ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A California-based hydrogen firm, Universal Hydrogen says it will build a new manufacturing and distribution center on property near the Albuquerque Sunport. The company, which seeks to use hydrogen to fuel airplanes, is getting a $10-million dollar investment from the state for the project through New Mexico’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) funding.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement Thursday alongside several state lawmakers, Universal Hydrogen officials and Albuquerque city officials. With the announcement, the governor also signed an executive order centered on furthering hydrogen investment in New Mexico.

Universal Hydrogen’s future hub is expected to sit on 50-acres of airport property near the intersection of Gibson and Girard. Known as the “Aviation Center of Excellence,” the property on the northeast corner of the Sunport is a former, now decommissioned runway site that’s sat vacant for nearly a decade.

The property recently went back up for grabs after a deal between the City of Albuquerque and an aspiring satellite manufacturer, the Theia Group, fell through. Albuquerque city officials say they have signed a “letter of intent” with Universal Hydrogen to lease 50-acres of Sunport property.

Universal Hydrogen says its planning on building and distributing hydrogen fuel storage capsules and airplane retrofitting kits from the Albuquerque hub. The company says it will also perform “aftermarket maintenance services” and administrative activities at the site.

The company is forecasting it will hire as many as 500 people to work at the planned Albuquerque facility over the next seven years. The investment is said to be worth over $254-million, according to Universal Hydrogen, which expects to spend the next two years planning and building its Albuquerque facilities.

“Not only is it a lot of jobs for Albuquerque, but it begins to show that New Mexico is leading in this effort that we know is very critical,” said Lawrence Rael, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Albuquerque. “Not just for the survival of our communities, quite frankly, for the survival of our world as it relates to climate change.”

The goal for Universal Hydrogen is to power airplanes by using hydrogen as a fuel source. It plans on delivering pods containing hydrogen to other airports around the country by using electric trucks and zero-emissions vehicles.

“Our capsules are not simply containers, they’re highly advanced composite vessels, the first of their kind, embedded with censors and other safety measures that ensure the safe delivery of hydrogen throughout their life cycle,” Co-founder of Universal Hydrogen Jon Gordon said Thursday at an Albuquerque news conference. “These capsules will be made here in New Mexico by the highly skilled technicians we employ and help train.”

Hydrogen fuel manufacturing has been met with mixed emotions from New Mexico lawmakers as Governor Lujan Grisham has pushed to make it a top priority for industrial investment in the state. While hydrogen is considered a clean fuel because it only emits water when used in fuel cells, opponents are critical of the process in which most hydrogen gas is created today: by extracting the gas from methane-producing natural gas.

Addressing environmental concerns around hydrogen production, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham lauded state legislators efforts during the 2022 regular session. The Governor called the work an effort to create a framework for attracting hydrogen related businesses with the “cleanest,” “best technology” and “proven track record to have the lowest carbon intensity.” Lawmakers were unable to pass a bill targeting those efforts.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re not dedicated to continuing that effort and to take that advice,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “Not having a bill that’s up does not mean that we’ve lost our concern, or our appetitive for working directly with the environmental community [about hydrogen.]”

At Thursday’s news conference, the company says its expects to do test flights this year with “commercial flights as early as 2025.” In the realm of test flights, Universal Hydrogen says it will begin using regional turboprop aircrafts to test hydrogen fuel systems.