Q: What's behind the company's name?
A: The original genesis for our business came from the name of Pajarito Mesa, which is the location for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Los Alamos is famous because of its instrumental role in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. But it has continued to be one of the world's leaders in research and was the source of the original inspiration of the technology for the company that we have and what we do.
Which is what?
We are a fuel cell and electrolyzer catalyst manufacturer. Fundamentally, what that means is that we're a very important component supplier within the overall hydrogen economy. What we focus on is the production of a single component, which is the catalyst material that will go into either a fuel cell for fuel cell electric vehicles or into an electrolyzer for the production of green hydrogen.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was in Albuquerque last summer visiting Pajarito Powder. What was her interest in your startup, and what's the Energy Department's interest in hydrogen?
She was looking at a number of companies, ourselves included, that are making these innovative steps in further progressing the development of hydrogen. [The Energy Department] had just launched their Energy Earthshot, where they want to see the overall economics of this. They want to see a kilogram of hydrogen cost $1 within the next decade. That's their target.
There are more than a few automakers making bets on hydrogen. Which car companies have ties with Pajarito Powder?
Hyundai is a direct investor into our company. In addition to that investment relationship, another one I can talk about is we're working on a project that is a Department of Energy-sponsored grant with General Motors. GM is the lead, and we're serving as one of the subcontractors on the development of new components specifically for heavier-duty applications such as trucks and trains.
Are heavy-duty applications such as trucks and trains where you foresee hydrogen's growing role in transportation, and how do hydrogen fuel cells compete with BEVs?
It's not an "either-or." It is very much an "and."
Basically, every place that you see gasoline today, you're probably going to see a battery-electric vehicle in the future. Every place that you see diesel today, you're going to see a fuel cell electric vehicle in the future. That speaks to the advantages that generally come about with hydrogen vehicles when you start to talk about longer distances and heavier loads.
It almost sounds similar to the competition between solar and wind a generation ago, where it was set up as one or the other. But now we have a whole renewable industry.
It's a great analogy. You think about where some of those conflicts tended to come from, and it was based on this expectation that there was a fixed slice of pie that utilities, states or the federal government was going to spend on this general basket of stuff for renewables, and everybody within that had to fight over it.
So as we start to see this tremendous growth in the effort toward decarbonization, there's the recognition it's going to be the replacement of the internal combustion engine broadly. Then we start to get to the point where market forces are able to really dictate people's decisions in this regard, and we can move beyond the competition and see the larger opportunities that come about in the use of both.
What's driving those market forces? Is it the attempt to thwart climate change or the growing concerns over energy security and independence?
This is one of the things that has really come to the fore. We've heard a lot of discussion about the need for the Europeans to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas.
One of the things this brings up is the fact that if you have the ability to produce your own energy, that becomes really an issue of national security. It is very central to the national security of the United States.
Specifically, have you seen hydrogen-related developments accelerate since Russia invaded Ukraine?
So much so. There's a very specific program created by the Europeans called REPowerEU, and it was done with a staggering amount of speed. It was submitted out from the European Union on March 8, and it takes already pretty aggressive targets for hydrogen production by 2030 and quadruples them. So the Europeans are extraordinarily serious about making this move toward hydrogen as an important mechanism for dealing with their energy needs.