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$400bn investment needed in US SAF facilities by 2050: report

The report from SkyNRG identifies a $400bn investment opportunity, but notes SAF industry constraints in the form of policy instability and a lack of available feedstocks.

The US sustainable aviation fuel industry needs to invest $400bn in new production facilities if the country is to reach domestic SAF production of 27 billion gallons – equal to 2019 jet fuel demand – by 2050.

Federal tax incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act will drive SAF production in the US, and could bring capacity to 3 billion gallons by 2030 and reach a 100% jet fuel replacement rate by 2050, according to a report from SkyNRG, a Dutch-based SAF producer.

The report highlights the available tax credits in the form of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Blender’s Tax Credit of $1.75 per gallon; the Clean Fuel Production Tax Credit available from 2025 – 2027; and the Hydrogen Producer Tax Credit of up to $3 per kg for 10 years for facilities operation before 2033.

Constraints on industry growth include the lack of long-term policy stability and potential strains on availability of SAF feedstocks, according to the report.

“To meet aspirational goals in the US, more [project] announcements would be needed,” a summary of the report says, noting that most new projects will likely use feedstock from corn ethanol and waste materials like agricultural waste, waste biogas or household waste.

Even so, deployment of bio-intermediate pathways like RNG in early years is constrained by the pace of project development, permitting new facilities, and federal policy adaptation.

Meanwhile, the report says, fats, oils and grease markets are under pressure; for new projects in this segment – known as HEFA, or HVO – to materialize, feedstock needs to be freed up by diverting from renewable diesel and biodiesel plants or by producing more vegetable oils domestically.

“With ambitious goals at the federal level around electric vehicles and with several states implementing zero-emission truck sales requirements, it is possible that additional feedstock is freed up for SAF,” according to the report. “However, incentives currently favoring the production of biodiesel and renewable diesel over SAF would also need to shift for HEFA capacity announcements to be successful.”

The report additionally floats the following policy prescriptions to make more feedstock available:

• Curbing exports of whole soybeans to yet-to-be developed crushing facilities to increase soybean oil production. This would affect the US trade balance as well as impacting global soybean meal trade flows.

• Large-scale government support for novel non-edible oilseed crops suitable for conversion into fuel. Appropriate safeguards would have to be in place to avoid indirect land use change effects.

• Increasing soybean acreage by 40 million acres from 87 million acres today to meet soybean oil needs. This would impact corn and wheat markets as soy would have to largely expand on existing cropland. This could in turn have consequences for corn ethanol availability.

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Italy’s Eni to invest $835m in Louisiana biorefinery

Eni Sustainable Mobility will invest in a biorefinery being built by PBF Energy in Louisiana.

Eni Sustainable Mobility and PBF Energy Inc. have entered into definitive agreements to partner in a 50-50 joint venture, St. Bernard Renewables LLC (SBR), for the biorefinery currently under construction co-located with PBF’s Chalmette Refinery in Louisiana (US).

Upon consummation of the transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, Eni Sustainable Mobility will contribute capital totaling $835m plus up to additional $50m that is subject to the achievement of eventual project milestones and will provide expertise in biorefining operations, supply and marketing.

Citi is serving as financial advisor to PBF Energy.

PBF brings its strong industrial know-how in the United States and, as the contributor of the biorefinery, will continue to manage project execution and serve as the operator once construction is complete. The St. Bernard Renewables biorefinery startup is scheduled in the first half of 2023 and the facility is currently targeted to have processing capacity of about 1.1 million tonnes/year of raw materials, with full pretreatment capabilities. It will produce mainly HVO Diesel (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, commonly known as ‘renewable diesel’ in North America), with a production capacity of 306 million gallons per year. The biorefinery will use the Ecofining™ process developed by Eni in cooperation with Honeywell UOP.

This strategic partnership will leverage the experience and expertise of Eni Sustainable Mobility and PBF. Together with Ecofining™ technology, Eni brings its experience in biorefining that led to the world’s first conversion of a refinery into a biorefinery in Porto Marghera (Venice) in 2014, and to the second converted biorefinery that has been working in Gela (Sicily) since 2019. The company also provides its worldwide knowledge in supplying sustainable feedstock sourcing for HVO, mainly based on oily waste and residues, and raw materials that do not compete with the food chain, coupled with access to international markets beyond PBF’s footprint in the United States.

PBF brings experience in large capital project execution and fuels manufacturing as well as access to the California renewables market through its existing logistics assets. The joint venture reflects both partners’ commitment to deliver more sustainable transportation fuels using low carbon intensity feedstocks.

“Joining St. Bernard Renewables biorefinery project enables Eni to enter into US biofuels growing market together with a strong partner such as PBF. This is a further step for Eni Sustainable Mobility to expand its biorefining capacity, that today is over 1 million tonnes/year and it is planned to grow in the upcoming years. Following results achieved in Venice and Gela, Eni Sustainable Mobility is a pioneer in the biorefining industry, and it is also studying possible construction of two new biorefineries in Italy and in Malaysia. We do believe the role of HVO will strongly contribute to decarbonization of road transports, including hard to abate heavy duty sector, as it leverages existing infrastructure and can immediately fuel existing vehicle fleets. Biofuels are part of Eni strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 through the reduction of the emissions generated during the entire products life cycle”, Stefano Ballista, CEO of Eni Sustainable Mobility, said.

“We’re excited to enter this strategic partnership with Eni Sustainable Mobility, a global leader in biorefining. The SBR biorefinery will benefit greatly from PBF and Eni’s complementary strengths and expertise. The project will utilize existing processing infrastructure and diverse inbound and outbound logistics and is ideally situated to support growing demand for low-carbon fuels,” said PBF President Matthew Lucey. “Our partnership with Eni signals a major milestone for PBF and demonstrates our commitment to contributing diversified sources of energy to the global mix while lowering the carbon intensity of our operations and the products we manufacture.”

SBR will operate as an independent entity with feed procurement and product distribution managed by a dedicated team working on behalf of the St. Bernard Renewables joint venture. While the partnership is set to benefit from its co-location with PBF’s Chalmette refinery through a variety of shared services, the operations and ownership of the Chalmette refinery will not be affected by the formation of the partnership.

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New Fortress Energy planning five industrial-scale hydrogen plants

The company is building a pure-play clean hydrogen business, known as Zero, which it plans to capitalize separately in the near future.

New Fortress Energy is planning to build five industrial-scale hydrogen production hubs as part of its pursuit of a pure-play clean hydrogen infrastructure business.

The liquefied natural gas company has started construction on its first plant in Beaumont, Texas, where it is expected to produce 50 tons per day of green hydrogen, the company said on its 3Q22 earnings call today.

New Fortress Energy is taking learnings from the construction of the Beaumont plant to scale up its hydrogen business via additional projects that will produce a combined 90,000 tons per year, according to a presentation.

The company is building a pure-play clean hydrogen business, known as Zero, which it plans to capitalize separately in the near future.

Plug Power will provide electrolyzers while Entergy will provide renewable power to the Beaumont plant, which is set to begin operations in 2024.

The location of the project in southeast Texas is near refineries with an anticipated demand of 1,000 tons per day – over 20 times what the Beaumont plant will produce initially, said Patrick Hughes, managing director and chief commercial officer of NFE Zero.

“So plenty of demand and plenty of growth potential in the immediate region,” the executive said, who noted the company was focused on optimizing offtake for the first phase of the project.

In addition to nearby refineries, the Beaumont project could also supply for an Entergy power plant known as Orange County Advanced Power station. Existing pipeline networks could also ship green hydrogen around the region.

“The good thing about electrolyzers is that it’s fairly straightforward to scale,” Hughes said.

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Hydrogen tech firm looking for distribution partners with eye on Series B

A Florida-based hydrogen technology company is hoping to find strategic partners with distribution networks as part of its impending Series A capital raise, with an eye on a much larger Series B later.

BoMax Hydrogen, the Florida-based hydrogen production technology firm, is searching for strategic partners with distribution networks as part of its soon-to-launch Series A capital raise, CEO Chris Simuro said in an interview.

BoMax, founded in 2014 and headquartered in Orlando, will launch a $15m Series A on November 1, Simuro said. The company has hired Taylor DeJongh to run the process, as recently reported by ReSource.

Greenberg Traurig is the company’s law firm, Simuro said. They use a regional accountant in Florida.

Taylor DeJongh is looking for three to five investors to put in between $3m and $5m each. BoMax is in discussions with French container shipping company CMA-CGM as a potential investor, he said.

“We are truly searching for distribution partners,” Simuro said, adding that company doesn’t envision itself touching the end-use customer.

The Series A funds should provide up to 24 months of runway and expand the company’s manufacturing capacity, Simuro said. A follow-on Series B capital raise will likely be $100m or more.

BoMax has raised some $5m to date, including from state government aerospace economic development agency Space Florida.

Funds from the Series A will be used to make a beta prototype, scale operations at the company’s labs in Orlando and prepare for commercial production.

No electrolysis

The company touts a novel technology making hydrogen from visible light without the need for solar electrolysis, according to a pre-teaser marketing document seen by ReSource. An alpha prototype has been awarded by the US Department of Energy.

Requiring a larger footprint, electrolysis can ultimately produce 38 liters of hydrogen per hour per square meter, Simuro said. BoMax believes it can reach 50 liters per hour in six months time.

“It replicates how hydrogen is made in the natural world,” Simuro said. “In order to do this globally, we are going to need partners.”

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Analysis: Premium for clean hydrogen unlikely

A group of hydrogen offtakers say they have every intention of decarbonizing their fuel intake, but barring the implementation of a carbon-pricing mechanism, paying a premium for it is unrealistic.

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act ignited investor interest in the global market for clean hydrogen and derivatives like ammonia and methanol, but offtake demand would be better characterized as a flicker.

And while many questions about the nascent market for green hydrogen remain unanswered, one thing is clear: offtakers seem uninterested in paying a “green premium” for clean fuels.

That doesn’t mean offtakers aren’t interested in using clean fuels – quite the opposite. As many large industrial players worldwide consider decarbonization strategies, hydrogen and its derivatives must play a significant role.

Carbon pricing tools such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism in Europe could introduce a structural pricing premium for clean products. And industry participants have called for carbon levies to boost clean fuels, most recently Trafigura, which released a white paper today advocating for a carbon tax on fossil-based shipping fuels.

But the business case for clean fuels by itself presents an element of sales risk for potential offtakers, who would have to try to pass on higher costs to customers. Even so, there is an opportunity for offtakers to make additional sales and gain market share using decarbonization as a competitive advantage while seeking to share costs and risks along the value chain.

“It’s a very difficult sell internally to say we’re going to stop using natural gas and pay more for a different fuel,” said Jared Elvin, renewable energy lead at consumer goods company Kimberly-Clark. “That is a pickle.”

Needing clean fuels to reach net zero

Heavy-duty and long-haul transportation is viewed as a clear use case for clean fuels, but customers for those fuels are highly sensitive to price.

“We’re very demand focused, very customer focused,” said Ashish Bhakta, zero emission business development manager at Trillium, a company that owns the Love’s Travel Shop brand gas stations. “That leads us to be fuel-agnostic.”

Trillium is essentially an EPC for fueling stations with an O&M staff for maintenance, Bhakta said.

As many customers consider their own transitions to zero-emissions, they are thinking through EV as well as hydrogen, he said. Hydrogen is considered better for range, fueling speed and net-payload for mobility, all of which bodes well for the clean fuels industry.

One sticking point is price, he said. Shippers are highly sensitive to changes in fuel cost – and asking them to pay a premium doesn’t go far.

Alessandra Klockner, manager of decarbonization and energy solutions manager at Brazilian mining giant Vale, said her employer is seeking partnerships with manufacturers, particularly in steel, to decarbonize its component chain.

In May Vale and French direct reduced iron (DRI) producer GravitHy signed an MoU to jointly evaluate the construction of a DRI production plant using hydrogen as a feedstock in Fos-sur-Mer, France. The company also has steel decarbonization agreements in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

In the near term, 60% of Vale’s carbon reductions will come from prioritizing natural gas, Klockner said. But to reach net zero, the company will need clean hydrogen.

“There’s not many options for this route, to reach net zero,” she said. “Clean hydrogen is pretty much the only solution that we see.”

Elvin, of Kimberly-Clark, noted that his company is developing its own three green hydrogen projects in the UK, meant to supply for local use at the source.

“We’re currently design-building our third hydrogen fueling facility for public transit,” he said. “We’re basically growing and learning and getting ready for this transition.”

The difficulty of a “green premium

The question of affordability persists in the clean fuels space.

“There are still significant cost barriers,” said Cihang Yuan, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, an NGO that has taken an active role in promoting clean fuels. “We need more demand-side support to really overcome that barrier and help users to switch to green hydrogen.”

Certain markets will have to act as incubators for the sector, and cross-collaboration from production to offtake can help bring prices down, according to Elvin. Upstream developers should try to collaborate early on with downstream users to “get the best bang for your buck” upstream, as has been happening thus far, he added.

Risk is prevalently implied in the space and must be shared equitably between developers, producers and offtakers, he said.

“We’ve all got to hold hands and move forward in this, because if one party is not willing to budge on any risk and not able to look at the mitigation options then they will fail,” he said. “We all have to share some sort of risk in these negotiations.”

The mining and steel industries have been discussing the concept of a green premium, Klockner said. Green premiums have actually been applied in some instances, but in very niche markets and small volumes.

“Who is going to absorb these extra costs?” she said. “Because we know that to decarbonize, we are going to have an extra cost.”

The final clients are not going to accept a green premium, she said. To overcome this, Vale plans to work alongside developers to move past the traditional buyer-and-seller model and into a co-investment strategy.

“We know those developers have a lot of challenges,” she said. “I think we need to exchange those challenges and build the business case together. That’s the only way that I see for us to overcome this cost issue.”

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Ambient Fuels evaluating hydrogen project acquisitions

The company is well capitalized following a $250m equity investment from Generate Capital and is now opportunistically reviewing an initial slate of project M&A offerings.

Following an equity investment from Generate Capital, Ambient Fuels has begun to evaluate potential acquisitions of hydrogen projects that are under development, CEO Jacob Susman said in an interview.

“We’ve seen our first project M&A opportunities come through in the last 10 days or so,” Susman said.

Three projects for sale involve land positions, he said. Those that appear most attractive have a clear line of site to offtake or a strong approach to renewable power supply. Two out of three are not on the Gulf Coast.

“In no instance are these brokered deals,” Susman said.

Following the $250m equity investment from Generate Capital, Ambient is capitalized for several years and has no immediate plans to seek debt or tax equity, Susman said. The transaction was done without the help of a financial advisor.

Moving forward Ambient is open to JV formation with a partner that can help access offtake and renewable power, Susman said. Those points will drive future capital investment in the company and were resources that Generate brought to the table besides money.

According to ReSource‘s project tracker, Ambient is involved in at least two of the hubs that were encouraged by the DOE to submit a final application: California’s Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES), and the Port of Corpus Christi Green Hydrogen Hub.

In 2021 Ambient completed a funding round led by SJF Ventures. Several other VC funds and angel investors also participated.

In January The Hydrogen Source reported that Ambient was in exclusivity with an equity provider.

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Of CfDs and RFNBOs: Untangling the global hydrogen policy web

US ammonia and hydrogen project developers are increasingly looking to Japan and South Korea as target markets under the belief that new rules for clean hydrogen and its derivatives in Europe are too onerous.

Much fuss has been made about the importance of pending guidance for the clean hydrogen industry from US regulators. Zoom out further and major demand centers like the European Union, Japan, and South Korea have similarly under-articulated or novel subsidy regimes, leaving US clean fuels project developers in a dizzying global tangle of red tape. 

But in the emerging global market for hydrogen and ammonia offtake, several themes are turning up. One is that US project developers are increasingly looking to South Korea and Japan as buyers, turning away from Europe following the implementation of rules that are viewed as too onerous for green hydrogen producers.

The other is that beneath the regulatory tangle lies a deep market, helping to answer one of the crucial outstanding questions that has been dogging the nascent ammonia and hydrogen industry: where is the offtake? 

Many projects are proceeding towards definitive offtake agreements and final investment decisions despite the risks embedded in potential changes in policy, according to multiple project finance lawyers. In most cases, reaching final agreements for offtake would not be prudent given the raft of un-issued guidance in these major markets, said the lawyers, who acknowledge a robust offtake market but may advise their clients against signing final contracts.

The European Union rules for green hydrogen and its derivatives became law in June, and included several provisions that are proving challenging for developers and their lawyers to structure around: prohibiting state-subsidized electricity in the production of green hydrogen, and the requirement that power for green hydrogen be purchased directly from a renewable energy supplier. 

Taken together, the policy developments have pushed many US project developers away from Europe and toward Japan and South Korea, where demand for low-carbon fuels is robust and regulations are viewed as less burdensome, if still undefined, experts say.

Developers are carefully choosing jurisdictions for their target offtake markets, “limiting their focus to North Asian rather than European buyers, with the expectation that certain standards and regulations will be less strict, at least in the near term,” said Allen & Overy Partners Hitomi Komachi and Henry Sohn, who are based in Japan and Korea, respectively.

Trade association Hydrogen Europe lambasted the new European rules last year while they were still in formation, saying they would cause a “mass exodus” of the continent’s green hydrogen industry to the US.

Make or break

US policymakers delivered a shock blow with last year’s approval of the Inflation Reduction Act – but its full benefits have yet to flow into the clean fuels sector due to outstanding guidance on additionality, regionality, and matching requirements. 

At the same time, the 45V tax credit for clean hydrogen has been called potentially the most complex tax credit the US market has ever seen, requiring a multi-layered analysis to ensure compliance. The US policy uncertainty is coated on top of an already-complex development landscape facing developers of first-of-kind hydrogen and ammonia projects using electrolyzer or carbon capture technologies. 

“Even though folks are moving forward with projects, the lack of guidance impacts parties’ willingness to sign definitive documents, because depending on the guidance, for some projects, it could break the economics,” said Marcia Hook, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington DC.

Now, US developers seeking access to international markets are contending with potential misalignment of local and international rules, with Europe’s recently enacted guidelines serving as a major example of poorly arrayed schemes. 

Some US developers have already decided it may be challenging to meet the EU’s more rigorous standards, according Hook, who added that, beyond the perceived regulatory flexibility, developers appear to be garnering more offtake interest from potential buyers in Asia.

Projects that depend on outstanding guidance in Asia are also moving ahead, a fact that, according to Alan Alexander, a Houston-based partner at Vinson & Elkins, “represents a little bit of the optimism and excitement around low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia,” particularly in Japan and Korea.

“Projects are going forward but with conditions that these schemes get worked out in a way that’s bankable for the project,” he added. “It’s not optimal, but you can build it in,” he said, referencing a Korean contract where conditions precedent require that a national clean hydrogen portfolio standard gets published and the offtaker is successful in one of the  Korean power auctions.

RED III tape

Unlike the US, the EU has focused on using regulation to create demand for hydrogen and derivative products through setting mandatory RFNBO quotas for the land transport, industry, shipping and aviation sectors, according to Frederick Lazell, a London-based lawyer at King & Spalding.

Lazell called the EU rules “the most fully-developed and broad market-creation interventions that policymakers have imposed anywhere in the world.” As a result, being able to sell RFNBO into Europe to meet these quotas is expected to fetch the highest prices – and therefore potentially the highest premiums to suppliers, he said.

The European guidelines enacted in June introduced several provisions that will make it challenging for US developers to structure projects that meet the EU’s classification for renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs).

For one, the European Commission issued guidance that prohibits subsidies for renewable energy generation when it is transmitted via a power purchase agreement through the electrical grid to make RFNBO.

This provision potentially eliminates all green hydrogen-based projects in the US from qualifying as an RFNBO, a managing partner at a US-based investment firm said, given that green hydrogen projects will likely be tied to renewables that are earning tax credits.

“The EC’s decision to include this restriction on State aid makes the EU’s version of additionality more onerous than even the strictest requirements being considered in the US,” lawyers from King & Spalding wrote in a September note, adding that some people in the industry argue that the decision is inexplicable under the RED II framework that authorized the European Commission to define additionality. 

A second challenge of the EU regulations is the mandate that PPAs be contracted between the RFNBO producer and the renewable energy source. Such a requirement is impossible for electricity markets where state entities are mandated to purchase and supply power, a structure that is common in multiple jurisdictions. Moreover, the requirement would remove the possibility of using a utility or other intermediary to deliver power for green hydrogen production.

“These technical issues may be serious enough for some in the industry to consider challenges before the Court of Justice of the European Union,” the King & Spalding lawyers wrote. “However, it is not yet clear whether there is the appetite or ability to turn such suggestions into a formal claim.”

Go East

Although the subsidy regimes in Japan and South Korea are expected to be less stringent in comparison to the EU, the programs are still not completely defined, which leaves some uncertainty in dealmaking as projects move forward.

The traditional energy sector has always dealt with change-in-law risk, but the risk is heightened now since regulations can change more rapidly and, in some cases, impact ongoing negotiations, said Komachi and Sohn, of Allen & Overy, in a joint email response. 

“Certain regulations coming into force may be contingent or related to the funding plan of the project,” they said. As such, clean fuels offtake frameworks need to facilitate not only the tracking and counting of emissions, they added, but also leave sufficient flexibility as regulatory frameworks evolve.

Japan, through its Hydrogen Basic Strategy, set out targets to increase the supply of hydrogen and ammonia in the country while reducing costs, deploying Japanese electrolysis equipment, and increasing investment into its supply chain. Additionally, Japan is contemplating a contracts-for-difference-style regime to support the gap between the price of clean hydrogen or ammonia and corresponding fossil fuels for 15 years.

Still, standards for “clean hydrogen” have not been clarified, though most observers believe the country will follow a carbon emissions lifecycle analysis in line with IPHE criteria, which is proposed at 3.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen. Similarly, rules around “stacking” subsidies in Japan with other jurisdictions such as the Inflation Reduction Act have not been defined.

Meanwhile, Korea is considering carbon emissions standards of up to 4 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of hydrogen. It is pushing for greater use of hydrogen in part through its Amended Hydrogen Act, requiring electric utilities to buy electricity made from hydrogen in a bidding round starting in 2024. The requirement scales up from 1,300 GWh of general hydrogen in 2025 to 5,200 GWh for general hydrogen and 9,5000 GWh for clean hydrogen in 2028.

Both countries are working to incentivize the entire supply chain for hydrogen and ammonia to ensure the separate pieces of infrastructure will be available on investable and bankable terms, with the aim of creating a demand center when the export centers are developed, Komachi and Sohn added.

They also point out that the emerging clean fuels offtake market will operate in the near term in a more spotty fashion in comparison with the more liquid markets for oil and gas.

“Hydrocarbon markets have gradually moved towards portfolio players, trading and optimization,” said Goran Galic, an Australia-based partner at Allen & Overy. “Smaller market size, technological and regulatory considerations mean that clean fuels, at least initially, require more of a point-to-point approach and so building long-term working relationships between the developers and offtakers is a key aspect of offtake strategy.”

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