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Exclusive: Coal bed methane producer seeking capital partners

A western US company producing RNG by injecting biomass into coal seams is preparing a Series B and has a line of site to financing and contracting EPC for a series of projects in western coal fields.

Cowboy Clean Fuels, a Wyoming-based RNG producer, is preparing to launch a Series B to reach commercialization, CEO Ryan Waddington told ReSource.

CCF injects biomass feedstock like molasses into the coal seams of spent coal mines about 1,000 ft. below surface, relying on the endogenous microorganisms living in those seams to produce methane, Waddington said. Capex on projects is low, up to $6m each.

The company raised $10m in a Series A and will seek to raise that same amount for a Series B. The company has been assisted by Syren Capital Advisors.

Projects are set up as separate entities under the parent, Waddington said. Six projects, each ranging from 70 to 300 wells, are in the company’s pipeline now in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

“We can replicate this 1,000 times,” Waddington said of the immense number of available wells in the region, which can be acquired cheaply. Additional growth could come in the San Juan region of New Mexico, where coal capacity is being retired quickly.

The fuels could be sold as renewable diesel into markets with incentives, like California’s LCFS, Waddington said. The renewable fuel is significantly (10X) more expensive than natural gas produced as a by-product of oil production. But, CCF is not looking to participate in the LCFS program or the EPA-run RFS program.

“The voluntary market for RNG has really taken off,” he said. A contract for renewable diesel offtake is pending with a Wyoming-based oil and gas company looking to lower its CI score.

CCF’s projects are much larger than a typical RNG project, Waddington said; the first project will produce at some 700 cfpy and include 185 tons of CCS. CCF is looking for EPC providers now.

The executive team of CCF has a minority position of the company, Waddington said. The founders and the management team together have a majority position.

The company’s first 139-well project in Wyoming is awaiting final approval from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

CCF is primarily VC-backed to date. The company received approximately $7.8m through the Energy Matching Funds program of the Wyoming Energy Authority early this year.

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California Resources appoints CFO from Sempra Energy

CRC has appointed Nelly Molina as its new CFO. She most recently held senior finance positions at Sempra Energy.

California Resources Corporation, an independent energy and carbon management company committed to energy transition, today announced that Manuela (Nelly) Molina has been appointed as executive vice president and chief financial officer, effective May 8, according to a news release.

As previously announced, CRC’s prior CFO Francisco Leon was named President and Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Company’s Board of Directors as of April 28, 2023.

Molina is an energy executive with more than 25 years of corporate finance, capital markets and project financing experience and brings an extensive background in the development of energy infrastructure projects in the natural gas and power sectors. She joins CRC from Sempra Energy, where she held various senior finance leadership roles, including most recently as vice president of audit services and vice president of investor relations.

Earlier in her tenure at Sempra Energy, she served as CFO of Infraestructura Energética Nova, S.A.P.I. de C.V. (IEnova), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, which was listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange until October 2021. During her time at IEnova, she completed over $10bn of financing initiatives, including the company’s initial public offering. Previously, Molina served in leadership roles with Kinder Morgan and the former El Paso Corporation in Mexico.

“I am thrilled to welcome Nelly to the CRC team,” said Francisco Leon, president and CEO of CRC. “She has a strong track record of driving growth and expertise in navigating today’s evolving energy industry. With her financial acumen and prior experience in disciplined planning, execution and compliance, I look forward to working together as we continue to advance on our strategic realignment of our business operations and structure and focus on driving cash flow generation, enhancing our financial flexibility and delivering value for our shareholders.”

Molina said, “I am honored to join CRC as its next CFO and build upon the Company’s strong financial foundation. This is a great organization with significant opportunities for sustainable future growth and value creation. As the Company carries on with its energy transition initiatives, I’m excited to work with Francisco and the rest of the team to expand on the carbon management business, safely produce and deliver low carbon intensity energy to the local communities where CRC operates and help California achieve its climate goals.”

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Technology in focus: Drilling down on geologic hydrogen

Some three decades after accumulations of geologic hydrogen were first discovered, investors and federal regulators are starting to pour resources into figuring out how to extract it – and make it profitable, Bianca Giacobone reports.

What if, instead of extracting oil and gas from the ground, we could extract hydrogen, and tap into what was likely the original energy source for life on Earth to solve the net-zero problem for the future?

Geologic hydrogen is naturally occurring hydrogen that exists in subsurface deposits and has all the net-zero properties of the green hydrogen the clean fuels industry is laboring to produce. Also known as white hydrogen or natural hydrogen, it was discovered with a flare of it caught fire in Mali, in 1987. But only recently, amid the hunt for as many renewable resources as possible, have money movers started paying attention.

In February, Koloma, a geologic hydrogen start-up, announced it had raised over $245m in Series B funding from investors such as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, United, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. And the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $20m to 16 projects exploring the topic through ARPA-E, the agency that supports the research and development of high-risk, high-reward energy technologies.

The same month, Pete Johnson, Koloma’s CEO, testified at a dedicated Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing. “Geologic hydrogen is domestic primary energy,” he said. “All other forms of hydrogen require more energy to produce than the hydrogen itself holds. But geologic hydrogen is a source of energy.”

High risk, high reward

Given the amount of resources going into establishing myriad types of hydrogen production around the world, it could be more convenient to drill and extract hydrogen from the ground – a resource that is plentiful, if hard to estimate, according to scientists.

“If we look at the most probable value, it’s maybe 5 million megatons” said Geoffrey Ellis, who leads the U.S. Geological Survey’s research on geologic hydrogen resources, referring to the unit for one million metric tons. “Just a small fraction of that, one or two percent, could actually provide all of the hydrogen that we would need to get to net zero for hundreds of years.”

The related technology and research is in its early stages – something that was reiterated multiple times during the February Senate hearing – but it could be prime time for investors with an appetite for high risk-high reward investments.

The first exploratory well was drilled in Nebraska in 2019 by the start-up Natural Hydrogen Energy, and since then the number of companies active in the space has grown from two to around 50, according to data collected by Viacheslav Zgonnik, a geochemist and CEO of Natural Hydrogen Energy.

“Most of the areas where we estimate there is hydrogen are available,” said Zgonnik. “So right now it's a good moment to invest for cheap.”

By the end of the year, the U.S. Geological Survey plans to release an initial map with the best locations to start doing more detailed geologic hydrogen exploration in the United States, and ARPA-E plans to have a completed GREET model for GHG life cycle analysis, which is expected to confirm geologic hydrogen’s low GHG emissions and qualify it for 45V tax credits.

According to sources active in the space, the tax credits are essential to kickstart a new geologic hydrogen industry that, like most new industries, is bound to have some uneconomical moments in its early stages. Indeed, a group of geological hydrogen producers co-signed a comment letter to the US Treasury as part of the 45V rulemaking process, urging the adoption of geologic hydrogen within the 45VH2-GREET model and a “predictable and speedy” process for determining provisional emissions rates for hydrogen production technologies that are not represented in the model.

Dig deeper

Preliminary data by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that hydrogen could be in some areas along the East coast of the United States, as well as on the mid-continental rift (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota up into Canada and then down into Michigan) and much of the Pacific Northwest, according to Ellis.

That’s where iron rich rocks known as ultramafic can be found, which, when hit with water, produce hydrogen gas.

“Ultramafic rocks are currently known to produce significant hydrogen,” said Tucker Ely at 39 Alpha Research, one of the teams that received ARPA-E funding. “But the Earth's surface maintains a large diversity of other rocks with hydrogen-producing potential, and we will be exploring many of these in this project.”

Ultramafic rocks, however, are, for the most part, on ocean floors, which are hard and expensive to access. 39 Alpha Research specializes in mathematical techniques that determine how much hydrogen is contained in different compositions of rock and water, hoping to find the most economical system and provide guidance to companies on where to drill their wells.

The nonprofit’s interest in geologic hydrogen was spurred by projects for producing hydrogen funded by NASA.

“It's wild that NASA was funding research to understand the solar system and other worlds, and that the tools we made along the way are going to help us understand an alternative fuel source and really drive a clean energy transition,” said Cole Mathis at 39 Alpha Research.

Which rocks, which fluids, where, the presence of geologic hydrogen accumulations large enough to be commercial, and what the production rates will look like are some of the many unknowns that make geologic hydrogen a risky scenario for investors.

“The only way to answer those questions is to drill,” said Zgonnik. “And the only way to drill the wells is for investors to fund the drilling. We don't have much time and natural hydrogen can give us speed, because we can leverage existing infrastructure from oil and gas industries.”

In addition to Natural Energy Hydrogen’s exploratory well in Nebraska, companies like Koloma and HyTerra have also started drilling in the Midwest the past couple of years, the latter through its Project Nemaha, in Kansas, which could produce between 111,738 and 565,390 tonnes of hydrogen, according to a prospective resource assessment released in December 2023.

For the project, the assessment also estimated between 37 and 1,629 million metric cubic feet of recoverable helium, a gas that can be found with hydrogen, and is 25 times more expensive by unit of volume, a strong economic incentive for hydrogen exploration.

Even if it all ends up not working out in the end, scientists say its potential is enough to dig deeper.

“Last time we developed a new source of energy was 100 years ago with nuclear energy,” said Zgonnik. “This is something else, it’s something new, an additional source of primary energy, of which there are a very limited number.”

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Ares acquires RNG developer

Ares has made a strategic investment to acquire RNG developer Dynamic Renewables in a process run by Lazard.

Dynamic Renewables, a full-service developer, owner and operator of waste management and anaerobic digestion renewable fuel projects across the U.S., has been acquired by fund managed by Ares Management’s Infrastructure Opportunities strategy, according to a news release.

In addition, an unregulated affiliate of NorthWestern Energy has acquired a small minority stake in the company.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Lazard acted as financial advisor to Dynamic on the transaction. Husch Blackwell served as legal counsel to Dynamic. Latham & Watkins LLP served as legal counsel to Ares.

The investment from Ares is intended to support Dynamic in the further development and construction of its broader pipeline of renewable natural gas (“RNG”) assets located throughout the U.S. Ares has approximately $14.9bn in infrastructure equity and debt assets under management as of March 31.

Founded in 2011, Dynamic is a leading fully integrated origination, development, financing and operations platform that provides waste recovery solutions focused on the dairy and food processing industries. Dynamic has a material project development pipeline and is currently overseeing the construction of six assets, which are expected to be operational by the end of 2023 and forecasted to generate a combined total of more than 4,000 MMBtu per day of renewable natural gas. These six projects are projected to mitigate more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Dynamic is also the owner of BC Organics, a flagship asset developed by the Company. Located in Brown County, Wisconsin, BC Organics is a large-scale biorefinery facility that sources dairy manure feedstock from eleven multigenerational farms and comprises sixteen anaerobic digester tanks capable of processing 900,000 gallons of manure per day. BC Organics will produce carbon negative transportation fuel and provide its partner dairy farms with a long-term, sustainable manure management solution that converts the feedstock into clean water and reusable animal bedding.

Dynamic is led by its co-founders – Chief Executive Officer Duane Toenges, Chief Technology Officer Dan Nemke and Executive Vice President of Special Projects Karl Crave – who have worked together in the anaerobic digestion industry for nearly two decades.

“We are excited about the business we have built in Dynamic and our current momentum,” said Toenges. “Ares brings a wealth of experience in investing and developing projects in the renewable natural gas industry. They have expressed their support for the Company and our strategy in achieving our next phase of growth. Further, the recent commissioning of our BC Organics project is a tremendous milestone for Dynamic, and we look forward to completing additional projects this year for our strategic partners.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Dynamic, and our investment is aligned with Ares’ commitment to accelerate the transition to a lower-carbon economy through the Company’s innovative waste management and anaerobic digestion capabilities,” said Andy Pike, partner and co-head of Ares Infrastructure Opportunities. “Dynamic has a demonstrated track record of leadership in the rapidly growing renewable fuels sector, and we look forward to working together to build out its pipeline while supporting local communities in delivering more sustainable waste management practices.”

“We are pleased to further our existing relationship with Dynamic with this minority investment in the Company,” said Brian Bird, president and chief executive officer of NorthWestern. “The investment in Dynamic is a positive step for NorthWestern in meeting its net zero goals and a great opportunity to expand the RNG production capabilities of our service territory and its surrounding area. We are excited about the growth of the RNG industry, the carbon negative fuel that Dynamic’s assets will generate, and the complementary nature of this investment with our long-term goals.”

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Exclusive: World Energy GH2 targeting early 2025 FID

World Energy GH2 is aiming to reach FID early next year – and advancing project financing discussions with a pair of advisors – on the $5bn phase 1 green ammonia development in Newfoundland and Labrador known as Project Nujio’qonik. We spoke to Managing Director and CEO Sean Leet in detail about the project.

World Energy GH2, the developer of a green ammonia export project in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, is aiming to reach FID in early 2025 on phase 1 of Project Nujio’qonik, Managing Director and CEO Sean Leet said in an interview.

Phase 1 of the project entails the construction of a 1 GW wind facility and 600 MW of electrolysis for an estimated cost of $5bn, Leet said. Once complete, the first phase of Project Nujio’qonik is expected to produce approximately 400,000 tonnes of green ammonia for export.

The developer is working with Green Giraffe and RBC Capital Markets to advance a project financing deal, the same advisors that assisted World Energy GH2 on a $95m loan from Export Development Canada, announced last week.

The debt-to-equity split for the $5bn capital raise is still being iterated as the company looks at financing options with the available government subsidies and potential support from export agencies, Leet said. The company has not yet lined up an arranger for debt financing and expects to make a decision on that role at a later date, he added.

A schedule update is in progress as part of the project’s FEED readiness assessment. This update, considering factors such as long lead item availability and offtaker delivery requirements, is a required step before the start of FEED and is expected to be released around April 15. 

The FEED readiness assessment, Leet said, “is a process that we’ve undertaken with some value engineering due to some learnings from the pre-FEED deliverables and some other aspects of just making sure we’re well prepared for FEED so we can execute flawlessly on that.”

Leet expects the FEED process will take between nine and 12 months, setting the developer up for an FID in early 2025. As part of a competitive bidding process, World Energy GH2 was awarded four different Crown land sites, each capable of producing 1 GW of wind power, allowing for additional phases up to 4 GW of renewables.

Newfoundland, the distant Canadian island where Project Nujio’qonik is located, has become a hotbed of green ammonia project activity due to its exceptional wind resource, with as many eight major projects springing up (see, and zoom, on map).

Investment outlook

The Canadian government has promulgated a clean hydrogen investment tax credit of up to 40% on certain expenses, available until 2035. And in its most recent budget, the government floated the idea of providing contracts for difference to help de-risk emission-reducing projects. 

Leet believes that the CfD arrangement, which will be administered by the Canada Growth Fund, will be tied to the Canada-Germany Hydrogen Alliance, an agreement that promotes clean hydrogen trade ties between the two nations. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signed the accord at World Energy GH2’s site in Stephenville, with the aim of shipping hydrogen or ammonia by 2025 – a timeline that looks increasingly stretched. And World Energy GH2 earlier this year became the first North American member of Germany’s Port of Wilhelmshaven's energy hub.

“Those details haven’t been announced yet but we’re hopeful that the CfD mechanism is there to work alongside the ITC,” Leet said.

Additional financing could come from more export credit agencies “in the countries you would expect” that would support local companies providing equipment to Project Nujio’qonik. “That will be a very likely piece of our financing arrangement.”

World Energy GH2 is in discussions with various offtakers, but will be able to engage in greater detail once the ITC and CfD subsidies are clarified, and once the project receives its environmental permit, Leets said. 

World Energy GH2 was set up as a standalone Canadian company with the sole purpose of executing on Project Nujio’qonik. It is owned by its founders along with SK ecoplant, the environment and energy arm of Korea’s SK Group, which took a 20% stake in the company – and also the project – for $50m.

Gene Gebolys, the founder and CEO of World Energy LLC, a provider of low-carbon fuels, is also a founder of Project Nujio’qonik. And John Risley, another partner of the Canadian project, is a co-owner of World Energy LLC.

Support from existing investors along with the Export Development Canada facility announced last week make the project entity well capitalized to move “expeditiously” through FEED to FID, Leet said.

Canada to Europe

World Energy GH2 is talking to the major ammonia players about a scale-up of import capacity on European shores.

Leet noted specifically that the Antwerp-Bruges port has plans to scale up to handle the increased amounts of ammonia imports, for use in the various industries located in Belgium and potentially on to Germany from there.

Three companies – Fluxys, Advario Stolthaven Antwerp, and Advario Gas Terminal – have said they are considering constructing an open-access ammonia import terminal at the port of Antwerp-Bruges. Air Liquide also said it will build an ammonia cracking facility there.

The Port of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, where World Energy GH2 is a member of the energy hub, has similar plans to scale up, with various companies evaluating ammonia import terminals and cracking facilities.

Meanwhile, Leet said the ammonia product that it ships to Europe, in addition to benefiting from Canadian subsidies and tax credits, will also comply with the EU’s RFNBO standards.

The project has existing grid and water connections already at the Port of Stephenville, since the hydrogen plant will be built on top of a former paper mill which consumed both water and electricity. 

“So we're fortunate to have that grid connection available to us and the power in the Newfoundland grid is well over 90% existing hydro,” Leet said. “So between that and our wind power, we will have no issue meeting the standard set by the EU for green hydrogen and it will be 100% RFNBO compliant.”

The company is working on regulatory certification with multiple bodies but has not finalized a provider.

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Exclusive: Mississippi green hydrogen developer assembling banks for debt raise

The developer of a potentially massive network of green hydrogen production, transport and salt cavern storage — estimated to cost billions — is seeking banks to support a project debt raise.

Hy Stor, the developer of hydrogen generation and salt cavern storage, is currently raising “billions” in project finance for the first phase of its home state hub in Mississippi, Chief Commercial Officer Claire Behar said in an interview.

The first phase is expected to enter commercial service in 2026, guided by customers, Behar said.

Connor Clark & Lunn are equity partners in the Mississippi hub and is helping Hy Stor with its debt raise. Hy Stor is working with King & Spalding as legal advisor.

“We are already seeking banks and lining up our needed debt,” Behar said. She declined to say a precise amount the company will raise but said it will be in the billions.

Hy Stor plans to soon announce their renewable development partner to build dedicated off grid renewables, Behar said. The same is true for offtake in non-intermittent 24-hour industries like steel, plastic and fertilizer manufacturing.

“The customers are willing to pay that twenty-to-thirty percent premium that the market would need,” Behar said. “The business case is there.”

When asked if traditionally carbon intensive industrial manufacturing interests were actively seeking to co-locate with Hy Stor in Mississippi, Behar said the company has been advancing those agreements and hopes to have announcements soon. 
There is evidence of this type of activity in the state. Recently American steel manufacturer Steel Dynamics announced Columbus, Mississippi as the location of its upcoming aluminum flat rolled millwith a focus on decarbonization. Job postings for engineering roles at a separate facility detail plans to convert biomass into a direct carbon replacement suitable for steelmaking. 

Hy Stor hopes to have announcements in the coming weeks about a co-location opportunity, she added. Both domestic and international strategics are interested in the geology offering co-located salt cavern storage and geography offering river and deepwater port logistics networks, as well as highway and rail corridors.

Off-grid renewable generation means the company is not at the mercy of transmission interconnection queues. It also offers reliability because the lack of grid adage helps guarantee performance, and affordability because the company doesn’t have to pay utility rates, Behar said. Additionally, the electricity is decoupled from the grid and therefore absolutely decoupled from fossil fuels, which is important to Hy Stor’s prospective offtakers.

“This is what customers are demanding,” Behar said, adding that first movers are highly dedicated to decarbonization, needing quantitative accounting for all scope emissions, driven often by pressure from their customers.

The company has received a permit to take 11,000 gallons per minute of unpotable water from the Leaf River in Mississippi, Behar said, and is also looking at in-house wastewater treatment and water recycling.

Don’t go after gray users

Behar said the concept that users of gray hydrogen are the first targets for green hydrogen developers is misguided.

“The refineries, the petrochemicals, for them hydrogen is an end product already used within their system,” Behar said. “Those are not going to be the first users that are going to pay us a premium for that zero carbon.”

Hy Stor is instead focusing on new greenfield facilities that can co-locate.

“We’ve purposefully outsized our acreage,” she said of the 70,000 acres the company has purchased outside of Jackson, Mississippi, the Mississippi River Corridor, and the state’s southern deepwater ports in Gulfport and Port Bienville. New industrial projects can co-locate and have direct access to the salt cavern storge.

Looking forward the company’s acreage and seven salt domes mean they are not constrained by storage, Behar said. At each location, the company can develop tens and hundreds of caverns.

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Exclusive: Waste-to-fuels developer preparing capital raise

A waste-to-fuels developer has lined up an advisor and is planning a capital raise for a project in West Texas, in what is expected to be the first of up to 20 similar fundraising efforts totaling $500m in external capital needs.

Recover, Inc., a Calgary-based waste-to-fuels project developer, is preparing to launch a capital raise for its first US-based projects in West Texas.

The company has lined up CIBC to assist with the capital raise while a large Canadian Crown Corporation is expected to sign on as a lending partner for the debt portion of the cap stack, CFO Shane Kozak said in an interview.

Kozak said he will need to raise $70m – $75m for the West Texas project, which will process waste from oil and gas drilling fluids and recover 800 barrels per day of low carbon intensity diesel fuel from 800 tons of waste.

Existing equity backers Azimuth Capital and BDC will participate in the capital raise, but the company is seeking additional project equity investors to take part in a 60% debt to 40% equity capital structure, Kozak said.

While the cost of the West Texas project is estimated at $55m, the company needs to raise approximately $70m to account for debt servicing and underwriting fees, he added.

Recover has mapped out a strategy to build 20 projects in oil and gas basins across the US, and estimates it will need to raise $500m in external capital over 10 years to fully develop those projects.

Project model

The company already operates a similar facility in Alberta that became operational in 2018, at a cost of CAD 20m and producing about half of what the West Texas project will produce.

“This has been commercially proven in Canada, and we’re going to a better market with a lot more drilling waste production” in the US, Kozak said.

The waste stream from oil and gas drilling contains large amounts of diesel fuel: a typical well will create 400 – 500 tons of waste, 30%-40% of which is recoverable low carbon intensity diesel, Kozak said.

In Texas, the drilling fluid waste often ends up in pits near drilling rigs or in industrial landfills, where it biodegrades over time and emits CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

“We significantly reduce GHG emissions and create a fuel source that can be reused, and every barrel that we recover is a barrel of fuel that would otherwise have to come from a fossil fuel source,” he said.

Recent changes to Texas policy regarding oil and gas drilling waste could increase the availability of feedstock for the company. The Texas RailRoad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, is seeking to modernize disposal practices that would redirect waste from drilling pits to more centralized industrial landfills.

“The good thing for us is that, in the Permian Basin, about 70% – 80% of the wells use these pits, and our strategy is to build our facility directly on industrial landfills,” Kozak said.

Recover is working with a large landfill management company with operations across the US to develop its facilities, he added. The company does not pay for feedstock, given the synergistic relationship between Recover and the landfill management company.

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