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DG Fuels charting path to be SAF powerhouse

The company has retained advisors and is mapping out a plan to build as many as 50 production facilities in North America for a "gigantic" sustainable aviation fuel market.

DG Fuels is charting a plan to build a proprietary network of 30 to 50 sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production facilities in North America, CEO Michael Darcy said in an interview.

The Washington, D.C.-based company will pursue a combination of debt and equity on a case-by-case basis to fund the projects, Darcy explained, with financings underway now for the firm’s initial project in Louisiana and a second facility in Maine. The Louisiana facility recently inked a USD 4bn offtake agreement with an undisclosed investment grade industrial buyer.

The company is working with Guggenheim and Stephens as financial advisors, Darcy said. About 60 people hold equity in the company; Darcy and the founding team hold a majority stake.

In the coming months DG Fuels will likely make announcements about more SAF plants in the US and British Columbia, Darcy said. Site negotiations are underway and each project is its own subsidiary of the parent company.

“There’s clearly a good return of what we refer to as the ‘project level,’ and then we have the parent company,” Darcy said. “We have strategic investment at the parent and now we’re looking at strategic investment at the project level.”

Huge demand, low supply

DG Fuels produces SAF from cellulosic biomass feedstock, a technology that does not need sequestration of CO2 because natural gas is not used.

“We like to say it’s the corn cob, not the corn,” Darcy said. The company can also use timber waste, waxes, and renewable power as an important source of energy.

The company gets about 4.5 barrels of SAF for every ton of biomass feedstock, which is roughly three to four times the industry average, Darcy said.

“Practical scale” for a facility is 12,000 to 15,000 barrels a day, Darcy said. That’s big enough to be commercialized without stressing the electrical grid with power demand.

Despite the company’s advantages, there is “plenty of room” for other producers to come into the SAF space, Darcy said.

“Right now, the market for SAF is gigantic and the supply is minimal,” Darcy said. “Companies like us are able to pick and choose high-quality offtakers.”

DG Fuels includes Delta Airlines, Air France and General Electric as committed offtakers.

Multi-tasking

DG Fuels is “always engaged in some level of capital raise for construction of facilities and detailed engineering,” Darcy said. “There’s always more engineering to be done.”

Some of the financing has already been completed, but Darcy declined to go into additional detail. After Louisiana, the company will quickly follow up with Maine.

HydrogenPro AS recently announced that it would join Black & Veatch and Energy Vault in financing the remaining capital requirements of DG Fuels’ project in Louisiana, which is expected to be completed in mid-2022.

Most of the engineering work in Louisiana is transferable to the company’s project in Maine. Darcy likened the facilities’ build-out to a class of ships: once the first is completed, the second and third can be built almost concurrently.

“There will be a point where we won’t be building one at a time,” Darcy said.

The opportunity for funders to participate is broad in the SAF space, Darcy said. There is a crossover of good economics and ESG, so strategics, industrials, private equity and other pure financial players can all be involved.

The broad base of capital eager to participate in companies that are innovative — but not too innovative as to scare investors — is indicative of the industry’s ability to secure offtakers and feedstock.

Storing power

It’s one thing to acknowledge the need for reduction of carbon, but hard work is required ahead, Darcy said.

“The low-hanging fruit has been done,” he said of the renewables industry. “Now it’s not really about the power, it’s about the storage of power.”

DG Fuels is an offtaker of non-peak renewable power to displace fossil fuel energy. But baseload renewable power is becoming available almost anywhere.

The Maine project will use stranded hydroelectric power, Louisiana will use solar, and projects in the Midwest will use wind, Darcy said. Additionally, geothermal power is “starting to become a very real opportunity,” he added.

Deploying broadly with renewable power gets past the issues of variability of renewable power at a reasonable cost, he said.

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Cleveland-Cliffs CEO: ‘Hydrogen is the future’

The largest producer of flat-rolled steel in North America plans to lean heavily on hydrogen to reduce its carbon footprint.

Cleveland Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves is staking his company’s ability to decarbonize on large-scale use of hydrogen as a reductant in its blast furnaces.

The steelmaker is building a $9m pipeline that will feed hydrogen from the edge of its Indiana Harbor 7 plant into the blast furnace, what Goncalves called the company’s “high water mark” for hydrogen since it is the biggest plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s the biggest blast furnace, the one that we use the most in terms of hydrogen because of its size,” Goncalves said on the company’s earnings call. “And it’s also because it’s our flagship, for instance, our biggest, the biggest in the Western Hemisphere and we are going to use as a demonstration plant for how to use hydrogen” in steelmaking.

Cleveland Cliffs in May completed a hydrogen injection trial at its Middletown Works blast furnace on a smaller scale.

Goncalves said previously that the company committed to offtake 200 tons per day of the 1000-ton-per-day project being developed by bp and Constellation as part of the Midwest Hydrogen Hub located in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan.

The hub was recently awarded up to $1bn in funding from the US Department of Energy hydrogen hubs program.

“Cliffs’ commitment to buy a large portion of the output from the Midwest hub helped get this location selected by the Department of Energy,” Goncalves said.

“Hydrogen is the future,” he said. “Effectively, all of the current carbon emissions in our footprint are a result of the use of fossil fuel-based reductants or energy sources, where there is no economically feasible alternative,” he added. “Hydrogen can and ultimately will change that.”

He added that the use of hydrogen is very minimally capital intensive if you already have blast furnaces, with only minor plant additions needed, such as the Indiana Harbor pipeline.

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Low carbon fuels marketplace selected for Chevron incubator

The marketplace aims to streamline the buying and selling of low carbon fuels, starting with hydrogen.

Blackcurrant Inc., a marketplace to help accelerate low carbon fuel adoption by simplifying transactions and lowering costs, has been selected by Chevron Technology Ventures, LLC (CTV) as part of its Catalyst Program™.

The Blackcurrant platform is designed to streamline purchasing of hydrogen by connecting buyers, suppliers, transportation, and storage companies in a single data driven, easy to use platform. Purchases transacted on Blackcurrant can reduce the time it takes to make a hydrogen purchase from months to as little as one day.

The start-up plans to offer other low carbon fuels on the platform in the near future.

The Catalyst Program™ was launched by Chevron in 2017 to promote and accelerate innovation from early-stage companies that may benefit the energy sector. The selection of Blackcurrant marks a significant milestone for the company.

The Blackcurrant platform provides dynamic, artificial intelligence (AI) driven price and volume discovery, granular carbon intensity scoring per transaction, and innovative capabilities such as hydrogen credit trading. This is valuable for the currently opaque hydrogen market that historically used manual methods of transacting and could take up to 8 or more months to complete a purchase. On Blackcurrant, these offtake agreements have the potential to be executed in less than one day.

“Blackcurrant is excited to be selected by Chevron as part of the Catalyst Program,” said Akshaykumar Thakur, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackcurrant. “The program will help Blackcurrant’s mission of accelerating the low carbon hydrogen fuel market.”

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Baker Botts adds NY project finance partner

Baker Botts has hired has hired Veronica Relea from Pillsbury.

Baker Botts L.L.P., an international energy, technology, and life sciences law firm, has hired Veronica Relea to its Energy, Projects & Transactions Section of the Global Projects Department as a partner in the New York office.

Relea has significant experience representing project developers and lenders in highly structured and complex finance transactions in the U.S. and Latin America. She advises commercial and investment banks, sponsors, developers and private equity firms in the development, construction, operation and financing of energy, oil and gas, and infrastructure projects, including LNG projects, fuel storage facilities, renewable energy assets, and mining assets.

She has developed a robust Latin American practice, advising on a range of complex finance transactions and has been recognized by Latinvex annually since 2017 as one of Latin America’s Top 100 Female Lawyers. She is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese and French.

Relea is the eighth lateral partner to join Baker Botts since early February. The firm most recently welcomed energy finance partner Matthew Gurch in Washington, D.C., and in December welcomed energy and infrastructure partner Mona Dajani in New York.

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Siemens Energy NA executive priming for scale in hydrogen

The North American wing of the global technology company is in the earliest stages of engaging EPC providers and economic development officials for its next US electrolyzer manufacturing site, Richard Voorberg, president of Siemens Energy North America, said in an interview.

To say the demand for electrolyzer capacity has grown exponentially in 2022 comes across as an understatement, as customers in industry and energy have increased their orders multiple times over.

Siemens Energy North America’s electrolyzer – which is 18 MW and among the largest in the market – was too large for many customers just a year ago, Richard Voorberg, president of Siemens Energy North America, said in an interview. But following passage of the IRA, the question became how many the customer could get – and how fast.

“How quickly can I get 100 of your electrolyzers?” Voorberg said he hears now, whereas before that same customer might have asked for half an electrolyzer.

The decision to make an electrolyzer as large as 18 MW was part of the company’s strategy to have bigger capacity as the market for hydrogen expanded, Voorberg said.

HIF Global recently said it has tapped Siemens Energy to engineer and design their proprietary “Silyzer 300” electrolyzers to produce approximately 300,000 tons per year of green hydrogen at an eFuels facility in Texas.

Siemens Energy NA is now in the earliest stages of developing a new electrolyzer manufacturing plant in the United States, as previously reported by ReSource.

The US plant will be similar to the plant Siemens Energy is building in Berlin, and won’t be built until after Berlin is completed, Voorberg said.

The company is actively engaging with state economic development committees to scout locations, incentives and labor supplies. It is also in the early stages of engaging engineers, EPC providers and other development partners, Voorberg said.

“We also need to decide in the next few months what we want to do in-house, with our own shops, versus what we want to outsource,” Voorberg said.

North Carolina, Houston, Alabama and upstate New York are all in Siemens Energy’s existing footprint and are as such strong contenders for the new facility, Voorberg said, though nothing is set in stone as far as location. The company would finance the facility within its normal capex expenses within a year.

In electrolyzer manufacturing there is some “test hydrogen” that is produced, so there will be a need to find some small offtaker for that, Voorberg said. The company could also use it to supply its own fork-trucks in the future.

Open to acquisitions

Diving into an acquisition of another electrolyzer manufacturer probably would not make sense for Siemens Energy, Voorberg said. But the company is open to M&A.

He cited the acquisition of Airfoil Components in Florida as the type of deal that the company could move on again. In that case, the target company had expertise in casting that was easier to acquire than build from scratch.

“Does that make more sense that we buy it, that we outsource it, or should we be doing something like that ourselves?” Voorberg said are questions he often asks.

“When it comes to less complicated things, like a commodity market, that’s not something we play well in or need to play well in,” Voorberg said. “When it comes to a specialty design-type product, that’s where we at Siemens Energy shine.”

Right now, the Siemens Energy parent company has a bid out to acquire the third of Siemens Gamesa, the Spanish-listed wind engineering company, that it does not own, Voorberg noted.

Start-up opportunity

Siemens Energy, through its in-house venture capital group and partnerships with US universities, is interested in helping technology startups scale, Voorberg said.

“We can play in between them and the customers and do the introductions and potentially even partner in with some of our technology,” he said.

The company keeps close relationships with incubators at Georgia Tech and the University of Central Florida, among others, Voorberg said.

Equity investments will be made through the VC group, Voorberg said, noting that effort as one that is strategic in growing the energy transition, rather than financial.

Additional non-equity partnerships, similar to the fellowship with the Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy, are on the table as well.

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3Q deals in focus: Macquarie’s investment in Atlas Agro

In one of the largest and most compelling clean fuels deals of 3Q23, Macquarie made a $325m investment into Americas-focused Atlas Agro, a developer of industrial-scale green nitrogen fertilizer plants that utilize green hydrogen as a feedstock. William Demas, head of Macquarie Asset Management Green Investments in the Americas, provides a closer look.

Macquarie Asset Management’s investment into green nitrogen developer Atlas Agro gives the manager a stake in the company along with the ability to invest in the developer’s projects.

The $325m investment, made via the Macquarie GIG Energy Transition Solutions fund, will benefit Atlas Agro’s previously announced fertilizer plant project in Richland, WA, and will also support the company’s global pipeline of green fertilizer facilities, according to William Demas, head of Macquarie Asset Management Green Investments in the Americas.

In addition to the 700,000 tons-per-year Richland project, Atlas Agro is pursuing a project in Minas Gerais, Brazil that will produce 500,000 tons per year. Both projects would make nitrate fertilizer and are estimated to cost $1bn. An additional facility is planned for the US Midwest.

In the production process, the plants utilize air, water, and renewable electricity as the only raw materials.

“There are a number of things that attracted us to Atlas Agro,” Demas said in response to written questions. “They have a strong management team with an established track record managing established companies and delivering projects in the fertilizer space.”

The GIG Energy Transition Solutions fund has a target size of approximately $1.9bn, which to date is just over 50% committed, according to a source familiar with the fund.

Next phase

Equally important for the Atlas investment, Demas added, is that the company is aligned with Macquarie’s next phase energy transition thesis in the US – in this case hydrogen. 

“In this application, green hydrogen will be used as a feedstock rather than as an energy carrier, and the end-product of green fertilizer will attract customers looking to enter into long-term offtake contracts,” he said.

Through the development of plants in Washington state and the US Midwest, Atlas Agro is seeking to take advantage of favorable logistics to displace the need for imported fossil-fuel based fertilizer. Brazil also imports around 95% of its nitrogen fertilizers, according to Atlas.

“An important benefit of Atlas Agro’s model is the availability of locally produced, high-quality fertilizer, eliminating many of the issues associated with international supply chains,” Demas said, noting that offtakers are local to Atlas Agro’s operations.

Further, Macquarie and Atlas plan to pursue a project finance model for funding the projects under development.

“As an infrastructure investor, we focus on opportunities that are bankable, which means, ultimately project financeable,” Demas said. “We backed Atlas Agro because we believe their approach to project development, commercialization, construction and operations aligns with our views on how to underwrite infrastructure investments.”

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Analysis: States with hydrogen use and production incentives

Some states are mulling hydrogen-specific incentives and tax credits as they wait for final federal regulations for clean hydrogen production, Bianca Giacobone reports.

[Editor’s note: Paragraphs six through nine have been modified to clarify that Colorado legislation does in fact include ‘three pillars’ language.]

Final guidelines for the federal hydrogen production tax credits are still a work in progress, but in the meantime, legislatures across the country have been mulling their own incentives to spur production. 

So far, 14 U.S. states have or are considering legislation that includes tax credits or other incentives for the use or production of hydrogen, five of which specify the hydrogen has to be “green,” “clean” or “zero-carbon.” 

The industry is waiting for the final regulations relating to the 45V tax credit for production of clean hydrogen, a draft of which was released last December, and states are similarly waiting to make their own moves. 

“States have interest in developing hydrogen programs, but they will lag the federal initiatives,” said Frank Wolak, CEO of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. “The new suite of things that the states will do is largely dependent upon the reaction from the federal government, which is brand new.” 

The ones that aren’t waiting opt for vagueness. 

Val Stori, senior program manager at the Great Plains Institute, a non-profit focused on the energy transition, notes that Washington state has a bill supporting renewable electrolytic hydrogen, but it doesn’t specify whether electricity has to be sourced directly from renewables or if it can come from the grid. It doesn’t touch upon the more granular “three pillars” requirements for clean hydrogen which could be included in federal regulations: new supply, temporal matching, and deliverability.

“The lack of specificity is the trend,” she said.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s Advance the Use of Clean Hydrogen Act is the exception to that rule with what’s considered the country’s first clean hydrogen standards, including “matching electrolyzer energy consumption with electricity production on an hourly basis” and requiring that “the electricity used to produce clean hydrogen comes from renewable energy that would otherwise have been curtailed or not delivered to load or from new zero carbon generation.”

The standard will be enforced starting in 2028 or when the deployment of hydrogen electrolyzers in the state exceeds 200 MW.

(Colorado also has a Clean Air Program and a recently launched Colorado Industrial Tax Credit Offering that can offer financial support for industrial emissions reduction projects, including hydrogen projects, but they don’t mention hydrogen use or production specifically.)

“You might see the beginnings of laws that are starting to appear now,  but it might take two or three years before states build the momentum to figure out what they should be doing,” said Wolak. 

Nine out of the 14 states that have hydrogen-specific legislation don’t target clean hydrogen, but hydrogen in general. Kentucky, for example, has a 2018 tax incentive for companies that engage in alternative fuel production and hydrogen transmission pipelines. 

More recently, Oklahoma introduced a bill that proposes a one-time $50m infrastructure assist to a company that invests a minimum of $800m in a hydrogen production facility. According to local news reports, the bill is aimed at Woodside Energy’s electrolytic hydrogen plant in Ardmore. 

“We are an oil and gas state and we will be a primarily oil and gas state for a long time,” Oklahoma Senator Jerry Alvord, the bill’s sponsor, said in an interview. “But we could be at the forefront in our area of hydrogen and the uses that hydrogen puts before us.” 

Depending on the state, general hydrogen incentives could potentially add to federal tax incentives for clean hydrogen projects. 

Meanwhile, other states have been implementing Low Carbon Fuel Standards to encourage the development and use of clean fuels, including hydrogen, in transportation.

Last month, for example, New Mexico enacted its Low Carbon Fuel Standard, a technology-neutral program based where producers and vendors of low-carbon fuels, including clean hydrogen, generate credits to sell in the clean fuels marketplace, where they can be bought by producers of high carbon fuels. 

Similar programs exist in Oregon, Washington, and California, which was early to the game and began implementing its program in 2011. 

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