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Exclusive: Pattern Energy developing $9bn Texas green ammonia project

One of the largest operators of renewable energy in the Americas, San Francisco-based Pattern is advancing a 1-million-ton-per-year green ammonia project in Texas.

Pattern Energy knows a thing or two about large renewable energy projects.

It built Western Spirit Wind, a 1,050 MW project in New Mexico representing the largest wind power resource ever constructed in a single phase in the Americas. And it has broken ground on SunZia, a 3.5 GW wind project in the same state – the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Now it is pursuing a 1-million-ton-per-year green ammonia project in Corpus Christi, Texas, at an expected cost of $9bn, according to Erika Taugher, a director at Pattern.

The facility is projected to come online in 2028, and is just one of four green hydrogen projects the company is developing. The Argentia Renewables project in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is marching toward the start of construction next year, and Pattern is also pursuing two earlier-stage projects in Texas, Taugher said in an interview.

The Corpus Christi project consists of a new renewables project, electrolyzers, storage, and a pipeline, because the electrolyzer site is away from the seaport. It also includes a marine fuels terminal and an ammonia synthesis plant.

Pattern has renewable assets in West and South Texas and is acquiring additional land to build new renewables that would allow for tax incentives that require additionality, Taugher said.

Financing for the project is still coming together, with JV partners and prospective offtakers likely to take project equity stakes along with potential outside equity investors. No bank has been mandated yet for the financing.

Argentia

At the Argentia project, Pattern is building 300 MW of wind power to produce 90 tons per day of green hydrogen, which will be used to make approximately 400 tons per day of green ammonia. The ammonia will be shipped to counterparties in Europe, offtake contracts for which are still under negotiation.

“The Canadian project is particularly exciting because we’re not waiting on policy to determine how it’s being built,” Taugher said. “The wind is directly powering our electrolyzers there, and any additional grid power that we need from the utility is coming from a clean grid, comprised of hydropower.“

“We don’t need to wait for rules on time-matching and additionality,” she added, but noted the renewables will likely benefit from Canada’s investment tax credits, which would mean the resulting ammonia may not qualify under Europe’s rules for renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO) as recently enacted.

Many of the potential offtakers are similarly considering taking equity stakes in the Argentia project, Taugher added.

Domestic offtake

Pattern is also pursuing two early-stage projects in Texas that would seek to provide green hydrogen to the domestic offtake market.

In the Texas Panhandle, Pattern is looking to repower existing wind assets and add more wind and solar capacity that would power green hydrogen production.

In the Permian Basin, the company has optioned land and is conducting environmental and water feasibility studies to prove out the case for green hydrogen. Pattern is considering local offtake and is also in discussions to tie into a pipeline that would transport the hydrogen to the Gulf Coast.

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OCOChem raises $5m seed round

The Washington-based startup has partnered with investor INPEX to evaluate collaboration opportunities on the transportation of CO2 and clean hydrogen.

Carbon conversion startup OCOchem has raised $5m in Seed funding from lead investor TO VC, according to a news release.

Japan’s INPEX Corp., the LCY Lee Family Office, and MIH Capital Management also participated in the round. They join Halliburton Labs, Halliburton Company’s energy and climate tech accelerator, which has been supporting OCOChem since 2021.

The Richland, Wash.-based company is commercializing a way to make highly versatile carbon-neutral platform molecules by electrochemically converting recycled CO2, water and clean electricity into formic acid and formate chemicals, for use in agricultural and industrial applications.

“Using renewable energy, OCOChem’s technology enables the conversion of water and carbon dioxide into formic acid, which is stable under ambient conditions.” The release states. “The formic acid can also be converted to useful carbon and hydrogen components with minimal energy input.”

In addition to investing in the company, INPEX, Japan’s largest oil and gas production company, has partnered with OCOchem to evaluate collaboration opportunities leveraging the company’s technology to transport CO2 and clean hydrogen.

OCOchem will use the new funds to scale its modular carbon conversion technology to industrial proportions and build a pilot plant for commercial demonstration operations.

“Using OCOchem technology and clean electricity, we can now do what plants and trees have been able to do for billions of years — convert CO2 and water into useful organic molecules using clean energy. But unlike photosynthesis, we can do it faster and more efficiently at a lower cost, using much less land,” said Todd Brix, co-founder and CEO of OCOchem, in the news release.

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Raven SR: “We haven’t had a problem finding offtakers”

Waste-to-hydrogen firm Raven SR has offtakers knocking on its door.

An official from waste-to-hydrogen firm Raven SR has a counter for the hydrogen offtake naysayers out there.

“We haven’t had a problem finding offtakers,” JuliAnne Thomas, director of external affairs at the company, said yesterday.

“We’ve got people coming to us on a regular basis looking for hydrogen, whether it be a city bus transport, somebody like Hyzon, the Chevrons, the Shells of the world,” she said in remarks at the Reuters Energy Transition conference in Houston. “People are looking for this molecule.”

The firm has three projects in California, one of which, the Richmond project, is nearly permitted. It was undergoing a Series C capital raise last year with advisory support from BofA Securities and Barclays. In February it took a strategic investment from Stellar J Corporation.

Raven SR is looking for partners with skin in the game, Thomas said. “We want the offtaker, we want the waste company that wants to come in on a partnership,” she added. “We’re helping the landfills use up the methane that would otherwise be flared.”

‘Complicated puzzle’

On the same panel, David Galey of Orsted outlined some of the Danish multinational’s Power to X plans on the Gulf Coast.

The company is developing Project Star, which will use onshore wind and solar PV to produce 300,000 tonnes of e-methanol annually under a partnership with Maersk. It is also looking at ammonia on the Gulf Coast, for a different offtaker in the chemical feedplant business, Galey said.

“Methanol production is a very complex, integrated process where you’re not just relying on renewable electricity to create hydrogen, you also have the biogenic CO2 side of things,” he said.

“So the partnerships that you need in order to support methanol production […] each have their own challenges,” he said, noting considerations for large sources of biogenic CO2, cheap renewable power, and proximity to offtakers.

“It’s a complicated puzzle of how you try to find the best balance between those different constraints that you have,” he said.

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Canadian firms advancing compressed natural gas trucking corridor

Tourmaline Oil Corp and Clean Energy Fuels have committed CAD 70m to build and operate a network of compressed natural gas stations across Western Canada.

Tourmaline Oil Corp. and Clean Energy Fuels Corp. announced today a CAD 70m Joint Development Agreement to build and operate a network of compressed natural gas (CNG) stations along key highway corridors across Western Canada.

Through this 50-50 shared investment, Tourmaline and Clean Energy expect to construct and commission up to 20 CNG stations over the next five years, which will allow heavy-duty trucks and other commercial transportation fleets that operate in the area to transition to the use of CNG, a lower carbon alternative to gasoline and diesel.

Clean Energy will operate the stations. One of North America’s largest logistics companies, Mullen Group Ltd. has indicated its support for the initiative as an early adopter and expects to use the network of stations to fuel its growing fleet of CNG-powered trucks.

“Tourmaline is Canada’s largest natural gas producer, and innovation is at the heart of everything we do. So this partnership with Clean Energy is a natural fit,” said Michael Rose, chairman, president and CEO, Tourmaline. “Across our operations, we have achieved significant emission reductions and cost savings by displacing higher-emitting fuels with natural gas. Thanks to this exciting initiative, we’re able to help the transportation industry do the same.”

This initiative will develop critical infrastructure needed to support the adoption of lower-carbon natural gas fuels that are commercially available today. The use of this domestic, abundantly produced and easily distributed resource is expected to result in significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions and cost savings for the transportation industry in Canada. Currently, fueling vehicles with CNG results in up to 50% cost savings when compared to retail diesel prices, on an energy equivalent basis. These CNG stations also pave the way for renewable natural gas (RNG) availability in the future, as the same fueling-station infrastructure that dispenses CNG can be used to dispense RNG.

“Clean Energy currently operates the most extensive network of natural gas fueling stations and is the largest distributor of RNG in North America. We continue to invest in upstream production of RNG and the fueling infrastructure needed to provide the trucking industry a cleaner alternative of operating,” said Andrew Littlefair, president and CEO, Clean Energy. “This new partnership with Tourmaline will provide Canada’s trucking industry with an economical, convenient, and sustainable pathway to net zero and will contribute to Canada’s overarching climate change goal.

“As one of North America’s largest logistics providers, the Mullen Group is committed to being a leader in sustainability. We are excited to support this initiative. We have already made a significant investment in CNG trucks and are extremely confident that this technology will play a huge role in the decarbonization of our industry,” said Murray Mullen, chair, SEO and president, Mullen Group.

Based on the anticipated commissioning of up to 20 stations over the next five years, approximately 3,000 natural gas-powered trucks could be fueled using CNG every day, resulting in a reduction of approximately 72,800 tonnes of CO2 equivalent usage per year. This is equivalent to removing 15,690 passenger vehicles from the road. As future demand increases, the capacity of these stations can be expanded, and new stations added, which would result in greater environmental performance improvement.

The first station expected to be jointly owned under the agreement, located north of Edmonton, is operational and well-positioned for heavy-haul transport routes with close proximity to key customers and stakeholders. The next stations which Tourmaline and Clean Energy expect to commission in the first half of 2024 are anticipated to be located within the municipalities of Calgary and Grande Prairie in Alberta and Kamloops, B.C.

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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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Turnt up about turndown ratios

Optimizing electrolysis for renewables depends not just on how far you can turn the machine up, but how far you can turn it down. We asked electrolyzer makers: how low can you go?

Optimizing electrolysis for renewables depends not just on how far you can turn the machine up, but how far you can turn it down.

A consensus is growing around the importance of turndown ratios for electrolyzers, with a variety of use cases for green hydrogen requiring the machines to be run at low levels during periods of high power pricing.

Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers are known for their ability to quickly ramp production up and down, but manufacturers of all stripes have begun to tout their technologies’ turndown ratios, with implications for capital costs and the levelized cost of producing hydrogen from renewable power.

Simply put, some electrolyzer plant operators will likely seek to lower hydrogen production during periods of high power pricing, since the cost of electricity is the largest operating expense. But cycling the electrolyzers completely off and on can lead to added system degradation, giving importance to the ability of the machines to run at low levels.

A study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analyzes a US grid buildout through 2050, noting favorable locations and seasonality for power pricing as something of a guideline for green hydrogen development. The study notes that the lowest achievable turndown ratio is a main factor in minimizing hydrogen levelized cost along with the number of hours a system can operate at that minimum level – something that applies to all types of electrolyzers.

“When you start to look at hourly costs from the data in different locations, you see that all of this renewable buildout is going to create opportunities in given locations where you going to have a lot of renewable generation and not a lot of load on the system and that’s going to drive the cost for that energy down,” said Alex Badgett, an author of the study at NREL.

To be sure, the fast-moving technological environment for electrolysis leaves open the possibility for efficiency gains and disruptive innovation. And a variety of factors – balance of plant, energy efficiency, system degradation – also influence plant economics. But the lowest possible turndown ratios will drive opportunities for green hydrogen developers, Badgett said.

ReSource reviewed available spec sheets for electrolyzer providers and asked every maker of PEM and SOEC systems to detail the turndown capabilities of their machines. Alkaline electrolyzers were left out of the analysis given their more limited load flexibility, as their separators are less effective at preventing potentially dangerous cross-diffusion of gasses. Some manufacturers are fully transparent regarding turndown ranges while others declined to comment or did not reply to inquiries.

‘Not trivial’

In designing projects, developers are analyzing hourly energy supply schedules and pairing the outlook with what is known about available technology options.

“Some electrolyzers like to operate at half power, and others like to operate at full power, and in any given system, you can have between 10 and 50 electrolyzers wired and plumbed in parallel,” said Mike Grunow, who leads the Power-to-X platform at Strata Clean Energy.

“Our thought process even goes down to: let’s say you have to operate the H2 plant at 25% throughput. Do you operate all of the electrolyzers at 25%, or do you turn 75% of the electrolyzers off and only operate 25% at full power?”

The difference in the schemes, he added, is “not trivial as each technology has different efficiency curves and drivers of degradation.”

Different use cases for the hydrogen derivative, meanwhile, lead to different natural selection of technologies, Grunow said, adding that the innovation cycle is now happening every 12 months, requiring a close eye on advances in technology. 

Electrolyzer start-up Electric Hydrogen, a maker of PEM electrolyzers, is commercializing a 100 MW system that can turn down to 10%, according to Jason Mortimer, SVP of global sales at the company.

HyAxium, another start-up, can turn its system down to 10%, according to its materials. Norway-based Hystar, which recently announced plans to build a plant in the US, also promotes a 10% turndown ratio.

A more established PEM electrolyzer provider, Cummins, advertises turndown ratios of 5% for its machines. Sungrow Power, a China-based manufacturer, similarly advertises 5% for PEM electrolyzers.

Siemens Energy has a minimum turndown ratio per stack of 40%, but for a single system it can be less in exceptional cases, according to Claudia Nehring, a company spokesperson.

“We focus on large systems” – greater than 100 MW – “and currently consider this value to be appropriate, taking into account the optimization between efficiency, degradation and dynamics, but are working on an improvement,” she said via email.

ITM Power declined to provide details but said its turndown capabilities are “to be expected” for a market leader in this technology. Materials from German-based H-Tec Systems note a modulation rate down to 10%.

Additional PEM makers Nel, Ohmium, Elogen, H2B2, Hoeller Electrolyzer, Plug Power, Shanghai Electric, and Teledyne Energy Systems did not respond to requests for information.

PEM alternatives

Other forms of electrolysis can also ramp dynamically. And some project developers point to PEM’s use of iridium, part of the platinum metals family, as a drawback due to potential scarcity issues.

Verdagy, for example, has developed an advanced alkaline water electrolysis (AWE) system called eDynamic that it says takes the best of PEM and alkaline technologies while designing out the downsides.

The company’s technology “addresses the barriers that limited traditional AWE adoption by using single-element cells that can operate efficiently at high current densities,” executives said in response to emailed questions. 

“The ability to operate at very high current densities, coupled with a balance of stack and balance of plant optimized for dynamic operation, allow Verdagy’s electrolyzers to operate across a very broad range spanning 0.1-2.0 A/cm2,” they said.

In other words, the machine can turn down to 5%, part of the design that enables operators “to modulate production to take advantage of time-of-day pricing and/or fluctuations in energy production.”

Meanwhile, German-based Thysenkrupp Nucera, another maker of advanced water electrolyzers, advertises a 10% turndown ratio.

SOEC

A relatively new electrolysis technology, the solid oxide electrolyzer cell has also proven to be capable of low turndown ratios. Solid oxide electrolysis is particularly attractive when paired with high-temperature industrial processes, where heat can be captured and fed back into the high-temperature SOEC process, making it more efficient.

Joel Moser, the CEO of First Ammonia, said he chose SOEC from Denmark-based Haldor Topsoe in part because the machines can be turned completely off with no degradation, as long as you keep them warm.

“Generally speaking we expect to ramp up and ramp down between 100% and 10%,” he said. “We can turn them off as long as we keep them warm, and then we can turn them right back on.”

Still, SOEC systems are not without challenges.

“Low stack power and high operating temperature, which in turn requires more ancillary equipment to operate the electrolyzer, are widely viewed as the main drawbacks of SOEC technology,” according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, which explores SOEC technology and its commercial prospects. “SOEC systems are also considered to have a shorter operating life due to thermal stress.”

Additional makers of SOEC machines Bloom Energy, Ceres, Elcogen, Genvia, SolydERA, and Toshiba did not respond to inquiries.

At NREL, researchers are watching for more automation and scale in the electrolyzer production process to bring costs down. Increasing efficiency through balance-of-plant improvements is another opportunity to reduce system costs.

In addition, more analysis of how large electrolyzer projects will impact the future electrical grid is required, according to Badgett.

The NREL team modeled the hourly marginal cost at any given time in any location in the US, but the model assumes that the electrolyzer takes energy without impacting the cost of energy.

“When we start to get to gigawatt-scale electrolysis,” he said, “that’s going to significantly impact prices, as well as how the grid is going to build out.”

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Siemens Energy planning new US electrolyzer capacity

The company is targeting expansion in the U.S. given the favorable policy environment following passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Siemens Energy North America is laying the groundwork for new electrolyzer manufacturing capacity in the United States, President Richard Voorberg said during a panel discussion recently.

Siemens Energy, a global energy technology company, makes an 18 MW PEM electrolyzer, one of the largest in the world, and is targeting expansion in the U.S. given the favorable policy environment following passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Voorberg said.

The company is building its first gigawatt factory in Berlin, Germany via a joint venture with France’s Air Liquide. The Berlin factory is expected to produce 1 GW of PEM electrolyzers per year starting in mid-2023.

“As soon as we get that first one up and running… I’ve got a plan already to put a 1,000 MW line in the US,” Voorberg said, speaking during an event at the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Washington D.C. last month.

Siemens’ existing manufacturing capacity in the US could expand to accommodate that new line, or the company could look to build an entirely new facility, Voorberg said. He added that the recently passed IRA helps makes the business case to do so.

Following the IRA, customers went from asking for fractions of a megawatt to seeking 2 GW in a single order, Voorberg said. His 18 MW line is now insufficient.

“We’ve got to scale up,” he said. “Scale is everything.”

Voorberg said his company sees hydrogen being used in electricity production around 2035, but mobility can use it now.

The planned move by Siemens underscores the extent to which the IRA legislation has trained the hydrogen industry’s focus on the U.S. Norway-based electrolyzer producer Nel is speeding efforts to expand electrolyzer capacity in the U.S. And Cummins announced last month that it would add electrolyzer production space at its existing facility in Fridley, Minnesota.

Siemens Energy is independent of Siemens AG, having spun off in 2020. The company has about 10,000 employees in the US and roughly 2,000 in Canada.

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