Ballard Power Systems is planning a gigantic fuel cell factory in Texas, which will help push fossil energy out of the heavy duty transportation sector (photo courtesy of Ballard).

New Texas Fuel Cell Gigafactory Pours More Cold Water On Clean Power Foes

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Everyone is talking about the goings-on over at the iconic oil and gas producing state of Texas, where public officials have been pulling out all the stops to obstruct clean energy investment. Nevertheless, the hits just keep on coming. In the latest development, Ballard Power Systems is moving forward with plans to set up a 3-gigawatt fuel cell factory in Texas, to help squeeze gas and diesel out of the mobility market.

Texas Loves New Giga-Scale Fuel Cell Factory

If you’re thinking fuel cell cars, guess again. This particular factory is not about cars. Ballard is a global firm, based in Canada, and it is banking on the demand for zero emission fuel cell buses, trucks, and locomotives to justify its fuel cell investments around the world. The company has adopted a strategic plan that focuses on building factories in the countries where its customers are situated (see more Ballard coverage here).

Texas is part of the plan, and at least some public officials in the state are on board with it. The idea is to build a new fuel cell factory on 22 acres of industrial land located at the Rockwall Technology Park in Rockwall, which is managed by the Rockwall Economic Development Corporation.

“The REDC has provided an attractive mix of land, financial, fee and permit incentives for the facility, while assisting in the planning and approval process,” Ballard noted in a press release dated March 14, in which it described its decision to invest an initial $160 million in the project.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to Ballard for more details about the financial angle and other elements of the incentive package, if available. We’re guessing that it was substantial enough to lure Ballard away from investing its initial $160 million in some other site somewhere else.

There are still some procedural boxes to check off before Ballard and Rockwell give the final green light to the project. Assuming that the boxes will all be checked, the factory will be fully built out by 2027, churning out the equivalent of 3 gigawatts of fuel cells. Ballard provides the following breakdown: “8 million membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs), 8 million bipolar plates, 20,000 fuel cell stacks, and up to 20,000 fuel cell engines per year.”

That’s just for starters. “The land acquisition rights and facility design provide Ballard with optionality for additional future phases at the Rockwall site,” Ballard explains.

“Future phases are expected to further increase production scaling and capacity expansion with much lower capital requirements,” Ballard adds, which is particularly interesting. The relatively high cost of fuel cells is among the reasons why they have been lagging behind battery-powered vehicles in the race to decarbonize the automotive industry. Apparently Ballard is aiming to narrow that gap.

The US Department Of Energy Loves Texas, Too

The REDC is not the only fuel cell fan in town. The US Department of Energy has been banking on fuel cells to help accelerate the energy transition alongside lithium-ion batteries and other zero emission technology.

In the same March 14 announcement, Ballard also noted that the Energy Department has recommended it for two grants totaling $40 million, to be put towards fine tuning its fuel cell manufacturing systems. The funding came through the agency’s “Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis, Manufacturing, and Recycling Program.”

The two grants are part of a newly announced $750 million program, funded through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that supports the Energy Department’s goal of juicing the fuel cell industry to help bring down the cost of green hydrogen.

If approved, one grant will put $30 million into tweaking Ballard’s existing systems in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with the goal of  providing “high-throughput manufacturing of 20,000 fuel cell stacks per year for a range of stationary and transportation applications.”

Another $10 million will go towards bringing down energy and water consumption related to the manufacturing of fuel cell components.

To gild the public funding lily, earlier today Ballard announced that the Internal Revenue Service is also providing it with $54 million in investment tax credits for the new gigafactory, under the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Tax Credit provision funded by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

More Sustainable Fuel For Fuel Cell Buses

Fuel cell buses are electric vehicles with no airborne tailpipe emissions, which means they can provide an alternative decarbonization pathway. The only tailpipe emission from a fuel cell electric vehicle is water, as the cell catalyzes a reaction between stored hydrogen and ambient air to generate electricity.

The sticky wicket, of course, is the fuel. Hydrogen fuel cells run on hydrogen. The global hydrogen supply chain is currently dominated by natural gas, with gasified coal also chipping in. Green hydrogen sourced from water is a more sustainable choice but it is running a distant second. Costs are high and government subsidies are not bridging the gap.

On the brighter side, some energy analysts anticipate that costs will decline rapidly in markets where wind and solar resources are abundant, including the US.

In that regard, the Energy Department’s latest round of BIL funding is just the tip of a very large low-cost hydrogen iceberg.

Last fall, the Energy Department announced seven regional consortia to share $7 billion in BIL funding, earmarked for the establishment of “Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs.” The law requires a carve-out for natural gas sourcing, but the main thrust is on green hydrogen and other alternative sources.

The program also focuses attention on decarbonizing trucks and other heavy duty vehicles. “Zero emission fuel cell trucks have emerged as big winners in the new Clean Energy Hydrogen Hubs competition, a $7 billion Energy Department program aimed at ramping up H2 production across the US,” CleanTechnica noted back in October.

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More Fuel Cell Love For Texas

On March 12, the Biden-Harris administration also provided more details on the strategic planning involved in establishing hydrogen refueling infrastructure along major freight corridors in the Interstate Highway system, as part of a broader freight electrification plan.

Texas features prominently in the plan, with Interstates 10, 20, 35, and 45 encompassing about half the state and drifting into Louisiana.

Circling back to the hydrogen supply chain, fossil energy stakeholders in Texas apparently hope to have it both ways. The new Texas-based Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub is one of the Energy Department awardees tasked with continuing the natural gas supply chain humming, but it also describes Texas as the “largest renewable energy market in the nation,” with 36 gigawatts of wind and 15 of solar already in hand.

We’ll see how that shakes out. Gas stakeholders are counting on carbon sequestration to comply with their Regional Hydrogen Hub award, though the added expense of carbon capture could tilt the balance in favor of green hydrogen and other renewable sources.

Apparently green hydrogen investors see it that way. Texas has been scoring some massive new green hydrogen investments of late, despite Republican-led attempts to discourage such shenanigans.

Keep an eye on the Hydrogen City project in Texas, where the Japanese firm INPEX is among those interested in producing green hydrogen for markets in Asia and elsewhere, with a focus on green ammonia.

The leading wind developer Ørsted is also depending on green hydrogen from Texas to decarbonize its offshore fleet with synthetic methanol. Methanol can be used as a liquid fuel, but we’re just noticing that methanol is also emerging as an alternative for hydrogen in fuel cells.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Post, and LinkedIn.

Image: Ballard Power Systems is planning a gigantic fuel cell factory in Texas, which will help push fossil energy out of the heavy duty transportation sector (photo cropped, courtesy of Ballard).


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3297 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey