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New Mexico governor sets sights on building hydrogen economy

March 11, 2022 GMT
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prepares to sign an executive order related to prioritizing hydrogen development following a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prepares to sign an executive order related to prioritizing hydrogen development following a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prepares to sign an executive order related to prioritizing hydrogen development following a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prepares to sign an executive order related to prioritizing hydrogen development following a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prepares to sign an executive order related to prioritizing hydrogen development following a roundtable discussion with business leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took another step Thursday to put New Mexico on the hydrogen map, signing an executive order she said will help establish a roadmap making clear that hydrogen will be a key focus of the state as it works to transform its energy economy.

The Democratic governor said she hopes the order will provide predictability for businesses and hopefully result in more of them choosing to relocate to New Mexico.

The order directs members of her cabinet to work together in pursing opportunities for building a “green” hydrogen economy. It also calls for hydrogen to be included as a key sector for the state Economic Development Department.

“I want this priority to get the attention it deserves over the coming days, weeks and months,” Lujan Grisham said.

The state also is working on developing recommendations for the federal government as part of an effort by Rocky Mountain states to developing ways to make hydrogen more available and useful as clean-burning fuel for cars, trucks and trains.

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Lujan Grisham said there also are opportunities when it comes to aviation as she announced a $254 million investment by Universal Hydrogen Co. to build a manufacturing center in Albuquerque that will support its plans to retrofit and fuel planes with hydrogen.

The company has developed proprietary storage capsules that could be shipped from hydrogen production facilities to airports, where they could be loaded directly onto aircraft that have been retrofitted with hydrogen-specific powertrains.

New Mexico is pledging $10 million in local economic development funds for the project, and the city of Albuquerque is considering providing additional funding.

Jon Gordon, co-founder and general counsel for Universal Hydrogen, said the company has agreements with 11 carriers to retrofit nearly 100 regional turboprop planes with a goal of being FAA-certified and in commercial service by 2025.

Gordon told reporters there’s also potential for developing modular fueling systems for larger commercial airplanes as well as drones, industrial equipment and ground transportation.

Still, he called it a “chicken and egg problem,” explaining that the hydrogen market is in its infancy.

Hydrogen can be derived from water using an electric current and when burned emits only water vapor as a byproduct. Advocates have said the fuel could theoretically reduce greenhouse emissions and air pollution, depending on how it’s obtained.

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Critics argue that as it’s now produced, hydrogen isn’t green, carbon-free or unlimited. Currently nearly all hydrogen commercially produced in the U.S. comes not from water but natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That debate hit a boiling point during the recent New Mexico legislative session, as environmentalists lobbied against a number of proposed incentives.

Lujan Grisham acknowledged their concerns Thursday.

“I would guess that there’s not a single person in this room that doesn’t wish that we don’t need a transition of any kind, that it would be very easy if the technology and innovations were immediate. They’re not,” she said, adding that her administration will continue trying to attract companies with “the lowest carbon intensity possible.”