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Data: Japanese Companies in North American Clean Fuels Projects

A look at the Japanese firms that are making investments and forging project partnerships as that island nation seeks a North American footing for low-carbon fuels.

Japan is one of the largest importers of hydrogen worldwide, and it’s betting big on clean hydrogen for its decarbonization, planning to spend over $20 billion over the next 15 years to subsidize its production and supply chain.

In addition to investing to increase local capacity, Japanese firms are also focusing on importing clean fuels, with an eye on North America and the United States specifically, where project developers are increasingly looking to South Korea and Japan as buyers.

Many Japanese companies are actively participating in clean fuels projects across North America, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, and biofuel projects.

Around 4% of all clean fuels projects in North America have one or more Japanese firms involved as co-developers, equity investors, or off-takers. The investments are mostly in the United States, and companies like Mitsubishi and Mitsui, which have a long history of US investments, are the most active.

Without committing to specific projects yet, developers like Sempra Infrastructure and 8 Rivers have signed MoUs with Japanese counterparts to promote the development of a clean energy supply chain, while others, like Intersect Power or Hydrogen Canada, are explicitly targeting Japan as an end market for their hydrogen products.

See a full list of North American projects with Japanese involvement.

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North Dakota CCS project enters final development stages

Closing on financing for Project Tundra at the coal-fired Milton R. Young Station power plant is expected in early 2024.

Minnkota Power Cooperative has solidified agreements with TC Energy, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Kiewit to move a North Dakota carbon capture project into its final stage of development, according to a news release.

Under the arrangements, Minnkota will continue to lead development activities for “Project Tundra” at the Milton R. Young Station power plant, as well as coordination with landowners and community members in the project area near Center, N.D.

Closing on financing and the notice to move forward with construction of Project Tundra are anticipated in early 2024. The project remains subject to closing on financing and a final investment decision by each of the project entities in the consortium.

TC Energy will lead commercialization activities, including qualifying for federal 45Q tax credits. Return on project construction and operation costs would be recouped through 45Q, which provides $85 per ton of CO2 permanently stored underground.

In addition, the project participants submitted applications in May for a $350m grant through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Capture Demonstration Projects Program and a $150m loan through the state of North Dakota’s Clean Sustainable Energy Authority. The project currently has approval for a $100m CSEA loan.

Project Tundra is designed to capture up to four million metric tons of CO2 annually from the coal-based Young Station. The CO2 will be stored more than a mile underground. Minnkota currently has the largest fully permitted CO2 storage facility in the United States and is pursuing additional CO2 storage opportunities near the Young Station.

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Hydrogen and CCUS factor heavily in U.S. DOE heavy-industry decarbonization selections

The projects are expected to reduce the equivalent of more than 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Hydrogen and CCUS factor heavily into the projects that have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as part of a $6 billion funding program for 33 projects across more than 20 states to decarbonize energy-intensive industries and reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

The full list of winners selected for grant negotiations is here. Below are some of the highlights:

Steelmaker SSAB has been selected to negotiate for a grant of up to $500m for the Hydrogen-Fueled Zero Emissions Steel Making project, which would bring green hydrogen-based steel production to the United States to build the first commercial-scale facility in the world using fossil-free Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) technology with 100% hydrogen in Perry County, Mississippi. The project also plans to expand SSAB’s Montpelier, Iowa steelmaking facility to utilize the resulting hydrogen-reduced DRI. SSAB has signed a letter of intent for Hy Stor Energy to supply green hydrogen and renewable electricity to the DRI facility. 

Cleveland-Cliffs has been selected to receive up to $500m for the Hydrogen-Ready Direct Reduced Iron Plant and Electric Melting Furnace Installation project for iron and steel, including plans to install a hydrogen-ready flex-fuel Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) plant and two electric melting furnaces at Cleveland-Cliffs’ Middletown Works mill in Ohio. 

Orsted would receive up to $100m for its Star e-Methanol project, which plans to use captured carbon dioxide from a local industrial facility to produce e-methanol to reduce the carbon footprint for hard-to-electrify sectors like shipping. Orsted’s facility is estimated to produce up to 300,000 metric tons of e-methanol per year and would reduce the carbon footprint by 80% or more than traditional production methods. 

Constellium has been selected to receive up to $75m for a zero carbon aluminum casting plant at its Ravenswood, West Virginia facility. The project would install low-emissions SmartMelt furnaces that can operate using a range of fuels, including clean hydrogen.

The National Cement Company of California would receive up to $500m for a carbon-neutral cement plant in Lebec, California. Instead of using fossil fuels, the project would use locally sourced biomass from agricultural byproducts such as pistachio shells, replace clinker with a less carbon intensive alternative (calcined clay) to produce limestone calcined clay cement (LC3), and capture and sequester the plant’s remaining approximately 950,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Heidelberg Materials would receive up to $500m for an integrated carbon capture, transport, and storage system at their newly modernized plant located in Mitchell, Indiana. This project would capture at least 95% of the carbon dioxide from one of the largest cement plants in the nation and store it in a geologic formation beneath the plant property.

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US SAF producer targeting 1H24 monetization

Calumet Specialty Products subsidiary Montana Renewables – now the largest producer of sustainable aviation fuel in North America – has received interest for the business indicating valuations in excess of the entire company’s current enterprise value.

Calumet Specialty Products is expecting to close on a monetization of a minority equity stake by early 2024 in its Montana Renewables subsidiary, which is now the largest sustainable aviation fuel producer in North America.

The company has been exploring a monetization, including an IPO, of Montana Renewables with Lazard as an advisor since last year, and would use proceeds to deleverage the parent company. Executives said today they are speaking with bulge bracket banks regarding the timing of a potential IPO or minority stake sale.

“We continue to expect a potential monetization of Montana Renewables to complete the deleveraging of Calumet,” CEO Todd Borgman said in prepared remarks. “For some time we’ve discussed the possibility of a Montana Renewables IPO, private monetization, or even both. We continue to receive clear feedback: that Montana Renewables is a differentiated business, with transformational value potential to Calumet, well in excess of the entire company’s enterprise value.”

Calumet had engaged Lazard last year to conduct a process that culminated in a $250m investment in Montana Renewables from Warburg Pincus in August, 2022. The investment, in the form of a participating preferred equity security, valued Montana Renewables at a pre-commissioning enterprise value of $2.25bn.

The facility began making SAF shipments to Shell as an offtaker earlier this year.

In response to a question, Calumet executives pointed to the enterprise values of publicly traded energy transition companies, noting that Montana Renewables should align with that “at a minimum, if not get a premium for the competitive advantages that we’ve got, due to location, due to advanced pre-treater technology we’ve got, and due to the fact that we’re now North America’s largest SAF producer.”

Calumet’s equity trades at $15.80 per share and a $1.26bn market cap.

The company is evaluating an expansion of its SAF production at Montana Renewables and has purchased a second reactor and applied for a $600m loan from the DOE.

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Biomass-to-hydrogen developer in talks for development capital, series A

A California developer that uses woody biomass to make green hydrogen is in discussions to raise capital for project development and a series A funding round.

Yosemite Clean Energy, a California-based biomass-to-hydrogen start-up, is in discussions with potential investors to raise development capital for projects and a series A round.

The company is currently seeking around $20m of development capital that would help advance woody biomass-to-hydrogen projects to FID, CEO Tom Hobby said in an interview.

Hobby said he is also in discussions with strategic capital partners about a series A funding round. The company is not using an advisor for the capital raise, Hobby said, but is working with the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

The company has so far raised less than $2m at the corporate level from friends and family and an additional $5m – including grants – for projects, Hobby added. The development capital as well as the series A raise would be conducted at the project level.

Yosemite has signed a letter of intent and term sheet for offtake from its first project in Oroville, California, which will produce approximately 24,000 kg per day (2,760 MMBtu) of green hydrogen from woody biomass, and is set for FID later this year. Hobby declined to name the offtaker but described it as a “global trading house.”

Hobby, whose family has lived in the Sierra Nevada for generations, emphasizes the company’s role as a partner with local communities to help manage forest waste, which has served as fuel for explosive wildfires in recent years.

“It’s de-risking their communities from catastrophic wildfires,” he said.

Design incentives

Under the original design for the Oroville facility, the company had planned to produce 31,000 kg per day of RNG and 12,200 kg per day of green hydrogen. But due to incentives for green hydrogen in the Inflation Reduction Act, the company has pivoted to a hydrogen-only design, Hobby said.

The $3/kg incentive for green hydrogen in the IRA created “additional value for no real capital cost differential,” he said.

Yosemite’s second project is in Toulumne County, California and will follow a design substantially similar to the Oroville facility.

The company employs dual-bed gasification technology licensed from Austrian firm Repotec, while Primoris is doing detailed design and engineering.

The technology takes wood and creates a medium-strength BTU gas that can be used to make different products, Hobby said. “Once it’s in a gaseous form, we can use it for a lot of purposes: we can take it to make power, we can produce hydrogen, we can use the Fischer-Tropsch process to make second-generation biofuels like aviation fuel, and we have a patent that can do hydrogen and RNG.”

Project ownership

Meanwhile, Yosemite has hired a Texas-based firm to help raise capital for projects, which are estimated to cost $250m at the outset, but could decline once efficiencies are achieved, Hobby said.

The company’s project ownership model is unique in that it seeks to bring in local wood businesses – in logging, land clearing, and orchard removal – as providers of biomass and also equity investors in the projects.

“To have their investment and their wood at the same time is huge,” Hobby said.

In raising capital for the projects, in addition to equity and debt investors, Yosemite is evaluating a mix of sources in the tax-exempt bond market as well as lower-interest loans from within California and export finance solutions. The company recently received two $500,000 Forest Biomass to Carbon-Negative Biofuels grants from the California Department of Conservation.

Hobby would like to build 50 woody biomass plants in California, which would utilize approximately 5 million tons of the 35 million tons of waste woody biomass available annually in the state.

“Our goal is not to have to truck and ship wood more than 50 miles,” he said. “If you put circles around every place in California that’s a decent wood basket […] I think we could sign about 50 facilities across the state.”

The company is also planning to expand beyond California to other states with a low-carbon fuel standard, Hobby said.

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Low-carbon crude refinery developer lining up project cap stack

The developer of a low-carbon crude refinery is in talks with banks and strategics to line up project financing for a $5.5bn project in Oklahoma.

Texas-based Southern Rock Energy Partners is holding discussions with banks and potential strategic investors with the aim of shaping a $5.5bn capital stack to build a low-carbon crude refinery in Cushing, Oklahoma.

The project, a first-of-its-kind 250,000 barrel-per-day crude refinery, would make it the first crude facility of that size built in the United States in several decades.

The company is evaluating a project finance route with a debt and equity structure for the project, and has held talks with several major investment banks as well as “industry-leading” strategics in midstream, industrial gas, and electricity generation, Southern Rock Managing Partner Steven Ward said in an interview.

In support of the refinery, the city of Cushing and the Cushing Economic Development Foundation approved $75m in tax-exempt private activity bonds, Ward noted. He added that the company could also tap industrial revenue bonds as well as PACE equity financing.

Seed capital for project development has so far come from strategic partners, some of which are operational partners, Ward said. He declined to comment further on the capital raise, noting that engagement letters have yet to be signed.

Engineering firm KBR is conducting a feasibility study for the Cushing project, and the company is moving through land acquisition, air permit preparation, and EPC selection, Ward said.

While most crude refineries consume natural gas, off-gasses, and ambient air, Southern Rock’s proposed refinery would use oxygen along with blue hydrogen produced from the refining off-gasses and green hydrogen from electrolysis. The process would eliminate 95% of greenhouse gas emissions at the proposed refinery.

“Our furnaces and our process heating units are fed 100% hydrogen and oxygen,” Ward said, noting that this type of system does not currently exist in the market. The company is expanding on technology it licenses from Great Southern Flameless, he said.

The size of the refinery would make it the largest to be built in the US since Marathon Petroleum built a 200,000 barrels-per-day facility in 1976.

Certain other low-carbon crude projects have been in the market for several years. Meridian Energy has been seeking to build cleaner crude refineries in North Dakota. Raven Petroleum ran up against environmental concerns while seeking to build a clean refinery in Texas. And MMEX is aiming to build an “ultra clean” crude refinery in West Texas.

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Exclusive: Biomethane firm planning funding round

A biomethane solutions provider with projects in Europe and the US is planning a fifth round of funding to launch early next year, with a need to raise additional project debt.

Electrochaea, the US- and Europe-based biomethane developer, will go to market in 1Q24 for a new round of equity funding, with a near term need for project debt as well, two executives told ReSource.

The company, which was spun out from an incubator at The University of Chicago with offices in Denmark, has projects in Denmark, Colorado, New York and Switzerland. It is backed by Baker Hughes and, from early fundraising efforts, Munich Venture Partners, senior director Aafko Scheringa said. The former investor participated in its most recent (fourth) $40m funding round.

Electrochaea uses a patented biocatalyst that converts green hydrogen and carbon dioxide into BioCat Methane, a pipeline-grade renewable gas.

The average size of a project is roughly $25m, Scheringa said.

Funds from the next round will provide three years of working capital, CEO Mitch Hein added.

Electrochaea has not worked with a financial advisor to date, Hein said, adding that he may have need for one for new processes but has not engaged with anyone.

Scheringa said he is working to achieve commercialization on a pipeline of projects, with a 10 MWe bio-methanation plant in Denmark being farthest along with a mandatory start date before 2026.

Electrochaea has a bio-methanation reactor system in partnership with SoCalGas at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Energy System Integration Facility in Golden, Colorado, though Hein said a project in New York is as advanced in its development.

Bio-methane can be burned in place of natural gas with no systems degradation issues, so gas offtakers are a natural fit for Electrochaea, Scheringa said. Cheap clean electricity paired with available CO2 is critical, so the company will look to places like Texas, Spain, Scandinavia, Quebec and the “corn states” of the US Midwest, for new projects.

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