Pajarito Powder was founded right here in New Mexico and is now at the forefront of innovation for the energy industry, helping to enable the growth of green hydrogen production. Operating out of their Albuquerque facility, Pajarito Powder develops and manufactures advanced electrocatalysts for fuel cells and electrolyzers essential to the hydrogen industry. Pajarito Powder’s innovative products aim to reduce the amount of costly and limited precious metals, like platinum and iridium, needed for the catalysts used in fuel cells and electrolyzers. These precious metals are not only costly, but industry experts estimate there will be a gap in the amount of iridium, in particular, needed for the continued growth of the hydrogen industry.
The story on how Pajarito Powder ended up in New Mexico starts years before the company opened for business. One of the company’s co-founders, Thomas Stephenson, moved to New Mexico as a child when his father went to work at Los Alamos National Labs in the 70s. Mr. Stephenson also co-founded the Verge Fund, a local VC fund bringing together entrepreneurs and investors, where he would work with another co-founder, Paul Short, to eventually establish and fund Pajarito Powder.
When it came time to open Pajarito Powder, New Mexico was the clear winner for the company. The company’s leadership had experienced firsthand the unparalleled benefits of having access to the state’s R&D ecosystem. Pajarito Powder licensed 2 of the 3 primary technologies that enable their products to work from New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Lab and University of New Mexico. Additionally, the company has had success in recruiting talent from both in and out of state.
One of the recruitment stories the company was excited to share was the recent addition of Michele Ostraat to the team. Ms. Ostraat came from the National Energy Technology Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy National Lab in West Virginia, where she served as Chief Operating Officer and Director of Laboratory Operations. The addition of Ms. Ostraat to the Pajarito Powder team is an important one, according to the company, and has also given Ms. Ostraat the opportunity to continue her career in the state where she grew up: New Mexico.
Another contributing factor to Pajarito Powder’s success in New Mexico has been the availability of resources for the company and the support coming from some key state programs, like the state’s Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP).
“We’ve gotten great support from the state in the form of JTIP, the STEP program, and the SBIR support grants, all of which have helped add to the company’s capabilities,” said Stephenson. “Some of the programs available through Los Alamos only exist because of the offset they have from the state’s Gross Receipts Tax, allowing them to make resources available from the laboratory to help companies like ours be able to do further research and produce publicly available data. All of this has helped us to grow Pajarito’s customer base.”
Mr. Stephenson also spoke about how he sees New Mexico’s role in the developing hydrogen ecosystem.
“New Mexico is going to play a critical role in growing the hydrogen economy,” Stephenson said. “It’s already a leader in energy production, both in conventional sources like oil and gas and clean energy sources like renewables,” he said.
Talent: The talent in New Mexico is plentiful, largely due to the state’s history of research and development. The proportion of New Mexico’s workforce employed in the science related fields is 1.7 times higher than the national average, largely due to the two national labs present in the state, Sandia and Los Alamos, as well as major companies like Intel.
Low Costs, High Quality Life Style: The state offers a lower cost structure when compared to places like Seattle and San Francisco, where cutting edge technology companies are usually concentrated. In addition, New Mexico’s southwestern beauty offers an environment for a high quality of life.
Incentives: The state provides some key incentives for the industry like our Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP).
Looking past the company’s immediate successes, Pajarito Powder is working on building out a new Albuquerque facility that will triple their physical footprint. Manufacturing capacity will increase 10 or even 20 times for some materials. This expansion will be critically important to be able to track with the growth of the market, and to continue exporting both nationally and globally, Stephenson said.
Mr. Stephenson says the time and investment from the Pajarito Powder team over the last 10 years has not only put them on the map but has more importantly set the company up to be able to capitalize on the rapid growth of the market in the near future. The company was able to share a key indicator to speak to that growth; Pajarito Powder saw a staggering 700 percent increase in sales (dollars) of catalyst for electrolyzers over the past year. That signals a key change in perception, not only for the company, but for the hydrogen industry, that hydrogen will be a critical part of the clean energy economy moving forward.