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DOE releases billion-ton biomass report

The report, which is released only every five years, details the opportunities and constraints to reaching 1 billion tons of biomass production per year in the U.S., and includes county-level data on resource availability.

The Department of Energy’s 2023 Billion-Ton Report provides a detailed analysis of the potential biomass resource availability in the United States, finding that more than 1 billion tons of biomass could be sustainably produced annually in the U.S., given adequate market conditions. 

This production capacity could significantly expand the current bioenergy economy, contingent upon the realization of market demand and adherence to environmental sustainability constraints.

The decarbonization of America’s transportation and industrial sectors depends on a significant increase in the production of renewable biomass for use in liquid fuel, bio-based chemicals, and other products, the DOE said in a press release. Highlights from the report include:  

  • The U.S. currently uses about 342 million tons of biomass, including corn grain for ethanol and wood/wood waste for heat and power, to meet roughly 5% of America’s annual energy demand 
  • The U.S. can triple the production of biomass, producing an estimated 60 billion gallons of low greenhouse gas liquid fuels, while still meeting the projected demand for food, feed, fiber, conventional forest products, and exports 
  • Currently available but unused biomass resources can add around 350 million tons of additional biomass per year above current uses and double the U.S. bioeconomy 
  • Biomass resources, like energy crops, in a future mature market can provide more than 400 million tons of biomass per year above current uses 
  • Further technological innovations could lead to evolving and emerging resources that represent additional biomass potential 
  • The analysis ensures sustainable outcomes by accounting for potential risks to soil, air and water quality, water availability, and the imperative to protect America’s forests and biodiversity 

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Mining giant Anglo American invests $200m in merger with Seattle-based First Mode

The newly combined business, valued at $1.5bn, will pursue zero-emission haulage solutions for mining and other heavy industries. First Mode is working on providing critical mine site infrastructure for hydrogen production, battery recharging, and hydrogen refueling.

First Mode, a global carbon reduction company focused on heavy industry, and global mining company Anglo American have signed a binding agreement to combine First Mode and Anglo American’s nuGen™ zero emission haulage solution to accelerate the transition of mining and other heavy industries to diesel-free futures, according to a news release.

The transaction, which is expected to close in January 2023, values the newly combined business in the order of $1.5bn and includes a $200m equity injection from Anglo American.

Upon closing of the transaction, First Mode will enter into a global supply agreement to supply several nuGen™ systems to Anglo American which includes the retrofit of approximately 400 ultra-class haul trucks with First Mode’s proprietary hybrid fuel cell battery powerplant and related infrastructure. The supply agreement includes the appropriate provision of critical supporting infrastructure such as refueling, recharging, and facilitation of hydrogen production. The roll-out of nuGen™ across Anglo American’s haul truck fleet over the next 15 years is subject to certain conditions and required approvals.

Previously announced in June 2022, the transaction is a unique combination of creative engineering excellence and mining expertise which brings together the existing First Mode business with Anglo American’s nuGen™ related intellectual property, management, and operational teams. First Mode is now uniquely positioned to commercialize the nuGen™ haulage solution which intelligently incorporates new technology into mine site operations and consists of a powerplant with appropriate hybridization of hydrogen powered fuel cells and battery (depending on customer and site requirements), refueling and recharging technology, clean energy production and storage, modification of diesel electric vehicles, digital integration with mine site systems as well as ongoing services.

The investment will facilitate the rapid global growth of First Mode, development of production facilities in Seattle and new proving grounds in Centralia, Washington, support staffing goals worldwide, develop our footprint in Perth, Australia, and speed the commercialization and deployment of First Mode clean energy solutions to market.

On close, Anglo American will become a majority shareholder of First Mode, with the balance continuing to be held by First Mode employees. In addition, current First Mode President and CEO, Chris Voorhees will transition to the role of Chief Product & Technology Officer, overseeing the company’s global product and technology development out of Seattle. Julian Soles, Anglo American’s head of Technology Development, will take over as First Mode CEO and be based in First Mode’s new headquarters in London.

“First Mode was founded in 2018 with the goal of building the barely possible. We have done just that and our mission is now to rapidly decarbonize heavy industry by dramatically reducing our customers’ greenhouse gas emissions. I can’t imagine a team better suited to this urgent challenge,” said Chris Voorhees.

“The First Mode mission is much bigger than a single haul truck,” said Julian Soles. “Mining is how the world obtains the materials needed for the clean energy transition, and it is where the carbon footprint starts. This is where the First Mode solution begins; starting at the source, in mining, to replace diesel and accelerate the clean energy transition.”

The world’s first proof-of-concept including renewable energy generation, hydrogen production and refueling, and an ultra-class haul truck, launched in May 2022, continues to be operated at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena platinum group metals mine site in South Africa. This month the truck reached a significant milestone when it completed initial commissioning and was introduced into the mine’s commercial fleet operations, including pit and crusher activities.

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Cemvita appoints CFO

Houston-based Cemvita has appointed Lisa Bromiley as its new CFO.

Cemvita, a carbon utilization company, has appointed Lisa Bromiley as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

In her new role, Bromiley will spearhead capital markets, strategic positioning, and financial management of the company, bringing with her over two decades of invaluable experience in energy and commodity-related finance.

Prior to joining Cemvita, Bromiley played pivotal roles as CFO and Public Company Director. Particularly, she played a key role in the development of Flotek Industries, Inc. Mrs. Bromiley also steered Northern Oil and Gas, Inc., achieving a market capitalization of $4bn.

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ZeroAvia acquires fuel cell innovator HyPoint

ZeroAvia, the American and British provider of zero-emission solutions for commercial aviation, has acquired California-based HyPoint in a bid to advance hydrogen-electric flight.

ZeroAvia, the American and British provider of zero-emission solutions for commercial aviation, has acquired California-based fuel cell stack innovator HyPoint, according to a press release.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition adds HyPoint’s high-temperature fuel cell technology – an avenue for increasing power output and energy density of aviation fuel cell powertrains – to ZeroAvia’s expertise in developing the full powertrain to enable hydrogen-electric flight.

All 40 HyPoint team members will be integrated into ZeroAvia, working across the R&D locations in Kemble, Gloucestershire and HyPoint’s location in Sandwich, Kent.

HyPoint’s CEO Alex Ivanenko joins ZeroAvia as GM for VTOL and New Segments, to develop ZeroAvia’s rotorcraft business applications, and to explore other applications outside of ZeroAvia’s core focus on fixed-wing commercial aviation.

The two companies have worked together on co-developing and testing HTPEM fuel cell technology as part of ZeroAvia’s powertrain development over the last couple of years, with HyPoint relocating the bulk of its R&D into the UK in February 2022 to support the partnership.

This new development comes on the heels of the announcement of a deal with ZeroAvia’s long-term fuel cell partner PowerCell which will see the serial delivery of hydrogen fuel stacks beginning in 2024.

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exclusive

Green hydrogen firm secures offtake LOI for Texas project

Clean Energy Holdings has secured an LOI for offtake from a European buyer for phase 1 of a green hydrogen project currently under development in Texas.

Clean Energy Holdings (CEH), a green hydrogen firm, has secured offtake for phase 1 of a green hydrogen project currently under development in Clear Fork, Texas.

A critical component of the project’s progress, the letter of intent for hydrogen offtake was signed this week with a European buyer, CEH chief executive Nicholas Bair said in an interview. He declined to name the offtaker but described it as a national energy security issue for the buyer.

The offtake agreement covers the first 30,000 kg per day of production from the site starting in 4Q24, which encapsulates phase 1 of the project. CEH President Cornelius Fitzgerald said the facility will eventually ramp up in four phases to around 130,000 kg per day of production.

CEH, which develops but also plans to own and operate projects, has assembled a coalition of industry partners, which it calls The Alliance, to provide “soup-to-nuts delivery,” Bair said. “We oversee projects from the first day to the last day the lights are on and the last use of each molecule.”

He added: “In the energy transformation, availability, security, and reliability matter.”

In addition to CEH, the group includes Bair Energy, Chart Industries, Equix, RockeTruck, Coast 2 Coast Logistics, The Eastman Group, and, most recently, HSB.

Bair emphasized the importance of the recent $4.4bn merger announcement between Chart Industries and Howden for its impact on vertical integration for CEH’s projects. Chart and Howden said in a press release last week that the merger will expand Chart’s equipment portfolio and process technology offering for multiple molecules and applications across high growth areas, including hydrogen.

“The acquisition gives CEH high confidence in security of supply from the Chart scope, and when paired with Chart’s performance history and customer centric experience, we believe Chart has increased its important position for our platform and our industry in general,” Fitzgerald added.

CEH had already put in a $100m purchase order for equipment with Chart, which is advising The Alliance on liquefaction, storage, reverse osmosis, and water, but the order jumped to $400m in a phased approach over the next 24 – 36 months following the Howden announcement, Bair said.

Project finance

In order to finance the Clear Fork project, CEH is seeking to raise just under $1bn through sponsor equity and project finance debt, using ING as financial advisor, the executives said. The tenor of the debt will likely come in between seven and 10 years, in line with the terms of the offtake agreement.

CEH has received interest from 142 “top notch” investors for the equity piece, and interest from 42 investors that could do both debt and equity, Bair said.

Bair and Fitzgerald declined to discuss pricing for the offtake contract, but noted the terms were “economically responsible” even without factoring in expanded tax credits included in the Inflation Reduction Act. “We meet the hurdle rates of our investors and our bank” without the tax credits, Bair said.

CEH is on a baseline schedule to reach FID on the Clear Fork project by April, 2023, Bair said, and is working with Norton Rose Fulbright as legal counsel.

More projects

Meanwhile, CEH and its partners are seeking to assemble an ambitious pipeline of projects over the next decade, and have held discussions with additional potential offtakers in foreign and domestic markets.

A project announced last year — CEH’s first — seeks to advance a wind-powered green hydrogen plant in Colorado.

With The Alliance, “The amount of intelligence and experience that we’ve had at the table at the early design phase of these projects has been of tremendous value,” Fitzgerald said.

“Once there’s been enough experience and a bit more trust built up within those relationships, now we’re seeing opportunities to start to come from our platform around where an offtake might be needed,” he added, equating it to a development model that “shops backward” from where the molecule is needed.

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Exclusive: Methanol electrolyzer start-up gearing up for seed capital raise

An early-stage technology company seeking to commercialize an electrolyzer that produces methanol from CO2 at ambient temperature and pressure is preparing its first capital raise.

Oxylus Energy, a methanol technology and project development start-up, is preparing to kick off its first capital raise later this month.

The Yale-based firm is seeking to raise $4m in seed funding, with proceeds funding the advancement of a production-scale CO2-to-methanol electrolyzer cell and its first commercial agreements for offtake, CEO Perry Bakas said in an interview.

Oxylus aims to commercialize an electrolyzer that creates methanol from CO2 at room temperature and pressure, and also plans to develop and operate its own methanol production plants, he said.

The technology, which will scale to larger versions in coming years, recently hit a key milestone with the validation of a 5cm2 platform.

The seed capital raise would provide approximately 26 months of runway, according to Bakas. The company would then raise between $20 – $30m in a follow-on Series A in late 2026.

“What we’re gonna do with the Series A is put that first electrolyzer into the ground,” he said. “It’ll be our first revenue-producing methanol.”

Oxylus is currently owned by Bakas and his fellow co-founders. The company has been entirely grant funded to this point. DLA Piper is advising as the law firm on the seed capital raise.

“I think the most important thing about the technology is it’s the most energy-efficient pathway to making renewable methanol,” he said. “At the right energy prices, you’re below cost parity with fossil-derived methanol. When that happens, I think it’ll become a very interesting development scenario.”

Oxylus is focused on bringing the so-called green premium down to zero, Bakas said, noting that it requires achieving scale in electrolyzer production or partnering with established electrolyzer manufacturers.

Methanol for shipping

Oxylus will seek to introduce its technology into target markets that are already using methanol as a feedstock, like high-value petrochemicals. In the longer term, shipping and aviation are likely to become attractive markets. Taken together, the company believes methanol has the potential to decarbonize 11% of global emissions.

Methanol will compete with ammonia for primacy as a shipping fuel in the future, but Bakas believes methanol is the better option.

“These are massive markets – they need a lot of solutions, and quickly,” he said. “But ammonia is not energy dense, and it doesn’t integrate with existing infrastructure.”

The International Energy Agency recently projected that while ammonia will be cheaper to make, methanol is easier to handle, resulting in roughly similar cost profiles for e-methanol and green ammonia. The added cost for methanol production, the report found, is likely to come from a scarcity of biogenic CO2.

On that topic, Bakas acknowledged that the methanol pathway still requires combustion of carbon, but emphasized his technology’s ability to displace existing fossil fuel-based methanol production.

“The distinction we need to make is: are these virgin hydrocarbons or are they recycled hydrocarbons? If you’re just continuously pumping new CO2 out of the ground into the atmosphere, you’re gonna continue to cause climate change,” he said.

“The technologies that we are building in this suite of technologies that cover direct air capture, point source capture, carbon conversion, that whole CCUS world,” he added, “are really working to monitor and create a homeostasis in the atmospheric balance of CO2.”

Oxylus recently completed a lifecycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, Bakas said, finding that its fuels are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 95% at optimal voltage compared to natural gas steam methane reforming.

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Exclusive: Australian fuels producer looking for US development partners

An Australian fuels producer and concentrated solar power developer partnered with German and US fossil interests is developing its first US clean fuels project in Texas, and is looking for development partners with eyes on the greater southwest.

Vast Energy, the Australia-based and NASDAQ-listed concentrated solar power (CSP) developer and fuels producer, is in the early stages of developing a project near El Paso, Texas – the company’s first in the US – and is seeking US development partners to generate a pipeline of projects throughout the country, CEO Craig Wood said in an interview.

Vast is in process with two projects in Port Augusta, South Australia: VS1, a 30 MW solar/8 MWh storage plant, and SM1, a demonstration solar-to-methanol plant co-located with VS1, producing up to 7,500 mtpa of green methanol from VS1 electricity and heat with extra power available on the grid.

VS1 is scheduled for FID in 3Q24 with FID on SM1 coming the following quarter, Wood said.

Vast recently announced funding agreements with German partner Mabanaft for up to AUD $40m for SM1, after the SM1 project was selected last year as a part of the German-Australian Hydrogen Innovation and Technology Incubator (HyGATE).

Methanol from the $80m SM1 will in part be exported to Germany. Vast is also working with EDF to provide additional financing, Wood said.

“Essentially it’s going to be debt free and on balance sheet,” Wood said.

German container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd recently signed an MOU with Mabanaft to explore options for the supply of ammonia as bunker fuel to Hapag-Lloyd in the Port of Houston.

US opportunity

In the US, where Vast listed to be primed for opportunistic growth, the company has a shortlist of locations around El Paso, has engaged with regional economic development leaders, and held early talks with EPC providers, Wood said.

The El Paso project is being developed in conjunction with Houston-based oil and gas drilling business Nabors Industries, Wood said. Nabors backed the SPAC that took Vast public at a valuation of up to $586m in early 2023. Its current market cap is $64m.

There are ongoing discussions on whether to produce eSAF or methanol in El Paso, Wood said.

To produce eSAF, Vast would use a solid-oxide electrolyzer coupled with the Fischer-Tropsch process, Wood said. Meanwhile, the methanol distillation process lends itself well to Vast’s ability to produce low-cost heat.

CSP has a lower level of embedded carbon than any renewables technology other than wind, Wood said.

“The work that we have done to date indicated that you would most likely power an eFuels project with a CSP plant that was configured to operate in the day and night,” Wood said.

As for project costs, envisioning a project producing some 200 million liters per annum, roughly $3bn would be needed for the power station, and then half that for the infrastructure to make the fuels.

Preliminary offtake for the El Paso project is going to be critical for attracting investment, Wood said. Offtake will depend on the type of fuel produced, though conversations are ongoing with shipping companies (methanol) and airlines (eSAF).

“We’re not expecting to have any problem placing the product,” Wood said. Offtake would likely be targeted for the Port of Los Angeles, LAX airport, the ports of the Gulf Coast, or Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Development of CSP makes sense anywhere climate is sunny and hot, Wood said. The company could logically expand into more of West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California.

The region around Farmington, New Mexico is particularly attractive for CSP development, Wood said. As a huge amount of coal-fired capacity in that area is retired, those interconnections, workforces and resources are ripe for repowering.

The turbines that one of those coal fired power stations would have is the same turbine at the core of Vast’s technology, Wood said. One difference is that Vast’s can be turned on and off quickly.

Development partnerships 

There is an opportunity for Vast to find a development partner, or partners, to stand up a pipeline of projects in two to three years’ time, Wood said.

“Almost everyone wants to wait until our project in Port Augusta reaches COD,” Wood said. “But we don’t want to wait that long to be developing projects in the US.”

Vast is capable of building CSP plants, which can be configured to operate in the day and night, co-located with existing larger-scale solar pv to provide additional generation and, critically, storage, Wood said. By directing sunlight to receivers and heating molten salt, CSP can store energy for 12-to-20 hours overnight to alleviate solar pv’s intermittency issues.

“Coming along and essentially retrofitting complementary CSP next to those [pv plants], we think is a very sensible way to go, both in terms of shared cost but also in terms of managing incremental transmission build,” Wood said. “We’re looking for people we can have conversations with.”

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