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Biofuels developer seeking to raise $3.5bn for US refinery projects

A biofuels developer has engaged an international bank and is nearing FID on its first project, which produces bio-based ethylene for the plastics industry. It is seeking $3.5bn for four additional refineries.

New Energy Blue, the clean-energy developer of lowest-carbon biofuel and biochemicals from crop residues, today advances its Decarbonizing America agenda by forming New Energy Chemicals.

In phase one, the new biochemical subsidiary will produce American-sourced and American-made bio-based ethylene to enable Dow’s production of low carbon plastics used in everyday life; in phase two, it will expand operations at its Port Lavaca, Texas, facility to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), according to a news release.

“New Energy Chemicals opens multiple pathways to our exponential growth in biobased fuels and chemicals,” says Albury Fleitas, President of New Energy Blue. “We’re particularly excited by our new end-to-end alternative to Brazilian ethanol for making SAF, which will begin in the American Midwest by refining agricultural waste.”

“Flexibility is baked into the process design and business operations of our biomass refineries,” adds CEO Thomas Corle. “We’re not locked into a single product, single market, or single feedstock. New Energy Chemicals gives us 360-degree downstream options for achieving liftoff of an American bioenergy revolution. We can pivot to mitigate market risk, seize growth opportunity, and hit lowest-carbon targets consistently.”

In late 2025, the New Energy Freedom biomass refinery in Mason City, Iowa, will begin converting local corn stalks into 16-20 million gallons a year of highly decarbonized (HD) cellulosic ethanol and 120,000 tons of clean HD lignin. Lignin has high value as a fossil substitute in markets like paving American roads and decarbonizing steel production.

Some of Freedom’s ethanol is destined for California and Oregon auto fuel markets; by meeting their strict low-carbon standards, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 100% per gallon of gasoline displaced. Millions of HD gallons will also head to Texas, where New Energy Chemicals will convert it into bio-based ethylene, transported via pipeline to Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast operations for production of renewable plastics across fast-growing end markets.

Dow’s use of bio-based feedstocks from New Energy Blue is expected to be certified by ISCC Plus, an international sustainability certification program with a focus on traceability of raw materials within the supply chain. While Dow intends to mix agriculture-based ethylene into its existing manufacturing process, ISCC Plus’s chain of custody certification would allow Dow’s customers to account for bio-based materials in their supply chains.

Albury Fleitas reports that “strategic and institutional investors are actively involved in our Freedom and Chemicals projects and upcoming expansions. With engineering design completed and major permits secured, we’ve reached the final investment decision (FID) stage. By partnering with an international bank and securing USDA loan guarantees for both project sites, we anticipate ground-breaking this year.”

New Energy Blue has ambitious plans to expand its biomass refineries across America’s 140-million-acre corn belt and wheat basin, harvesting excess straws and stalks to produce billions of gallons of highly decarbonized ethanol. Shorter-term, a six-year strategy calls for attracting $3.5 billion from capital markets to build four new refineries at twice the size of Freedom and provide abundant feedstock to New Energy Chemicals. Taken together, the five refineries are designed to keep over 1,000,000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually.

Beyond meeting its growing commitments to Dow, New Energy Chemicals’ phase-two expansion can capitalize on both domestic and international demand for SAF since the Port Lavaca site has barge access to deep water shipping.

Substantial European demand by 2030 is expected from the ReFuelEU Aviation initiative, which aims to mandate a SAF blending requirement at EU airports. In addition to ramping up its biomass refinery build-out, New Energy Blue plans to license its platform globally to accelerate the production of low-carbon, plant-based feedstock for HD auto fuel, SAF, and other biochemicals.

According to the U.S. Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, the American SAF goal is 3 billion gallons a year by 2030, 35 billion gallons by 2050. “U.S. carbon-reducing incentives have ignited a $400 billion SAF market,” Fleitas notes. Lifecycle analysis of the company’s refinery project consistently exceeds the required 50% reduction in GHG emissions compared to ethanol made from corn grain or sugar cane. New Energy Chemicals is expected to pre-qualify for maximum decarbonizing credits, giving it an advantage in a competitive capital marketplace.

The HD ethanol-to-ethylene process employed by New Energy Chemicals is most likely compatible with conventional jet fuel methods of production, using a technology pathway similar to Brazilian ethanol-to-SAF conversion.

“Except there’s a significant gap in decarbonization scores,” says Kelly Davis, Vice President, “and that gives our future SAF a dramatic edge in getting the airlines closer to their net-zero goal for GHG emissions. It’s an extra advantage that comes from using American-sourced leftovers from the annual grain harvest.”

Because of process design flexibility, New Energy Blue biomass refineries can also convert wheat, barley, and rye straws. In arid regions where food crops can no longer grow, the company intends to restore American grasslands by planting and harvesting perennials like arundo donax and miscanthus.

“Decarbonizing America is a big ask for a big task,” Corle says. “Those 140 million acres of U.S. grain provide enough stalks and straws and grasses to feed 500 refineries and produce 20 billion gallons of exceptionally low-carbon ethanol annually. That’s how you decarbonize SAF and Dow’s renewable plastic materials, how you make a dent in replacing oil refining with biomass refining.

“It starts with a biomass refinery in Mason City, Iowa and New Energy Chemicals conversion operations in Port Lavaca, Texas. But we’re already forging partnerships with governments, customers, and developers across CanadaEuropeAsia, and Africa. Inviting them to work collaboratively towards sustainable decarbonization with global impact.”

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OCI to use 45Q tax incentives for Texas world-scale blue ammonia plant

The global producer and distributor of nitrogen expects a benefit of roughly $119m per year from the recently established 45Q tax incentive for carbon capture and sequestration.

Holland-based OCI N.V. is on track to break ground on a 1.1 million tons per year (MTPA) blue ammonia facility next month.

The global producer and distributor of nitrogen products expects to use the recently established 45Q tax incentive for carbon capture and sequestration at the facility, which will amount to a benefit of roughly $119m per year “that we can utilize to offset taxes or sell to third parties,” CEO Ahmed El-Hoshy said on the company’s 3Q22 earnings call.

In addition to the tax incentives, the project benefits from access to US Gulf Coast natural gas, he added.

El-Hoshy said the plant will be the first world-scale low-carbon ammonia project to commission when it comes online in 2025.

It will require $450m of capex in 2023 and “sub $1bn” in total, and will utilize existing infrastructure at the Beaumont site to export ammonia to the US Midwest fertilizer market as well as the US Gulf Coast’s growing clean ammonia market, El-Hoshy said.

Key infrastructure at the site has been designed to allow for a doubling of capacity to 2.2 MTPA in the future.

The facility will also have strategic supply advantages for the European Union via the company’s Rotterdam terminal, where throughput capacity is expected to triple to 1.2 MTPA by 2023.

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Washington state passes SAF incentives

The incentive increases for each one percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas beyond 50 percent, up to a potential incentive of $2 per gallon.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee yesterday signed new legislation to create policy and per-gallon price incentives for the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in Washington.

The new law creates a per-gallon incentive for SAF with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are at least 50 percent lower than traditional jet fuel. The incentive increases for each one percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas beyond 50 percent, up to a potential incentive of $2 per gallon.

The per-gallon incentive can be claimed as a tax credit by fuel producers or consumers like airlines, but only once on any gallon.

Incentives will begin when a manufacturing facility becomes capable of producing at least 20 million gallons per year. Currently there is no continuous SAF production occurring in Washington state.

The bill also requires Washington State University and University of Washington to calculate the emission benefits near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from the increased use of SAF.

Port of Seattle studies on SAF infrastructure and production feasibility indicate that regionally produced SAF is achievable, according to a news release. Studies also found that policy incentives to reduce the cost of production and sale price would accelerate the deployment of lower carbon, cleaner SAF.

The legislation can be viewed here.

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California DAC firm secures $80m funding and strategic partnerships

The company will use the capital to deliver commercial-ready hybrid direct air capture units by the end of 2025.

Avnos, Inc., the Los Angeles-based company developing Hybrid Direct Air Capture (HDAC™) technology for carbon dioxide removal, has signed multi-year strategic and investment partnerships, in excess of $80m in aggregate.

Investors include ConocoPhillips, JetBlue Ventures, the corporate venture capital division of JetBlue, and Shell Ventures LLC, the US corporate venture capital arm of Shell plc.

Avnos will use the capital to deliver commercial-ready HDAC units by the end of 2025, according to a news release.

Avnos’ proprietary HDAC technology is the only carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solution that captures both CO2 and water from the atmosphere in a single system. While many other forms of Direct Air Capture (DAC) consume several tons of water per ton of CO2 captured, Avnos produces five to ten tons of water for every ton of CO2 captured. This innovative HDAC approach employs the captured water to drive a novel moisture-responsive CO2 adsorbent material, which eliminates the need for heat, thus reducing the system’s energy consumption. As a result, the Avnos solution requires less than half the energy required by competitors.

“Avnos is laser focused on delivering the most cost-effective, flexible, and scalable commercial Direct Air Capture technology in the world,” said Will Kain, CEO of Avnos. “Adding blue-chip strategic partners such as ConocoPhillips, JetBlue Ventures, and Shell provides us with an incredible opportunity to access more resources, know-how, and global reach to meaningfully accelerate our deployment schedule. Ultimately, we will be able to remove more atmospheric carbon, faster, and at lower costs than we would have been able to on our own. This is a very exciting announcement at a very exciting time for our company.”

Global carbon dioxide emissions rose to their highest-ever level in 2021, with this trend expected to continue unless significant decarbonization plans are put in place. Nearly all climate and energy models indicate the need for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technology to grow to billions of tons of annual capacity to make a significant impact on reducing emissions.

“ConocoPhillips is pleased to support Avnos as they develop a promising technology that captures carbon and produces water,” said Warwick King, vice president Low Carbon Technologies at ConocoPhillips. “Investing in this promising Hybrid Direct Air Capture technology aligns with our company’s commitment to finding innovative solutions that reduce carbon emissions crucial to enable an orderly energy transition.”

“JetBlue Ventures is thrilled to support Avnos and the development of their technology that not only captures CO2 at impressively low cost but also generates meaningful amounts of water in the process and could play an important role in e-fuels production. The caliber of the technology, team and partners around Avnos is top tier, and we’re glad to be on board,” said Jim Lockheed, investment principal at JetBlue Ventures.”

“We are pleased to invest in Avnos as they work to further solutions for carbon capture technology,” said Brian Panoff, president, Shell Ventures LLC. “Of particular interest is the potential of Avnos’ technology to reduce energy demand in capturing CO2 and its ability to produce water.”

Previously, Avnos has been awarded multi-million-dollar projects from the U.S. Department of Energy to demonstrate its HDAC solution in the field, and the U.S. Office of Naval Research to pilot CO2 capture and e-fuels production.

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Exclusive: Ammonia plant sale paused until commercial operations

The sale process for a Texas ammonia plant has been paused until the facility reaches commercial operations.

Gulf Coast Ammonia, the developer of a world-scale ammonia plant in Texas City, Texas, has paused a sale process until the plant reaches commercial operations, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The process to sell the plant, which will produce 1.3 million tons of ammonia per year, was underway earlier this year, led by Jefferies as sellside advisor. The plant was expected to reach COD in 2023, according to documentation.

The project was initiated by Agrifos Partners LLC and advanced to FID in collaboration with joint venture development partners Mabanaft and Macquarie Capital. Following the FID taken in late 2019, GCA is wholly owned by a joint venture of Mabanaft and Lotus Infrastructure (formerly known as Starwood Energy).

GCA is investing $600m towards the construction, operation, and ownership of the ammonia plant, which is situated on land owned by Eastman Chemical Company within Texas City’s industrial park. It includes a portion of Eastman’s port access. 

In tandem with the ammonia plant construction, Air Products is building a $500m steam methane reformer to provide hydrogen to the plant via pipeline. Air Products noted in a recent investor presentation that the SMR project recently came onstream.

Officials at Lotus, Mabanaft, and Jefferies did not reply to inquiries seeking comment.

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Mitsubishi laying groundwork for additional equity raise

Mitsubishi Power Americas and its JV partners are preparing to raise additional equity for the ACES Delta project in Utah, as well as for other hydrogen developments in the Americas.

Mitsubishi Power Americas is conferring with its financial partners to raise equity from existing investors in the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) Delta green hydrogen project in Utah, Senior Vice President, Investment and Business Development Ricky Sakai said in an interview.

Haddington Ventures formed Haddington ESP I and raised $650m in June 2022 from institutional investors to fund projects developed by ACES Delta, which is a joint venture between Mitsubishi Power Americas and Haddington portfolio company Magnum Development.

The investors — AIMCo, GIC, Manulife Financial Corporation, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board — have additional rights to increase their collective investment to $1.5bn, according to a press release announcing the deal.

The first phase of the project in Utah will be to produce 100 tons of hydrogen per day. Once that is complete, existing investors can scale up their investment, Sakai said.

ACES Delta rendering

Mitsubishi is involved in several regional hydrogen hubs applying for funding from the US Department of Energy.

Hydrogen capable

Depending on how that $7bn is ultimately allocated, Mitsubishi is interested in replicating the Utah project in other regions, a source familiar with the company said.

MPA and Magnum recently closed on a $504.4m loan guarantee from the DOE for ACES Delta, electrolyzers for which will be supplied by Norway-based HydrogenPro.

ACES Delta will support the Intermountain Power Agency’s IPP Renewed Project — upgrading to an 840 MW hydrogen-capable gas turbine combined cycle power plant using Mitsubishi’s M501JAC gas turbines. The plant will initially run on a blend of 30% green hydrogen and 70% natural gas starting in 2025 and incrementally expand to 100% green hydrogen by 2045.

Mitsubishi is also supplying the hydrogen-capable gas turbines to Entergy’s Orange County Advanced Power Station; to an Alberta coal plant owned by Capital Power; and to J-Power’s Jackson Generation Project in Illinois, which reached commercial operations last year.

Mitsubishi Power

Investing in startups

Mitsubishi is doubling down on a strategy of investing in startup producers and technology in renewable fuels, Sakai said.

Recent investments in the space include: C-Zero, a drop-in decarbonization tech startup in California; Cemvita Factory, a Houston-based synthetic biology firm focused on the decarbonization of heavy industries; Infinium, an electrofuels company innovator in California forming decarbonization solutions for industries in Japan; and Starfire Energy, a modular green ammonia solution provider in Denver.

Series A and Series B valuations for US companies are much higher now than they were a few years ago, Sakai said. Still, the US is the leading climate tech startup ecosystem in the world and provides rich opportunity for capital deployment, Sakai said. Biofuels, SAF and waste-to-energy are leading sectors for MHI investment moving forward.

“We have several hundred of these in the pipeline that we are looking at right now,” he said. “In the next few years, we will increase the number of these portfolio companies.”

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Pharma and fuels tech provider could be ready for public listing

International biotechnology firm Insilico Medicine is applying the algorithms that produce novel drugs to synthesizing more sustainable petrochemical fuels and materials.

Insilico Medicine, a global biotechnology firm serving the pharmaceutical and carbon-based energy industries, could be ready for a public listing in the next phase of its corporate evolution.

Insilico, founded in Baltimore and now based in Hong Kong, has raised about $400m in private capital to date and is in the position of a company that would be exploring a public listing in the US and Hong Kong, CEO Alex Zhavoronkov said in an interview. He declined to say if he has hired a financial advisor to run such a process but said a similar company in his position would have.

The generative AI platform that the company uses to produce novel drugs can be applied to produce more sustainable carbon-based fuels, Zhavoronkov said. The objective is to maximize btu and minimize CO2, making the fuels burn longer and cleaner.

Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Aramco is a user of the technology and participated in Insilico’s $95m Series D (oversubscribed and split between two sub-rounds) last year through its investment arm Prosperity7.

Petrochemistry is going to be needed well into the future, Zhavoronkov said. In addition to renewable energy and other ESG efforts, the efficiency of petrochemicals should be a top priority.

“If you burn certain petrochemicals in certain combinations, you can achieve a reasonably clean burn and an energy efficient burn,” he said. For specific tasks like space travel or Formula 1 racing, combined fuels produce the necessary torque, and generative chemistry can achieve those objectives in a more sustainable way. “I think that we can make the world significantly cleaner just by modifying petrochemical products.”

The technology can also be used to make organic matter in petrochemical products degrade more quickly, which is useful in the case of plastics, Zhavoronkov said.

The company’s AI is primarily based in Montreal and in the drug discovery business in China, but fuel research takes place in Abu Dhabi. Zhavoronkov said he has hired a lot of “AI refugees” from Russia and Ukraine to work at the latter location. The company has 40 employees in the UAE and will likely scale to 70.

Insilico is capitalized for the next two years or so, he said. That doesn’t account for revenue, which closed at just under $30m in 2022. The petrochemical and materials business is under the AI research arm of the business, which is covered by funds raised to date.

“Our board would probably not allow me to reinvent myself as an energy play,” Zhavoronkov said. But the board does not object to applying resources to petrochemical products.

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