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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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Aemetis closes $25m USDA loan to fund eight additional projects

When completed, the biogas digesters for the combined 15 dairies are designed to produce more than 400,000 MMBtus per year of carbon negative renewable natural gas.

Aemetis, Inc., a renewable natural gas and renewable fuels company focused on negative carbon intensity products, has closed its second $25m, 20-year term loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a total of $50m of Aemetis Biogas project financing arranged by Greater Commercial Lending (GCL) in the past nine months.

The Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy RNG Project is now fully funded to build biogas digesters and related assets for eight additional dairies using the $9.4m of equity financing already provided by Aemetis and the $25m of new debt financing guaranteed by the USDA. Magnolia Bank of Elizabethtown, Kentucky provided the primary funding for the $25 million loan to Aemetis Biogas 2, LLC (AB-2), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aemetis, Inc, according to a news release.

“The USDA Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) provides long term, 20-year financing that enables the construction of projects that improve air quality and reduce carbon pollution such as the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Digester Project,” stated Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis. “We appreciate the good working relationship that has been developed with the team at Greater Commercial Lending and we are pleased to have Magnolia Bank as the new primary lender for the AB-2 phase of the project.”

Aemetis Biogas has built and is fully operating dairy biogas digesters for seven dairies, a 40-mile biogas pipeline, the central biogas-to-RNG production facility and the PG&E gas utility interconnection unit. When completed, the biogas digesters for the combined 15 dairies are designed to produce more than 400,000 MMBtus per year of carbon negative renewable natural gas.

The long-term, 20-year project financing was guaranteed by the USDA through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and carries approximately an 8.75% fixed interest rate for the first five years. With two REAP loans closed and three more REAP loans in process, Aemetis Biogas is currently arranging $125 million of 20-year debt funding for the development, construction and operation of the Aemetis Central Dairy Digester project which has already signed 37 dairies and plans to build digesters for 65 dairies within the next 60 months.

Aemetis Biogas is building passive solar anaerobic digesters at dairies to capture biomethane from animal waste. After removal of key contaminants and gas pressurization at the dairy, a biogas pipeline connects the dairies to a central facility located at the Keyes ethanol plant where the biogas is converted into below zero carbon intensity RNG. The RNG is tested and odorized in an interconnection unit, then injected into the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) gas pipeline for delivery to transportation fuel customers throughout California. In addition to delivery of RNG through third parties, Aemetis is building an onsite RNG fueling station to fuel local trucks.

About 25% of the methane emissions in California are emitted from dairy waste lagoons. When fully built, the Aemetis biogas project plans to connect dairy digesters spanning more than 65 dairy farms, producing more than 1,650,000 MMBtu of renewable natural gas from captured dairy methane each year. The project is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to an estimated 6.8 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide over ten years, equal to removing the emissions from approximately 150,000 cars per year.

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AIMCo establishes $1bn energy transition fund

The Alberta Investment Management Corporation, part of a consortium of investors in the ACES Delta hydrogen project, has established a $1bn funding pool dedicated to the energy transition and decarbonization.

The Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) today outlined its approach to climate investing and introduced its Energy Transition Opportunities Pool (ETOP), which is a $1bn fund dedicated to investing in the global energy transition and decarbonization sectors.

“AIMCo has been strategically evaluating climate change risks and opportunities for the last decade and the organization has a strong track record of making investments in the energy transition space,” said Marlene Puffer, Chief Investment Officer, AIMCo, in a news release. “Our climate approach provides important transparency around how we consider climate in our investments and how we will, over the long run, help reduce emissions.”

AIMCo’s climate approach includes the introduction of a climate taxonomy that evaluates and classifies the energy transition readiness and carbon intensity of existing and new investments. This tool helps the investment teams analyze climate risk within client portfolios, as well as measure and improve total portfolio transition readiness.

The initial $1bn in AIMCo’s ETOP represents new capital. The investments made through ETOP will be in addition to AIMCo’s other climate-related investments across asset classes. Many of AIMCo’s clients have allocated funds to the new pool, which will offer them exposure to a variety of energy transition opportunities and themes, including:

  • Industrial decarbonization, carbon capture and sequestration
  • Sustainable solutions and renewable fuels
  • Low-carbon renewable energy production and related technologies
  • Electrification, storage and energy efficiency

“We are gratified by our clients’ commitment both to the new pool and to our shared objective of supporting and benefiting from energy transition and decarbonization opportunities,” said Ben Hawkins, Executive Managing Director, Head of Infrastructure & Renewable Resources.

For more information about the climate approach and the ETOP, please click here.

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Raven SR raises $15m, makes board appointments

Ascent Funds led the latest $15m investment into the renewable fuels firm, with contributions from existing investors Chevron New Energies, ITOCHU Corp. and Stellar J Corp.

Raven SR Inc., a renewable fuels company, has board additions and an executive promotion, coupled with securing $15m in new investments.

The company said the latest fundraising underscores the confidence in Raven SR’s proprietary Steam/CO2 Reforming technology that converts various waste streams into renewable transportation fuels like hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The process outperforms all known alternatives in efficiency, producing more hydrogen and SAF per ton of waste, according to the company.

In August, 2021, Raven closed on a $20m strategic investment from Chevron U.S.A., ITOCHU Corporation, Hyzon Motors Inc. and Ascent Hydrogen Fund. Samsung Ventures made a strategic investment earlier this year, allowing the company to expand into the Asia-Pacific market.

In 2022 it launched a Series C funding round led by Barclays and BofA Securities.

In addition to today’s funding milestone, Raven SR said Stuart McFarland, former CFO of Fannie Mae, has been appointed chairman of the Board of Directors, with Mark Gordon, chief investment officer of Ascent Funds, as vice chairman.

Named as new board members: Justin Heyman, managing director of RockCreek Group, and Robert Kinghorn, founder and CEO of Stellar J Corp. Matt Scanlon, the current CFO, has been promoted to president and interim CFO.

Ascent Funds, a venture capital fund dedicated to advancing the energy transition, led the latest $15m investment, with contributions from existing investors Chevron New Energies, ITOCHU Corp. and Stellar J Corp., the engineering, procurement and construction company managing construction of Raven SR’s hydrogen project in Richmond, California.

“Raven SR is pleased to have the continued and enhanced support of our investors as we move toward construction of our organic waste-to-hydrogen facility,” said Matt Murdock, founder and CEO of Raven SR. “This funding is crucial for finalizing our production setup, and the expanded board strengthens our team for the next phase.”

McFarland said he was honored by the board’s trust in his leadership and is looking forward to teaming with Murdock as they move the company ahead. McFarland also acknowledged the support from shareholders and the dedicated project team, emphasizing their importance in Raven SR’s journey.

“With this solid foundation, 2024 is shaping up to be a landmark year for Raven SR as it commercializes its Steam/CO2 Reforming technology to bring clean and sustainable fuel to the world,” said McFarland.

Raven SR’s unique process is non-combustion and catalyst-free as verified by the California EPA. The Richmond project is the first and only California Environmental Quality Act-permitted biomass-to-hydrogen facility in the state.

The Steam/CO2 Reforming technology diverts waste from landfills, produces a carbon-negative fuel and ensures a low carbon footprint compared to traditional hydrogen production methods, placing Raven at the forefront of the waste-to-hydrogen sector.

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Buckeye Partners closes acquisition of Bear Head Energy

Buckeye Partners has closed on the acquisition of Bear Head Energy.

Buckeye Partners has closed on the acquisition of Bear Head Energy, Inc., according to a news release.

Bear Head is developing a large-scale green hydrogen and ammonia production, storage and export project in Point Tupper, Nova Scotia with hydrogen electrolyzer capacity of more than 2 GW.

As part of the project’s phased development, Buckeye plans to partner with on-shore and off-shore renewable energy developers to build out a large-scale green hydrogen hub for Atlantic Canada.

Buckeye established its Alternative Energy operating segment as a clean energy business that focuses on the development, construction, and operation of alternative energy projects, including hydrogen, wind, and solar-powered energy solutions.

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Exclusive: Glenfarne exploring hydrogen projects on existing asset base

Glenfarne Energy Transition is advancing its flagship liquefied natural gas project, Texas LNG, and evaluating hydrogen projects on or near its existing asset base on the Gulf Coast.

The Biden administration’s pause on permits for new US liquefied natural gas facilities hasn’t hurt all unbuilt projects.

Glenfarne Energy Transition, a subsidiary of Glenfarne Group, is moving ahead with its fully permitted lower-carbon flagship LNG export facility, Texas LNG, as the project is now set up to be the only such US project to reach FID this year.

Texas LNG, a 4 million MTPA facility proposed for Brownsville, Texas, will be the lowest carbon emitting LNG facility approved in the US, largely due to its use of electric motors in refrigerated compression. 

As designed, the plant would emit .15 metric tons of CO2e per ton of LNG produced, placing it slightly lower than the much larger Freeport LNG facility, which also has electric motors and emits around .17 metric tons of CO2 per ton of LNG.

The carbon intensity measurement counts emissions at the Texas LNG plant only, and not related emissions from the electric grid, which is why Glenfarne is seeking to source power for the project from wind and solar generation in south Texas, Adam Prestidge, senior vice president at Glenfarne, said in an interview.

In fact, the lower carbon aspects of Texas LNG helps with every element of the project, Prestidge said, including conversations with European offtakers and potential debt investors.

“Having a focus on sustainability is table stakes for every conversation,” he added. “It’s the finance side, it’s the offtake side, it’s our conversations with regulatory agencies.”

LNG pause

Glenfarne is seeking to raise up to $5bn of equity and debt for the project, according to news reports, a process that could benefit from the Biden administration’s pause on issuing permits for LNG projects that export to countries without free-trade agreements with the US.

“Our confidence and our timetable for that has probably been accelerated and cemented by the fact we are fully permitted, despite the Biden LNG pause impacting the broader market,” Prestidge said.

“The market has pretty quickly recognized that if you want to invest in LNG or buy LNG from a project that’s going to FID in 2024, you really don’t have very many fully permitted options right now.”

Glenfarne’s other US LNG project, called Magnolia LNG, has not yet received the required federal approvals and is therefore on pause along with a handful of other projects.

For Magnolia, Glenfarne is proposing to use a technology for which it owns the patent: optimized single mixed refrigerant, or OSMR, which uses ammonia instead of propane for cooling, resulting in less feed gas needed to run the facility and thus about 30% lower emissions than the average gas-powered LNG facility, Prestidge said.

Hydrogen projects

Glenfarne Energy Transition last year announced the formation of its hydrogen initiative, saying that projects in Chile, Texas, and Louisiana would eventually produce 1,500 kilotons of ammonia. 

“We’ve got existing infrastructure in the US Gulf Coast, and in Chile. A lot of the infrastructure required to produce LNG is similar or can be easily adapted to the infrastructure needed to produce ammonia,” Prestidge said. “And so, we’ve looked at locating hydrogen and ammonia production at sites in or near the ports of Brownsville and Lake Charles,” where Texas LNG and Magnolia LNG are located, respectively.

“The familiarity with the sites and the infrastructure and the local elements, make those pretty good fits for us,” he added.

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Biomass technology company launching US projects

Comstock Inc, a biomass technology company, is gearing up to build a fleet of plants that will use yield-enhancing technology to convert woody biomass into clean fuels.

Comstock Inc, a biomass technology company, is gearing up to build a fleet of plants that will use yield-enhancing new technology to process woody biomass into an intermediate product that can be further refined into clean fuels.

The company, traditionally a miner focused on gold and silver mining in Nevada, has been transformed into a technology innovator seeking to build, own, and operate a portfolio of carbon neutral extraction and refining facilities in the US, CEO Corrado De Gasperis said in an interview.

“We’re finalizing all of our documentation on readiness and engineering, and then we’ll be working to select an EPC, and then we’ll be ready to bond and finance,” he said.

Comstock, which trades on the NYSE, is currently engaged in the process of securing access to feedstock, and has mapped out nine regions in the U.S. which, combined, produce between 85 – 100 million tons of woody biomass residuals per year.

In parallel, the company is seeking to incentivize growth of trees like hybrid poplar that can be used as feedstock in the future, De Gasperis said. “We’re going to be building the backend of the supply chain with a feedstock strategy, accessing existing residuals, and then building these facilities,” he added.

In Minnesota, for example, there are around 300 sawmills with no place to send their sawdust and excess woodchips following the closure of several wood-to-energy plants, said David Winsness, a president at Comstock.

“Those are the materials that shouldn’t be sitting there – we should be converting them into fuel,” Winsness said.

Building plants

The company has set an objective to generate “billions” in revenue by 2030 – something it would achieve largely through building and operating the woody biomass plants near where the feedstock is located. Comstock also sells related services and licenses selected technologies to strategic partners.

Using simple math, Comstock could achieve its revenue goal by building and operating 10 facilities that produce approximately 1 million tons of clean fuels per year.

A plant producing 1 million tons per year would require capex of between $600m – $750m to build, and would likely be constructed using a project finance funding model, De Gasperis said. The company has not yet selected a financial advisor.

De Gasperis believes large refiners will want to co-build the facilities along with Comstock – which could also entail a strategic equity investment from the selected refiner and lead to a faster construction process.

“Speed and throughput is the goal,” he said, noting that the company has been engaged with roughly 12 of the large clean fuels refiners on a potential partnership. “The faster we’re producing these carbon-neutral gallons, the faster we’re decarbonizing, and the faster we’re making money.”

The company has private equity funds and infrastructure funds on their radar as potential investors but has not engaged with them yet.

The other half

Comstock’s technological breakthrough comes in its ability to produce a biointermediary – called bioleum – from a part of the woody biomass that is not cellulose, and which can be used to produce drop-in fuels. (Importantly, under new EPA rules implemented in June 2022, biointermediaries such as bioleum can be sold on to refiners, whereas previous rules required co-location with the refineries.)

“Cellulose only counts for 50% of a tree,” said Winsness. “For every gallon of fuel generated from cellulose, we’re getting another gallon from the byproduct. It’s a huge change for the industry to be able to get that much more throughput from the same amount of biomass.”

The Department of Energy recently issued a funding opportunity for projects that can produce more than 60 gallons of ethanol from 1 ton of wood feedstock, De Gasperis said.

“We saw that and we said, ‘We’re already there. We can do much more,’” he added.

Comstock can currently produce about 70 gallons of ethanol from 1 ton of wood, using cellulose. Meanwhile, with the non-cellulose half of the wood in 1 ton of feedstock, the technology can produce an additional 30 – 40 gallons of renewable diesel or aviation fuel.

The company has partnered on a process to convert ethanol to drop-in fuel, with the ultimate goal of producing 100 gallons of drop-in fuels from 1 ton of wood feedstock, according to De Gasperis. “All of our development is to stabilize the breakthrough we had on the bioleum – the heavy cellulose components of the wood is where our technology breaks through and shatters this.”

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