” Stephenson said.

The Monaco conference can help Pajarito, backed by the Verge Fund in Albuquerque, push into European markets, where hydrogen-powered cars are gaining traction faster than elsewhere.

“We’ll get to tell our story with a select group of business leaders who could become strategic partners or investors for us in the future,” Stephenson said.

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