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Europeans get (ammonia) cracking

Two European companies -- one major, one emerging -- announced plans to expand ammonia cracking capacity that would pave the way for greater use of hydrogen on the continent.

Air Liquide and AFC Energy today announced plans to expand ammonia cracking capacity amid an expected increase of ammonia imports into Europe, paving the way for greater use of hydrogen on the continent.

Paris-based Air Liquide said it will build an industrial scale ammonia cracking pilot plant in the port of Antwerp, Belgium.

The pilot plant, which combines a novel, efficient process with Air Liquide’s proprietary technologies, is planned to be operational in 2024. The Flemish Government, through the VLAIO (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), has confirmed financial support to the project.

When transformed into ammonia, hydrogen can be easily transported over long distances. And the market for ammonia cracker technology is expected to grow: the International Renewable Energy Agency notes that demand for ammonia is forecast to reach 223 million tonnes by 2030 in a 1.5°C scenario, an increase of 22% over 2020 levels.

Source: IRENA

AFC Energy, a UK-based fuel cell maker, also today launched a new ammonia cracker technology platform – a new hydrogen generation solution that aims to unlock the value of ammonia as a hydrogen carrier fuel across European and Asian energy markets, according to a news release.

The company’s cracker technology has been accelerated in response to material growth in ammonia imports recently contracted into Europe to support the EU’s sustainable energy policies and address energy independence challenges arising out of the Ukraine conflict.

AFC noted that the region is ill-prepared to exploit the increase in ammonia imports due to a lack of cracker capacity, a technology that has faced limited demand and negligible investment in recent decades.

The company is in discussions with potential partners in industries ranging from ship owners, utilities, OEMs, and industrial scale hydrogen users, to validate industry opportunities. The ammonia cracker’s modular design and low-cost system architecture makes the cracker readily scalable from small-scale hydrogen production to multi-million tonnes per annum, according to the company.

Large-scale ammonia crackers have been proposed elsewhere in Europe to meet national hydrogen import demand, including at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands (Transhydrogen Alliance) and at Wilhelmshaven in Germany (Uniper), with capacities of up to 0.5 Mt per year of hydrogen (3.7 Mt per year of ammonia), according to IRENA.

The Port of Rotterdam has announced that it will import up to 18 Mt of hydrogen by 2050, equivalent to 135 Mt of ammonia.

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Power plant manager seeking capital for Boston acquisitions

A manager of natural gas power plants is seeking capital to acquire two facilities in the Boston area and convert them into low-carbon generation assets.

US Grid Company, an owner and operator of electric generation assets in US cities, is seeking to raise capital to make a pair of acquisitions in Boston.

The New York-based plant manager is targeting facilities owned by Calpine and Constellation, CEO Jacob Worenklein said.

Calpine owns the Fore River Energy Center, a 731 MW, combined-cycle plant located 12 miles southeast of Boston, while Constellation owns Mystic Generating Station, a 1,413 MW natural gas-fired plant in Everett, Massachusetts.

Worenklein would acquire the assets and seek to implement lower-carbon generation solutions such as batteries, renewables, or clean fuels, he said.

He has held conversations with both Calpine and Constellation about acquiring the assets, and would need approximately $100m of equity capital to make an acquisition, he said, with the balance coming in the form of debt capital.

US Grid Company previously had investment backing from EnCap Energy Transition and Yorktown Partners, but the funds for the deal were pulled.

Worenklein has had a storied career in the US power sector, serving as a global head in roles at SocGen and Lehman Brothers. He was also founder and head of the power and projects law practice at Milbank.

From 2017 to 2020 he served as chairman of Ravenswood Power Holdings, the owner and operator of a 2,000 MW gas-fired plant in Queens, New York.

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Japan’s ENEOS makes investment in Gulf Coast hydrogen project

Established by Azimuth Capital Management, MVCE is developing a large plant for the manufacture of hydrogen, MCH, and ammonia to supply Japan.

ENEOS Corporation has made an equity investment in MVCE Gulf Coast, LLC, according to a news release.

MVCE seeks to produce clean hydrogen in the Gulf of Mexico and build a clean hydrogen supply chain between Japan and the US.

“ENEOS is working to build low-cost, stable clean hydrogen supply chains in Japan and overseas,” the release states. “As one aspect of the
initiative, ENEOS is investigating the joint production of hydrogen with business partners in Asia, the Middle East, and Australia as well as the production and transportation of methylcyclohexane (MCH),  an effective medium for the efficient form of hydrogen storage and transportation.”

Established by Azimuth Capital Management, MVCE is developing one of the world’s largest plants for the manufacture of hydrogen, MCH, and ammonia in
the Gulf of Mexico. Through its equity participation, ENEOS will verify the commercial feasibility of manufacturing cost-competitive and clean hydrogen in the Gulf of Mexico and exporting MCH to Japan.

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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 hydrogen developer auditioning bankers

A US-based clean fuels developer has large capital needs for unannounced green hydrogen projects in California and Illinois, as well as an ammonia facility in Texas.

A US-based clean fuels developer has large capital needs for unannounced green hydrogen projects in California and Illinois, as well as an ammonia facility in Texas.

Avina Clean Hydrogen has yet to formally engage an investment banker to raise the equity and debt needed for a trio of projects under development in the US, CEO Vishal Shah said in an interview.

The company, which recently announced the formation of a strategic advisory board composed of executives from companies like Cummins, bp and Rolls Royce, will need $600m or more of debt and between $200m and $300m of equity, as previously reported by ReSource. Capital raising talks are focused on the operating company and project level.

Capital raises for Avina’s 700,000 mtpa green ammonia project in the Texas Gulf Coast and a larger operating company raise will launch next month, Shah said.

“The amounts that we are going to need to raise have gone up,” Shah said. “We are working with a number of banks but we’ve not engaged anyone formally.”

Buildout of the Texas project has been accelerated. The company recently announced an agreement with KBR for that project, which is scheduled to come online next year.

Project level capital has been raised for Texas and a green hydrogen project in Southern California, Shah said. An additional green hydrogen project in Illinois is in development as well.

Finding the renewable power

Renewable power needs for these facilities are big, but Shah said the company doesn’t see a shortage of power. Instead, developers are facing interconnection issues and subsequent cost increases.

Hydrogen developers in California are in many cases offering higher prices for renewable energy than other buyers, Shah said. The issue is that credit-worthy investment counterparties are often seen as more attractive offtakers regardless of the higher price offers from aspiring hydrogen producers.

“I would say California is different,” Shah said. “The offtake market is a challenge.”

There are renewables developers with a genuine interest in hydrogen looking at the sector as a long-term play, Shah said. But for some without a strategic interest in hydrogen, a community choice aggregator offering a 15-year offtake is more certain than a hydrogen developer offering a 10-year offtake; higher price can be seen as a trade-off.

“That’s the nature of the beast, right now.”

Regulatory uncertainty

Investors looking into the space are hesitating to deploy capital in some cases because of uncertainty around IRA clarifications, particularly with regards to the PTC qualifications, Vishal said.

“A lot of the customers, lenders, everybody’s waiting to make decisions,” Vishal said. Offtakers also have hesitations. “Nobody wants to sign long-term contracts in an environment where pricing is not clear.”

Shah said investors should look for offtake when investing in projects. Avina has two of three contracts signed for each of its projects.

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EXCLUSIVE: 8 Rivers co-founder departs firm

A co-founder and executive has departed the North Carolina-based firm, which recently announced an ammonia project in Texas.

Bill Brown, a co-founder of the technology commercialization firm and clean fuels developer 8 Rivers Capital, has retired from the company, a spokesperson confirmed via email.
According to Brown’s LinkedIn profile, he is serving now as CEO of New Waters Capital. He co-founded 8 Rivers and also served as CEO and CTO in this nearly 16 years there.
Brown did not respond to a request for comment.
According to 8 Rivers’ website, Dharmesh Patel is serving as interim CEO. The company recently announced development of the Cormorant Clean Energy ammonia production facility in Port Arthur, Texas
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Government money still top of mind for early movers in US hydrogen

Gaining access to funding from government and other agency sources is top of mind for many developers seeking to de-risk their projects and reach FID. But only hydrogen, ammonia, and other clean fuels projects exhibiting “the best in the business” are garnering support from government financing agencies and commercial lenders, experts say.

The US Department of Energy came out this week with the news that it was not yet ready to release the long-awaited winners of its $8bn hydrogen hubs funding opportunity, as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm noted Monday at the Hydrogen Americas Summit in Washington, DC.

The delay disappointed many in the industry, who are also waiting for crucial guidance from the IRS on rules for clean hydrogen tax credits.

Gaining access to funding from government and other agency sources is top of mind for many developers seeking to de-risk their projects and reach FID. But only hydrogen, ammonia, and other clean fuels projects exhibiting “the best in the business” are garnering support from government financing agencies and commercial lenders.

Speakers on a financing panel at the summit yesterday pointed to the successful FID of the Air Products-backed NEOM green hydrogen project in Saudi Arabia as an effective project finance model, where major sponsors working together helped to de-risk the proposal and attract support from export credit agencies and global banks.

In the US, large players like ExxonMobil (Hydrogen Liftoff Hub), NextEra (Southeast Hydrogen Network), and Chevron (ACES Delta) have applied for DOE hydrogen hubs funding, according to the results of a FOIA request, joining major utilities and other oil and gas companies like bp and Linde in the running for funds.

In addition to inadequate regulatory guidance, some developers have already started grumbling that the proposed government assistance will not be enough to meet the scale of decarbonization needs. And the nascent clean fuels project finance market still needs to sift through techno-economic challenges in order to reach its potential, according to comments made yesterday on a panel called Financing Clean Hydrogen.

Leopoldo Gomez, a vice president of global infrastructure finance at Citi, sees a big role for the project finance framework for hydrogen facilities undertaken by independent project developers as well as strategics looking to strike the appropriate risk allocation for new projects.

And Michael Mudd, a director on BofA’s global sustainable finance team, said hydrogen projects are similar in many ways to established facilities like power and LNG, but with additional complexities, like understanding the impact of intermittent power and how to appropriately scale technologies.

Credibility

This year, Pennsylvania-based Air Products along with ACWA Power and NEOM Company finalized and signed an $8.5bn financing agreement for NEOM the project, which will build 4 GW of renewables powering production of up to 600 tons per day of hydrogen. The National Development Fund and the Saudi Industrial Development Fund kicked in a total of $2.75bn for the project, with the balance covered by a consortium of 23 global lenders.

“It is very important from the financing side to make sure the parties that are at the table are the best in the business, and that’s what we’re seeing with the projects that are able to receive either commitments from the DOE Loan Programs office or from commercial lenders and export credit agencies,” Gomez said.

Highly credible engineering firms are also critical to advance projects, and the EPCs themselves might still need to get comfortable integrating new technologies that add more complexity to projects when compared to power generation or LNG projects.

“The bottom line is that having someone that’s very credible to execute a complex project that involves electrolyzers or carbon capture or new renewable power generation within the parameters of the transaction” is critical for providing risk mitigation for the benefit of investors, Gomez added.

Funding sources

Additional funding sources are intended to be made available for clean fuels projects as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the panelists said.

Most notably, tax credit transferability and the credits in section 45Q for carbon capture and sequestration and 45V for clean hydrogen are available on a long-term basis and as a direct-pay option, which would open up cash flows for developers.

“If you can use [tax credit transfers] as a contract, you can essentially monetize the tax credits in the form of debt and equity,” Mudd said. And if a highly rated corporate entity is the counterparty on the tax transfer, he added, the corporate rating of the buyer can be used to leverage the project for developers that don’t have the tax capacity.

Still, section 45V is potentially the most complex tax credit the market has ever seen, requiring a multi-layer analysis, according to Gomez, who advised patience among developers as prospective lenders evaluate the potential revenue streams from the tax credit market.

“First and foremost we’ll be looking at cash flows driven by the offtake contract, but it will be highly likely that lenders can take a view on […] underwriting 10 years of 45V at a given amount,” Gomez added.

Crucial guidance on how to conduct a lifecycle emissions analysis is still outstanding, however, making it difficult to bring all project parties to the table, according to Shannon Angielski, a principal at law and government relations firm Van Ness Feldman.

“It’s going to hinge on how the lifecycle analyses are conducted and how you have some transparency across states and borders” regarding the potential for a green premium on clean hydrogen, she added.

Agency support

In Canada, the Varennes Carbon Recycling plant in Quebec has received CAD 770m of provincial and federal support, primarily from the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the province of Quebec, noted Amendeep Garcha of Natural Resources Canada.

Around CAD 500m of funding from the Canada Infrastructure bank is also going to support hydrogen refueling infrastructure, Garcha said, with the aim of establishing a hydrogen highway that will form the basis of the hydrogen ecosystem in Quebec.

Pierre Audinet, lead energy specialist from World Bank Group, noted how the international development agency was stepping in to provide support for projects that might otherwise not get off the ground.

“In the world where I work, we face a lot of scarcity of capital,” he noted, adding that the World Bank has backed the implementation of clean fuels policies in India with a $1.5bn loan.

Additionally, the World Bank has supported a $150m project in Chile, providing insurance and capital for a financing facility that will reduce the costs of electrolyzers. Chile, while it benefits from sun and wind resources, said Audinet, is less competitive when it comes to transportation given its geographic location.

The agency is also working to help the local government in the Northeastern Brazil port of Pecem. Shared infrastructure at the port will help reduce risks for investors who have taken a stake in the port facilities, Audinet said.

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