One company well positioned for the growth of the much-talked-about hydrogen economy is FIBA Technologies, which prides itself on its innovation and ability to move with the times.
FIBA has evolved over the years since President Jack Finn’s father Frank founded the company as an industrial gas distributor (called Mass Oxygen Equipment) in 1958. The company went from being a gas distributor at a single location in Westborough, Massachusetts, to a gas containment equipment supplier by the 1970s and later developed a patent for trailers that would support a more efficient and less cost-prohibitive testing process.
Today, FIBA manufactures and services high pressure storage and distribution equipment for the compressed gas industry such as tube trailers (high-pressure chemicals and gases; industrial and specialty gases), gas container storage, and cryogenic trailers to transport oxygen, nitrogen, and argon. FIBA has grown into a global business with seven locations across the US, and one in Asia.
One of the recent growth areas of FIBA is supplying the high-pressure transport and storage equipment for hydrogen fuel cell buses and automobiles (FCEVs). FIBA claims to be the only company currently capable of producing hydrogen fuelling vessels with working pressures up to 1,000 bar and capacities up to 700 litres.
“We consider innovation as the key to our long-term success,” Finn told gasworld.
“We continually develop new products and new markets.”
The hydrogen fuelling market is growing, and FIBA crucially offers some unique equipment for this space.
“The hydrogen fuelling business is pretty active right now, and is a new element that has come out in the last ten years or so for us,” Finn said.
“We built a custom vessel for that market 12 years ago. It was a large diameter, long vessel, 1000 bar. It’s still a small segment in FIBA’s overall business but we see a little bit of growth in it every year. Last year, we probably equipped over 50 fuelling stations around the world with our storage vessels. We make the high-pressure storage for the buses, automobiles. This year we will probably equip maybe 70 fuelling stations, 40% are in Asia and 40% in US and 20% in Europe.
“We offer the largest volume equipment in the market. This translates to the lowest cost per kilogram stored or transported. In the hydrogen market it’s all about the lowest cost per kg. We put in three different pressure tanks to fuelling stations: 500 bar, 750 bar and 1000 bar. The total capacity is about 120kg of gas.”
FIBA has grown beyond its headquarters in Littleton, Massachusetts, and has locations that can repair, requalify and manufacture various ranges of gas containment products in Adelanto, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Midvale, Ohio; East Greenville, Pennsylvania; Rayne, Louisiana, as well as a facility in Asia (Taiwan).
“We built a facility in Taiwan in 2011,” Finn said.
“We are very active in Asia in the electronics business and it was really put there to service electronics customers, which is probably 50% of our business over there.”
The hydrogen fuelling market is just one of many changes Finn has seen in almost 40 years with the company.
“FIBA started as an industrial gas distributor – we sold bulk oxygen, specialty gases, all over the Northeast,” Finn said.
“We got out of that business in the late 1970s and sold that business to Liquid Carbonic [now Linde] and then we purchased from that company a large fleet of tube trailers. We started off in the equipment business small, leasing equipment and building equipment, and in the mid 1990s we started to manufacture a lot of products in-house. In 2004 we built a factory so we could manufacture our own vessels, and until then we had to purchase vessels from other suppliers. We became totally vertically integrated. Since 2004, we have grown to eight locations. I would consider us the world leader for the manufacture of tubes, trailers, gas container storage. We build quite a lot and ship it all around the world.”
FIBA also manufactures low-pressure, high pressure and pressure-building vaporizers which convert the transported liquids into gas, and the company saw a rise in demand for this product and oxygen cryogenic trailers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There was an increase in demand in April when there was a surge in the hospitals in the Northeast, but that has pretty much settled down and it’s normal now,” Finn said in July.
“There are more surges going on in the south right now – Florida, Texas, Arizona – so we will probably get some peak demands for that equipment down there. Our employees worked very hard early on preparing oxygen equipment for the pandemic. We had a team work through Easter weekend preparing vaporizers and liquid oxygen equipment which was deployed to the Javits Center in Manhattan. Our customers prioritized our work to focus on oxygen and breathing air equipment.”
Coronavirus response, CGA
FIBA was involved in supplying emergency equipment to a temporary hospital set up in New York to treat an overspill of Covid-19 patients.
Finn added, “When they had to open up the temporary hospitals in New York, we had to scramble to get the oxygen equipment together for that area. We make a 20 ft oxygen container which holds about 5,000 gallons of oxygen. This pop-up hospital didn’t have any oxygen onsite so we had to put temporary containers on site with the vaporizers. We were working for the government and I believe it was Airgas that supplied the oxygen.”
Speaking in July, Finn was expecting demand to pick up for cryogenic oxygen trailers and vaporizers at its other locations after the Massachusetts facility was impacted early on in the coronavirus crisis.
“Our other locations were relatively low hit, Massachusetts was hardest hit of all our locations,” Finn said.
“We had some difficult time in late March, nobody knew it was happening and we closed for a few days. People were a bit shaken but everyone came back to work and we let some of our sales, admin and engineering staff work from home but we brought everyone back on June 1. We all wear masks and we distance ourselves. We have a big factory so all the machinists are spread out.”
This year has also seen Finn elected 2020 Chair of the Compressed Gas Association (CGA).
“I really hope to support the CGA with several initiatives this year,” Finn said.
“We need to keep our members fully engaged during these difficult times. I want to help grow the membership. CGA plans to expand into the hydrogen fuelling market which I will support. We are going to form a taskforce with equipment and gas companies and they will determine a path to go. Supporting the young executive groups and sharing my experience will be an important part of succession.”