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Exclusive: Carbon conversion startup planning capital raise

A Halliburton Labs-backed startup is developing a pilot plant in the Pacific Northwestern US, while forming financial relationships for an industrial-scale carbon conversion facility in the same location.

OCOchem, a Washington state-based carbon conversion startup, will seek new capital partners to build its first commercial scale facility in 2026, CEO Todd Brix said in an interview.

Starting in late 2024 or early 2025, the company will likely go to market for new liquidity – including project debt and equity, Brix said. He declined to talk about capex, but said the first commercial plant in Richland, Washington will cost “multiple tens of millions of dollars.”

The company is working with two EPCs now and is represented legally by Miller Nash law firm in the Pacific Northwest, Brix said. The company does not have a formal relationship with an investment bank but will likely form one for a Series A and later rounds.

“We’ve been in touch with a number of private equity and project finance people,” Brix said of early-stage discussions.

OCOchem is considering land options in Richland for its first plant and is organizing to begin permitting, Brix said. There is opportunity to form relationships with industrial partners in need of an offtaker for their CO2 emissions and new incremental revenue streams, as well as customers for chloral hydrates and other formic acid products.

“We expect to build hundreds of these plants all around the planet,” Brix said, referring to the process of electrochemically converting emitted CO2 and water to formic acid, which can then be used to make a suite of products like hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and formate (methanoate) derivatives. “We are close to industrial size on our plants right now.”

CO2 is captured from steam methane reformers, natural gas processing and piping, and ammonia production, among other processes. The gas is then combined with water in a cellular, modular process producing formic acid, derivatives of which can be used in a range of industries like pharmaceuticals.

The company recently raised $5m in seed funding from lead investor TO VC, which joined backers LCY Lee Family Office, MIH Capital Management, and Halliburton Labs. An additional $8m has been raised in grant funding from the US departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD).

The company is also partnered with the Nutrien Corporation on a small scale facility in Kennewick, Washington, just upriver from Richland, Brix said. Financing for that project is largely arranged with the FEED completed.

Brix owns a majority of the company with his father.

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ITM Power gets 100 MW electrolyzer capacity reservation

The UK based electrolyzer maker signed the capacity reservation with Shell Deutschland.

ITM Power has signed a capacity reservation with Shell Deutschland GmbH, under which Shell has secured future production capacity for the manufacturing of its electrolyser stacks, according to the company.

The reservation covers 100 MW of TRIDENT electrolyser stacks to be manufactured in calendar years 2025 to 2026 in relation to the Refhyne 2 project at the Shell Energy and Chemical Plant in Rhineland, Germany, which remains subject to a final investment decision.

Dennis Schulz, CEO ITM, said: “Today‘s announcement is yet another validation of our technology and credibility to deliver at scale, providing reassuring recognition by a world-leading industrial customer. The capacity reservation also reflects the upcoming challenge for customers to secure credible large-scale delivery capability within the PEM electrolyser sphere, against a quickly growing demand.”

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EU innovation fund contributes to two RWE projects

The FUREC project in the Netherlands and an offshore wind farm in Germany are among a total of 17 projects selected by the EU Innovation Fund for the preparation of grant agreements.

German multinational RWE is involved in two hydrogen projects that have been pre-selected for funding by the EU Innovation Fund, according to a press release. The FUREC project in the Netherlands and an offshore wind farm in Germany are among a total of 17 projects selected by the EU Innovation Fund for the preparation of grant agreements.

RWE wants to produce hydrogen for the chemical industry. Household waste from Limburg in the Netherlands is to replace natural gas. The FUREC project includes a plant under construction in Limburg to process household waste into pellets, to then be converted into hydrogen in a separate plant in Limburg’s Chemelot industrial park.

Nordsee Two is majority owned by RWE (51%) and minority by Canadian partner Northland Power (49%). A planned 433 MW wind farm off the German coast is scheduled to start commercial operation in 2026. The partners aim to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of producing hydrogen at sea. An electrolyser is planned to be integrated into the offshore wind farm for the production of green hydrogen for vessel fueling and to supply emergency power to the offshore substation.

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US fuel cell developer garners tax equity investments

Connecticut-based fuel cell developer FuelCell Energy has closed on tax equity financings supporting at least three fuel cell projects in the US.

Connecticut-based fuel cell developer FuelCell Energy has closed on tax equity financings supporting at least three fuel cell projects in the US.

The company closed on a tax equity financing transaction with East West Bank for the 7.4 MW fuel cell project located on the US Navy Submarine Base in Groton, CT, also known as the Submarine Force. East West Bank’s tax equity commitment, closed in August 2021, totals $15m.

FuelCell Energy installed 7.4 MW of SureSource™ power platforms at the U.S. Navy Submarine Base in Groton, CT to provide a long-term supply of power to an existing electrical substation, according to a news release. The fuel cell plant is part of a multifaceted plan by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative to provide new power resources and support the desire of the Department of Defense to add resiliency and grid independence to key military installations. The highly efficient fuel cell power generation project minimizes carbon output while providing continuous power to the strategic military base. The U.S. Navy continues to purchase power from CMEEC and Groton Utilities, who in turn purchase the power from FuelCell Energy under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

This pay-as-you-go structure enables CMEEC and the Navy to avoid a direct investment in owning the power plant which will be operated and maintained by the company.

The company also closed on a tax equity sale-leaseback financing transaction for the 1.4 MW SureSource 1500™ biofuels fuel cell project with the City of San Bernardino Municipal Water Department in California with Crestmark Equipment Finance, a division of MetaBank®. Crestmark’s commitment totals $10.2m through a ten-year sale-leaseback structure and further demonstrates the market’s interest in FuelCell Energy’s differentiated ability to use on-site biofuels, to eliminate flaring and deliver carbon neutral decarbonization energy platforms.

A third tax equity investment in 2021 came from Franklin Park for the 7.4  MW fuel cell project located in Yaphank, Long Island, in New York. Franklin Park’s tax equity commitment totals $12.7m following the declaration of mechanical completion of the project.

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Exclusive: E-fuels developer raising $500m

A developer of green hydrogen for e-fuel products is looking for a more diverse set of backers for a recently launched Series C capital raise.

Ineratec, the German power-to-liquid fuels developer and technology provider, has launched a $500m Series C and could take on a US-based financial advisor to help, CEO Tim Boeltken said in an interview.

German boutique Pava Partners helped Ineratec on its $129m Series B, which was led by Piva Capital. The Series B raise, which was announced in January, also included participation from HG Ventures, TDK Ventures, Copec WIND Ventures, RockCreek, Emerald, Samsung Ventures as well as the increased support from current investors, including global corporates like ENGIE New Ventures, Safran Corporate Ventures and Honda.

The Series C can include equity, debt and project finance, Boeltken said.

The company, which takes a modular approach to fuels production, serves customers in Switzerland, Spain and Finland. Its e-fuels process involves two main steps: first, turning CO2 and hydrogen into synthesis gas, then using a second reactor to turn the synthesis gas into liquid and solid hydrocarbons, according to its website.

Growth in the US would include eventual rollout of its 100 MW commercial unit, none of which have been built to date. Now the company is focused on its 10 MW commercial units, following completion of a 1 MW industrial plant operating now.

In the next month Ineratec will be scouting locations in the US, Boeltken said, adding the the company is “hoping for many, many US installations” with eyes on additional applications in South America and Japan. The company also intends to establish a US headquarters.

Sites in New York and California are of first interest but there are also growth intentions in Texas, Washington state and Appalachia.

Ineratec is currently raising project finance for a “triple-digit” million capex project in the Europe, he said.

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Advisor Profile: Cameron Lynch of Energy & Industrial Advisory Partners

The veteran engineer and financial advisor sees widespread opportunity for capital deployment into early-stage renewable fuel companies.

Cameron Lynch, co-founder and managing partner at Energy & Industrial Advisory Partners, sees prodigious opportunity to pick up mandates in the hydrogen sector as young companies and early movers attract well-capitalized investors looking for auspicious valuations.

The firm, a three-year-old boutique investment banking outfit with offices in New York and Houston, is broadly committed to the energy transition, but is recruiting for new personnel with hydrogen expertise, Lynch said, adding that he is preparing for a new level of dealmaking in the new year.

“I think we can all expect 2023 will be even more of a record year, just given the appetite for hydrogen,” Lynch said. “Hydrogen is one of our core focuses for next year.”

Cameron Lynch

Lynch started his career as a civil & structural engineer and moved into capital equipment manufacturing and leasing for oil & gas, and also industrial gasses –things like cryoge

nic handling equipment for liquid nitrogen. He started the London office of an Aberdeen, U.K.-based M&A firm, before repeating that effort in New York.

Founding EIAP, Lynch and his business partner Sean Shafer have turned toward the energy transition and away from conventional energy. The firm works on the whole of decarbonization but has found the most success in the hydrogen space.

Earlier lifecycle, better valuations

Hydrogen intersects with oil& gas, nuclear, chemicals, midstream companies, and major manufacturing.

Large private equity funds that want to get into the space are realizing that if they don’t want to pay “ridiculous valuations for hydrogen companies” they must take on earlier-stage risk, Lynch said.

Interest from big private equity is therefore comparatively high for early-stage capital raising in the hydrogen sector, Lynch said, particularly where funds have the option to deploy more capital in the future, Lynch said.

“They’re willing to take that step down to what would normally be below their investment threshold.”

Lynch, who expects to launch several transactions in the coming months with EIAP, has a strong background in oil & gas, and views hydrogen valuations as a compelling opportunity now.

“It’s very refreshing to be working on stuff that’s attracting these superb valuations,” Lynch said.

There’s a lot of non-dilutive money in the market and the Inflation Reduction Act has been a major boon to investors, Lynch said. For small companies, getting a slice of the pie is potentially life changing.

Sean Shafer

The hydrogen space is not immune to the macroeconomic challenges that renewables have faced in recent months and years, Lynch said. But as those same challenges have accelerated the move toward energy security, hydrogen stands to benefit.

Supply chain issues post-COVID pose a potential long-term concern in the industry, and equity and debt providers question the availability of compressors and lead times.

“I would say that’s one of the key issues out there,” Lynch said. There’s also the question of available infrastructure and the extent to which new infrastructure will be built out for hydrogen.

EIAP sees the most convincing uses for hydrogen near term in light-weight mobility and aerospace, Lynch said. The molecule also has a strong use case in back-up generation.

Hydrogen additionally presents companies in traditional fossil fuel verticals the opportunity to modernize, Lynch said, citing a secondary trade EIAP completed earlier this year

California’s Suburban Propane Partners acquired a roughly 25% equity stake in Ashburn, Virginia-based Independence Hydrogen, Inc. The deal involved the creation of a new subsidiary, Suburban Renewable Energy, as part of its long-term strategic goal of building out a renewable energy platform.

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Analysis: Premium for clean hydrogen unlikely

A group of hydrogen offtakers say they have every intention of decarbonizing their fuel intake, but barring the implementation of a carbon-pricing mechanism, paying a premium for it is unrealistic.

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act ignited investor interest in the global market for clean hydrogen and derivatives like ammonia and methanol, but offtake demand would be better characterized as a flicker.

And while many questions about the nascent market for green hydrogen remain unanswered, one thing is clear: offtakers seem uninterested in paying a “green premium” for clean fuels.

That doesn’t mean offtakers aren’t interested in using clean fuels – quite the opposite. As many large industrial players worldwide consider decarbonization strategies, hydrogen and its derivatives must play a significant role.

Carbon pricing tools such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism in Europe could introduce a structural pricing premium for clean products. And industry participants have called for carbon levies to boost clean fuels, most recently Trafigura, which released a white paper today advocating for a carbon tax on fossil-based shipping fuels.

But the business case for clean fuels by itself presents an element of sales risk for potential offtakers, who would have to try to pass on higher costs to customers. Even so, there is an opportunity for offtakers to make additional sales and gain market share using decarbonization as a competitive advantage while seeking to share costs and risks along the value chain.

“It’s a very difficult sell internally to say we’re going to stop using natural gas and pay more for a different fuel,” said Jared Elvin, renewable energy lead at consumer goods company Kimberly-Clark. “That is a pickle.”

Needing clean fuels to reach net zero

Heavy-duty and long-haul transportation is viewed as a clear use case for clean fuels, but customers for those fuels are highly sensitive to price.

“We’re very demand focused, very customer focused,” said Ashish Bhakta, zero emission business development manager at Trillium, a company that owns the Love’s Travel Shop brand gas stations. “That leads us to be fuel-agnostic.”

Trillium is essentially an EPC for fueling stations with an O&M staff for maintenance, Bhakta said.

As many customers consider their own transitions to zero-emissions, they are thinking through EV as well as hydrogen, he said. Hydrogen is considered better for range, fueling speed and net-payload for mobility, all of which bodes well for the clean fuels industry.

One sticking point is price, he said. Shippers are highly sensitive to changes in fuel cost – and asking them to pay a premium doesn’t go far.

Alessandra Klockner, manager of decarbonization and energy solutions manager at Brazilian mining giant Vale, said her employer is seeking partnerships with manufacturers, particularly in steel, to decarbonize its component chain.

In May Vale and French direct reduced iron (DRI) producer GravitHy signed an MoU to jointly evaluate the construction of a DRI production plant using hydrogen as a feedstock in Fos-sur-Mer, France. The company also has steel decarbonization agreements in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

In the near term, 60% of Vale’s carbon reductions will come from prioritizing natural gas, Klockner said. But to reach net zero, the company will need clean hydrogen.

“There’s not many options for this route, to reach net zero,” she said. “Clean hydrogen is pretty much the only solution that we see.”

Elvin, of Kimberly-Clark, noted that his company is developing its own three green hydrogen projects in the UK, meant to supply for local use at the source.

“We’re currently design-building our third hydrogen fueling facility for public transit,” he said. “We’re basically growing and learning and getting ready for this transition.”

The difficulty of a “green premium

The question of affordability persists in the clean fuels space.

“There are still significant cost barriers,” said Cihang Yuan, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, an NGO that has taken an active role in promoting clean fuels. “We need more demand-side support to really overcome that barrier and help users to switch to green hydrogen.”

Certain markets will have to act as incubators for the sector, and cross-collaboration from production to offtake can help bring prices down, according to Elvin. Upstream developers should try to collaborate early on with downstream users to “get the best bang for your buck” upstream, as has been happening thus far, he added.

Risk is prevalently implied in the space and must be shared equitably between developers, producers and offtakers, he said.

“We’ve all got to hold hands and move forward in this, because if one party is not willing to budge on any risk and not able to look at the mitigation options then they will fail,” he said. “We all have to share some sort of risk in these negotiations.”

The mining and steel industries have been discussing the concept of a green premium, Klockner said. Green premiums have actually been applied in some instances, but in very niche markets and small volumes.

“Who is going to absorb these extra costs?” she said. “Because we know that to decarbonize, we are going to have an extra cost.”

The final clients are not going to accept a green premium, she said. To overcome this, Vale plans to work alongside developers to move past the traditional buyer-and-seller model and into a co-investment strategy.

“We know those developers have a lot of challenges,” she said. “I think we need to exchange those challenges and build the business case together. That’s the only way that I see for us to overcome this cost issue.”

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