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Lancaster approves Element Resources green hydrogen facility

650 MW of ground-mounted PV solar arrays will power the center with an additional 330 MWh of long-duration battery energy storage to provide power during times of low solar output.

Lancaster Planning Commission has approved Element Resources’ Lancaster Clean Energy Center—a renewable hydrogen production facility utilizing photovoltaic (PV) solar for its power supply, according to a news release.

In 2023, the City of Lancaster and Element Resources announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize their partnership. The Lancaster Clean Energy Center is only one step in a long plan to collaborate on developing Lancaster’s renewable hydrogen infrastructure, supplying hydrogen locally, and working with other partners to expand the broader hydrogen supply chain. Beyond this, the energy center will bring about 35 new high-paying, permanent jobs to the people of Lancaster and hundreds of highly skilled union positions during the construction phase.

The center will be divided into two sites: the first at 442 acres and the second at 896 acres. Six-hundred-fifty megawatts (MW) of ground-mounted PV solar arrays will power the center with an additional 330 MWh of long-duration battery energy storage to provide power during times of low solar output.

The renewable hydrogen production plant will incorporate 400 MWe of hydrogen production and liquefied and gaseous hydrogen storage. On-site, there will be two cylindrical tanks and three spherical liquified hydrogen storage tanks, facilities for filling hydrogen transport trailers and zero-emission hydrogen vehicles and trucks, control and office buildings, warehouse and service buildings, and cooling towers.

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Distressed SAF developer in investor takeover

An investor consortium formed to take over the UK-based SAF developer, which has a project in development in Natchez, Mississippi.

Distressed sustainable aviation fuel developer Velocys has agreed to be taken over by a consortium of investors in a cash deal worth £4.1m.

Based in the UK, and with projects there and in the US, Velocys said last month that, unless it was able to find meaningful sources of funding or strategic options, it was unlikely that the company would be able to continue as a going concern beyond the end of December 2023. This date has now been extended into early-January 2024 as a result of cost control and cash management initiatives, the company said in a December 5 market update.

A fund advised by Lightrock, a fund advised by Carbon Direct Capital along with GenZero and Kibo Investments formed the investor consortium, called Madison Bidco, to take over Velocys. As part of the deal, the investors will inject $40m of growth equity into the company, “which is expected to ensure that Velocys and its management have the capital resources needed to deliver against Velocys’ medium-term strategic plans,” the release notes.

Velocys in October announced a new technology facility in Plain City, Ohio, that will house the reactor core assembly and catalysis operations related to its production process for sustainable aviation fuel.

The company is currently developing two proposed SAF projects, including the Bayou Fuels project in Natchez, Mississippi, which aims to produce 36 million gallons per year of SAF from woody biomass feedstock.

The Altalto project in Immingham, UK would produce 20 million gallons per year of SAF from municipal and commercial solid waste feedstock.

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Clean Energy Ventures appoints veteran investment advisor to board

The private equity firm has brought on additional expertise in renewable energy, green hydrogen, derivative fuels, and grid technology.

Clean Energy Ventures has appointed Girish Nadkarni to its Strategic Advisory Board, according to a news release.

Nadkarni joins former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Dr. Ellen Williams, former Chief Scientist for BP and Director of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, and J. Michael McQuade, former CTO of United Technologies Corporation.

In this role Nadkarni will advise the firm on fund investment strategy, portfolio company technology commercialization, emerging technology evaluation and industry trends to support CEV’s long-term vision and expansion plans.

Nadkarni has previously served as the President of TotalEnergies Ventures, President of ABB Technology Ventures and Director of OGCI Climate Investments.

Nadkarni remains an active advisor to several funds, including Siemens Energy Ventures and OGCI Climate Investments. He is on the board at Gentari, the clean energy solutions arm of Malaysian state oil company, Petronas; led the creation of Hy24, the $2bn hydrogen infrastructure fund; and sits on the Advisory Committee at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute for Carbon Management.

He brings experience in many sectors that CEV operates in, including renewable energy, green hydrogen and derivative fuels, and grid technology.

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HyTerra raising money for Kansas geologic hydrogen activities

Funds will finance drilling exploration for geologic hydrogen on the Nemaha Ridge in Kansas.

Australia-based HyTerra is raising AUD 6.1m for geologic hydrogen activities along the Nemaha Ridge in Kansas, according to an investor release.

Ther firm “is undertaking a capital raising of approximately AUD $6.1 million (before costs) through a placement to sophisticated
and professional investors and a subsequent fully underwritten non-renounceable rights issue to eligible shareholders,” with the funds allocated to execute a multi-well drilling program in Kansas.

HyTerra’s exploration acreage covers over 9,600 acres and is 100% owned and operated.

Hydrogen and helium occurrences have been recovered previously from wellbores within these leases. They are near agricultural and manufacturing facilities that are connected by rail, road and/or pipelines. Within these areas, the Company has identified multiple drilling targets covering a diverse range of geological plays.

HyTerra plans to continue leasing of high-priority acreage and drill two exploration wells. The timing of the drilling program is subject to regulatory and landowner approvals, as well as third-party contractor availability. However, it is HyTerra’s goal to commence drilling in 3Q24, according to the release.

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Feature: Why blue hydrogen developers are on the hunt for livestock-based RNG

The negative carbon intensity ascribed to livestock-derived renewable natural gas could allow blue hydrogen production to meet the threshold to qualify for the full $3 per kg of hydrogen tax credit under section 45V. The viability of this pathway, however, will depend on how hydrogen from biogas is treated under the IRS’s final rules.

Lake Charles Methanol, a proposed $3.24bn blue methanol plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, will use natural gas-based autothermal reforming technology to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which will then be used to produce 3.6 million tons per year of methanol while capturing and sequestering 1 million tons per year of carbon dioxide.

And if certain conditions are met in final rules for 45V tax credits, the developer could apply for the full benefit of $3 per kg of hydrogen produced. How? It plans to blend carbon-negative renewable natural gas into its feedstock.

“Lake Charles Methanol will be a large consumer of RNG to mitigate the carbon intensity of its hydrogen production,” the firm’s CEO, Donald Maley, said in written comments in response to the IRS’s rulemaking process for 45V.

The issue of blending fractional amounts of RNG into the blue hydrogen production process has emerged as another touchstone issue before the IRS as it contemplates how to regulate and incentivize clean hydrogen production.

The IRS’s proposed regulations do not provide guidance on the use of RNG from dairy farms in hydrogen production pathways such as SMR and ATR, gasification, or chemical looping, but instead only define clean hydrogen by the amount of carbon emissions.

In theory, a blue hydrogen producer using CCUS could blend in a small amount – around 5% – of carbon-negative RNG and achieve a carbon intensity under the required .45 kg CO2e / kg of hydrogen to qualify for the full $3 per kg incentive under 45V. 

This pathway, however, will depend on final rules for biogas within 45V, such as which biogas sources are allowed, potential rules on RNG additionality, incentive stacking, and the appropriate carbon intensity counterfactuals. 

Furthermore, a potentially separate rulemaking and comment period for the treatment of biogas may be required, since no rules were actually proposed for RNG in 45V on which the industry can comment.

Like the treatment of electricity within 45V, there appears to be some disagreement within Treasury about the role of RNG in the hydrogen production process, with some in the Democratic administration perhaps responding to the view of some progressives that RNG is a greenwash-enabling “sop” to the oil and gas industry, said Ben Nelson, chief operating officer at Cresta Fund Management, a Dallas-based private equity firm.

Cresta has investments in two renewable natural gas portfolio companies, LF Bioenergy and San Joaquin Renewables, and expects RNG used in hydrogen to be a major demand pull if the 45V rules are crafted correctly.

A major issue for the current administration, according to Nelson, is the potentially highly negative carbon intensity score of RNG produced from otherwise vented methane at dairy farms. The methane venting counterfactual, as opposed to a landfill gas counterfactual, where methane emissions are combusted as flared natural gas (therefore producing fewer GHG emissions than vented methane), leads to a negative CI score in existing LCFS programs, which, if translated to 45V, could provide a huge incentive for hydrogen production from RNG. 

“Treasury may be struggling with the ramifications of making vented methane the counterfactual,” Nelson said.

Divided views

The potential for this blending pathway has divided commenters in the 45V rulemaking process, with the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas and similar companies calling for additional pathways for RNG to hydrogen, the promulgation of the existing mass balance and verification systems – as used in LCFS programs – for clean fuels, and the allowance of RNG credit stacking across federal, state, and local incentive programs.

Meanwhile, opponents of RNG blending noted that it would give an unfair economic advantage to blue hydrogen projects and potentially increase methane emissions by creating perverse incentives for dairy farmers to change practices to take advantage of the tax credits.

For example, in its comments, Fidelis New Energy speaks out forcefully against the practice, calling it “splash blending” and claiming it could cost Americans $65bn annually in federal incentives “with negligible real methane emission reductions while potentially driving an increase in emissions overall without proper safeguards.”

Fidelis goes on to state that allowing RNG to qualify under 45V results in a “staggering” $510 / MMBtu for RNG, a “market distorting value and windfall for a select few sizable industry participants.”

Renewables developer Intersect Power similarly notes the potential windfall for this type of project, since the $3 credit would be higher than input costs for blue hydrogen. “Said another way, hydrogen producers using natural gas and blending RNG with negative CI will be extremely profitable, such that it would encourage the creation of more sources of RNG to capture more credits,” according to the comments, which is signed by Michael Wheeler, vice president, government affairs at Intersect.

Stacking incentives

In its initial suggestions from December, Treasury introduced the possibility of limiting RNG that qualifies under 45V from receiving environmental benefits from other federal, state, or local programs, such as the EPA’s renewable fuel standard (RFS) and various state low carbon fuel standards (LCFS).

In response, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas said that it does not “believe it is the intent of the Section 45V program to limit or preclude RNG from participation in” these programs. 

“In particular, a hydrogen facility utilizing RNG to produce clean hydrogen as defined in Section 45V program should be eligible to claim the resulting Section 45V tax credit, and not be barred or limited from participating in the federal RFS or a state LCFS program, if the RNG-derived hydrogen is being used as a transportation fuel or to make a transportation fuel (e.g. SAF, marine fuel, or other fuel) used in the contiguous U.S. and/or the applicable state (e.g., California), respectively,” the organization wrote.

Various commenters along with the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas stated that the incentives should work together, and that the EPA has “long recognized that other federal and state programs support the RFS program by promoting production and use,” as Clean Energy Fuels wrote.

Cresta, in its comments, noted that the 45V credit would result in a tax credit of $19.87 per MMBtu of RNG, while almost all potential dairy RNG build-out has a breakeven cost above $20 per MMBtu — in other words, not enough to incentivize the required buildout on its own.

Including this incentive plus environmental credits such as LCFS and RINs could get RNG producers to higher ranges “where you’re going to get a lot of buildout” of new RNG facilities, Nelson said.

In contrast, Fidelis argues that the ongoing RNG buildout utilizing just the existing state LCFS and RFS credits is proof enough that the incentives are working, and that 45V would add an exorbitant and perverse incentive for RNG production.

“To demonstrate the billions in annual cost to the American taxpayer that unconstrained blended RNG/natural gas hydrogen pathways could generate in 45V credits, it is important to consider the current incentive structure and RNG value today with CA LCFS and the EPA’s RFS program, as well as with the upcoming 45Z credit,” Fidelis writes. “Today, manure-RNG sold as CNG with a CI of -271.6 g CO2e / MJ would generate approximately $70 / MMBtu considering the value of the natural gas, CA LCFS, and RFS. The environmental incentives (LCFS and RFS) are 23x times as valuable as the underlying natural gas product.”

In its model, Fidelis claims that the 45V credit would balloon to $510 / MMBtu of value generation for animal waste-derived RNG, but does precisely explain how it arrives at this number. Representatives of Fidelis did not respond to requests for comment.

RNG pathways

As it stands, the 45VH2-GREET 2023 model only includes the landfill gas pathway for RNG, thus the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas and other RNG firms propose to add biogas from anaerobic digestion of animal waste, wastewater sludge, and municipal solid waste, as well as RNG-to-hydrogen via electrolysis.

According to the USDA, “only 7% of dairy farms with more than one thousand cows are currently capturing RNG, representing enormous potential for additional methane capture,” the coalition said in its comments.

Even the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group, supports allowing biomethane from livestock farms to be an eligible pathway under 45V, “subject to strong climate protections” such as monitoring of net methane leakage to be factored into CI scores and the reduction of ammonia losses, among other practices.

However, the EDF argues against allowing carbon-negative offsets of biomethane, saying that “doing so could inappropriately permit hydrogen producers to earn generous tax credits through 45V for producing hydrogen with heavily polluting fossil natural gas.”

First productive use

In issuing the 45V draft guidance in December, the Treasury Department and the IRS said they anticipated that in order for RNG to qualify for the incentive, “the RNG used during the hydrogen production process must originate from the first productive use of the relevant methane,” which the RNG industry has equated with additionality for renewables under 45V.

The agencies said that they would propose to define “first productive use” of the relevant methane “as the time when a producer of that gas first begins using or selling it for productive use in the same taxable year as (or after) the relevant hydrogen production facility was placed in service,” with the implication being that  “biogas from any source that had been productively used in a taxable year prior to taxable year in which the relevant hydrogen production facility was placed in service would not receive an emission value consistent with biogas-based RNG but would instead receive a value consistent with natural gas.”

This proposal is opposed by the RNG industry and others planning to use it as a feedstock.

“Instituting a requirement that the use of RNG for hydrogen production be the ‘first productive use’ of the relevant methane would severely limit the pool of eligible projects for the Section 45V PTC,” NextEra Energy Resources said in its comments.

Nelson, of Cresta, called the “first productive use” concept for RNG “a solution in search of a problem,” noting that it’s more onerous than the three-year lookback period for additionality in renewables.

“Induced emissions are a real risk in electricity – they are a purely hypothetical risk in RNG,” Nelson said, “and will remain a hypothetical risk indefinitely in virtually any scenario you can envision for RNG buildout, because there’s just not that many waste sites and sources out there.”

The issue, Nelson added, is that if RNG facilities are required to align their startup date with hydrogen production, the farms where RNG is produced would just continue to vent methane until they can coincide their first productive use with hydrogen.

The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas argues that the provision “would cause a significant value discrepancy for new RNG projects creating a market distortion, greater risk of stranded RNG for existing projects, added complexity, and higher prices for end-consumers.”

The Coalition proposes, instead, that Treasury could accept projects built prior to 2030 as meeting incrementality requirements “with a check in 2029 on the market impacts of increased hydrogen production to determine, using real world data, if any such ‘resource shifting’ patterns can be discerned.”

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CCS developer initiating discussions for corporate capital raise

Following its sale of a stake in a mega-scale carbon capture project in the Gulf Coast, Carbonvert is planning to initiate conversations to raise additional corporate capital, with plans to deploy as much as $500m into new projects.

Carbonvert, a Houston-based carbon capture and sequestration developer, is planning to start conversations soon with an eye to raise corporate capital that will allow it to advance mega-scale CCS projects, CEO Alex Tiller said in an interview.

Owned by a group of outside investors and the management team, Carbonvert is advancing a business model that takes advantage of the group’s expertise in early-stage project development, Tiller said.

The company recently completed the sale of its 25% interest in the Bayou Bend CCS project to Norway’s Equinor, which will now own the development alongside Chevron (50%) and Talos Energy (25%).

Bayou Bend CCS is the type of mega-scale project that Carbonvert will be pursuing in coming years, and for which the company will need to raise as much as $500m in corporate capital due to the capital-intensive nature of the projects, Tiller said.

Chevron last year bought its 50% operating stake in Bayou Bend for $50m, implying a $100m valuation for the project, which is positioned to become one of the largest CCS developments in the US for industrial emitters, with nearly 140,000 gross acres of pore space – 100,000 onshore and 40,000 offshore.

Carbonvert’s stake sale, announced yesterday, was “a positive result” for the company, Tiller said, though he declined to comment further on the valuation.

“It delivers capital to our balance sheet and allows us to grow our pipeline of projects and fund additional projects,” he said. Carbonvert used Jefferies as sell-side financial advisor in the sale to Equinor, he added.

Tiller, a veteran of the renewable energy industry, is a founding member of Carbonvert alongside Chief Development Officer Jan Sherman, who previously had a 30-year career with Shell and helped build the oil major’s Quest CCS project in Alberta, Canada.

For the upcoming capital raise, Carbonvert has not decided on whether to use a financial advisor; the structure of the capital raise will likely determine if an advisor is needed, Tiller said.

“We’ll definitely be out raising more corporate capital – these projects are tremendously expensive,” he said. “We’ll be starting conversations soon.”

The company has a line of sight to deploy as much as $500m of capital into its own projects over the next several years, he said, an indication of how much capital it will need to raise.

“These are large infrastructure projects that are going to take many years to bring to fruition, followed by decades of operations,” he said. “We live at the front end of the projects,” he added, “and when the appropriate parties are at the table, it’s really an act of humility to say ‘hey, maybe we’ve taken this as far as we can or should,’” a reference to finding the right time to sell the company’s stakes in the projects it is developing.

In addition to the Bayou Bend CCS project, Carbonvert is part of a consortium that’s developing a carbon hub in Wyoming. The company is also collaborating on an exploratory study for the direct air capture and storage of CO2 emissions from a nuclear power plant in Alabama.

“You can expect to see project announcements that look like Bayou Bend in the future,” Tiller said. “We like that type of mega-scale project, we like offshore, and we’re also pursuing some opportunities onshore that are less mature.”

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Exclusive: Hydrogen blank-check deal and capital raise on track

A de-SPAC deal and associated capital raise for a hydrogen technology and project development firm are still on track to close this year, despite this year’s busted SPAC deals and sagging hydrogen public market performance.

H2B2 Technologies is still on track to close a de-SPAC deal and related capital raise before the end of this year, CEO Pedro Pajares said in an interview.

Spain-based H2B2 announced the deal to be acquired by RMG Acquisition Corp. III and go public in a $750m SPAC deal in May. In tandem, Natixis Partners and BCW Securities are acting as co-private placement agents to H2B2 for a capital raise that the company must close as part of the acquisition.

The company said recently in filings that the deal as well as the capital raise would close before the end of 2023, a fact that Pajares reiterated in the interview. He declined to comment further.

Many publicly traded hydrogen companies have dropped significantly in value in recent months, and dropped further on Friday following news from Plug Power that it would need to raise additional capital in the next 12 months to avoid a liquidity crisis.

Meanwhile, there have been 55 busted SPAC deals this year, according to Bloomberg, with Ares Management’s deal for nuclear tech firm X-Energy the latest to not close.

Expansion

H2BE recently inaugurated SoHyCal, its first facility in Fresno, California, and wants to get the message out to offtakers in California’s Central Valley that it has hydrogen available to sell.

“What we want to show is that H2B2 is the solution for those who are seeking green hydrogen in the Central Valley,” Pajares said.

Phase 1 (one ton per day) of the plant was funded by a grant from the California Clean Energy Commission. Phase 2 (three tons per day) will involve transitioning to solar PV power, and the company could consider a project finance model to finance the expansion, though Pajares believes the market is not yet ready to finance hydrogen projects.

In addition to project development, the company is also an electrolyzer manufacturer. It is focusing its efforts in the California market on future projects that are larger than SoHyCal, as well as those related to individual offtakers, Pajares said. End users will be in mobility and fertilizer, with offtake occurring via long-term contracts as well as through spot market transactions.

The company is pursuing developments in other regions of the US as well, he added, declining to name specific areas.

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