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FFI Ionix to open $12M plant at Aero Park

Katie Tabeling
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Delaware’s investment in FFI Ionix signals a continued vested interest in the green hydrogen economy within its borders | PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — Looking to tap into a potential hydrogen hub, FFI Ionix Inc. is aiming to move from its plant and into a $12 million plant in the Kent County Aero Park with the help of a state grant.

As a subsidiary of global iron ore producer Fortescue Future Industries, FFI Ionix focuses on green energy and technologies and is working to commercialize hydrogen technologies like ion exchange membranes for water electrolysis, electrochemical compression, water transmission and fuel cells.

FFI Ionix seeks to move into a 57,000 square-foot warehouse on 60 Starlifter Ave. in Dover. Just under half of the space would be 22,000 square feet of lab space, and $12 million would be spent on fitting out the existing space.

In 2021, Fortescue acquired Harrington-based company Xergy Inc. That company won $10 million in research and development funding over the course of its life. Xergy also held a strong commercial catalog for advanced materials for renewable energy applications as well as roughly 100 patents.  Founded by W.L Gore & Associates veteran Bamdad Baha, Xergy was also the world’s largest supplier of Anion exchange membranes, an evolving technology that can avoid expensive materials.

When the acquisition of Xergy closed at the end of 2023, Fortescue created FFI Ionix and moved into a 15,000 square-foot warehouse operation near Harrington Industrial Park. But as FFI Ionix looks to grow its research in its membrane prototypes to serve its parent company’s global operations, its leadership hopes to move to a more central location to gain a stronger foothold in an established market.

“I think this is an incredible place to be. I found out a couple weeks ago, there are over 350 suppliers within a 100 mile radius,” Fortescue Vice President Hilary Moffett told the Council of Development Finance (CDF) on Monday. “Logically, there’s no other place to operate with the workforce with the expertise in chemical and electrical work.”

To that end, CDF approved a total grant of $1.7 million, breaking down to $1.6 million from the Graduated Lab Space grant program and $112,900 from the Strategic Fund. The taxpayer-backed grants will also support the creation of 25 new full-time positions in roles like lab technicians, chemists, engineers, quality control personnel and warehouse associates. The company already has 22 staff members on site.

Delaware’s investment in FFI Ionix signals a continued vested interest in the so-called green hydrogen economy within its borders. As one of the states in the  Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2), Delaware companies will have a shot at $750 million in federal funding to boost clean energy development.

While established through the iron ore industry, Fortescue has recently invested in producing energy through solar and green hydrogen. In the past three years, the company has signed a venture to build hydrogen manufacturing plants in Queensland, Australia and Argentina.

In 2023, Fortescue’s clean energy arm teased a breakthrough in developing technology to reduce emissions in the steel manufacturing process through electrons, reducing the need to store and compress hydrogen. The company’s scientists came up with scores of innovations to create the membrane and opened a plant in Western Australia.

Here in the First State, FFI Ionix will focus on creating prototypes that will feed into the company’s hydrogen development in other markets. Its parent company Fortescue is investing in transforming the last coal-powered plant in Washington to a hydrogen production facility. But the breadth of suppliers in the mid-Atlantic region has made it more attractive to set up shop.

Over the past two years, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the Kent Economic Partnership and Dover officials worked to find a site for FFI Ionix while the company exploited out-of-state opens.

“FFI Ionix’s decision to stay and grow in our state is great news for Delaware and our leadership in the hydrogen economy,” Governor John Carney said in a statement. “We recently announced investments in downtown Dover, and this expansion will bring even more activity to our state’s capital. This is what the Graduated Lab Space Grants and Strategic Fund are for: keeping and growing innovative companies here in the First State.”

 

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