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Low carbon fuels marketplace selected for Chevron incubator

The marketplace aims to streamline the buying and selling of low carbon fuels, starting with hydrogen.

Blackcurrant Inc., a marketplace to help accelerate low carbon fuel adoption by simplifying transactions and lowering costs, has been selected by Chevron Technology Ventures, LLC (CTV) as part of its Catalyst Program™.

The Blackcurrant platform is designed to streamline purchasing of hydrogen by connecting buyers, suppliers, transportation, and storage companies in a single data driven, easy to use platform. Purchases transacted on Blackcurrant can reduce the time it takes to make a hydrogen purchase from months to as little as one day.

The start-up plans to offer other low carbon fuels on the platform in the near future.

The Catalyst Program™ was launched by Chevron in 2017 to promote and accelerate innovation from early-stage companies that may benefit the energy sector. The selection of Blackcurrant marks a significant milestone for the company.

The Blackcurrant platform provides dynamic, artificial intelligence (AI) driven price and volume discovery, granular carbon intensity scoring per transaction, and innovative capabilities such as hydrogen credit trading. This is valuable for the currently opaque hydrogen market that historically used manual methods of transacting and could take up to 8 or more months to complete a purchase. On Blackcurrant, these offtake agreements have the potential to be executed in less than one day.

“Blackcurrant is excited to be selected by Chevron as part of the Catalyst Program,” said Akshaykumar Thakur, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackcurrant. “The program will help Blackcurrant’s mission of accelerating the low carbon hydrogen fuel market.”

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Hydrogen investment fund launches pure-play platform

The recently established outfit, called Avina Clean Hydrogen, has an advanced portfolio of green ammonia and hydrogen plants that are expected to become operational in 2024.

Principals of Hydrogen Technology Ventures, a firm established in 2019 to invest across the clean hydrogen value chain, have launched Avina Clean Hydrogen Inc, a pure-play clean hydrogen platform, according to a press release.

The recently established outfit has an advanced portfolio of green ammonia and hydrogen plants that are expected to become operational in 2024.

Avina has recently concluded multiple strategic partnerships, customer off-takes and investment agreements with leading industry players and is well capitalized to advance development of 250 MW of green ammonia and hydrogen plants in multiple locations within the United States.

The platform plans to invest $1 billion in green ammonia and hydrogen plants by 2025 and has a pipeline of an additional 1.5 GW of renewable energy assets that can be converted into green hydrogen projects under various stages of development.

The platform is developing proprietary, modularized solutions to deploy low-cost distributed green hydrogen at scale and is well equipped with industry experts that have decades of experience in green hydrogen, industrial gas and renewable energy sectors, according to the release.

“Today, even though gray hydrogen production costs in the United States are about $1.50/kg, delivered gray hydrogen costs to the end customer in many instances are still a multiple of production costs and this problem is likely to become much larger as new applications for hydrogen get developed in locations where supply is not easily accessible,” said Vishal Shah, Avina’s Founder and CEO.

“Moreover, intermittency of renewable power and increasing transmission and distribution costs will continue to remain a challenge for the hydrogen industry even as electrolyzer costs continue to decline. Our platform is uniquely positioned to offer proprietary system level solutions to multiple stakeholders – renewable developers that are dealing with the grid congestion problem, hydrogen customers that are dealing with unsustainable distribution costs as well as customers that want to bring production costs down by solving the renewable power intermittency problem.”

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Nevada plant on track for SAF production this year

The facility, which changed hands last year, is nearly through the conversion of a renewable diesel plant to sustainable aviation fuel production.

New Rise Renewables, a renewable energy company, today announced the inauguration its new 3200 barrel-per-day renewable sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) facility located at the Reno-Tahoe Industrial Complex in Storey County, Nevada.

The facility is nearly through the conversion of its existing renewable diesel plant as part of a groundbreaking effort to revolutionize the aviation industry by producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). It is scheduled to commence SAF production in the summer of 2024, according to a news release.

Camber Energy, a NYSE-traded energy company, last year reached a deal to acquire 100% of the interests in New Rise Renewables.

The plant was purchased for $499m, representing a purchase price of $750m less $251m of existing company liabilities, according to a securities filing. The seller was RESC Renewables Holdings, a predecessor company to Ryze Renewables, which developed the project.

The parties had reached a framework for the deal in late 2021, subject to purchase price adjustments and other closing conditions.

Reno-based Greater Commercial Lending (GCL) facilitated $112.6m in government-guaranteed credit for the development of New Rise Renewables Reno. Eighty percent of the GCL-arranged financing for New Rise Renewables Reno is guaranteed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) via its 9003 Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biodiesel Production Manufacturing Assistance Program. The financing structure includes participation by GCL parent Greater Nevada Credit Union, other credit unions, insurance companies and secondary market groups.

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Woodside Energy invests in US CO2-to-protein technology company

Woodside will invest $3m into California-based NovoNutrients under a technology development agreement.

NovoNutrients has announced the signing of a technology development agreement under which Woodside Energy would contribute up to $3m to NovoNutrients, subject to the completion of certain milestones by NovoNutrients, according to a news release.

NovoNutrients’ technology converts industrial CO2 emissions into high-quality protein, with the potential to abate greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the world’s food and feed supply. The collaboration with NovoNutrients is aligned with Woodside’s view of carbon capture and utilization (CCU) as an emerging field offering alternative lower-carbon solutions.

NovoNutrients’ technology has been operating at a lab-scale. This agreement supports the construction and operation of a larger pilot-scale system. The pilot-scale system will seek to both advance the design of commercial-scale plants and deliver increased sample product volume for further validation by NovoNutrients’ strategic partners, including Woodside.

“Our agreement with Woodside means, together, we can deliver meaningful carbon benefits sooner, while also tackling the world’s need for protein,” said David Tze, CEO of NovoNutrients.

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Exclusive: CO2-to-X firm seeking platform and project capital

A CO2-to-X development company with proprietary CO2 utilization technology is seeking to raise capital from potential strategic partners that would utilize its product, which can decarbonize industrial emitters while producing hydrogen and carbon monoxide. For methanol production, the company says it can reduce the amount of natural gas required per ton of methanol to 27 MMBtu, compared to the typical 35 MMBtu, “a massive change in a commodity market,” a company executive said in an interview.

HYCO1, a founder-owned CO2-to-X development company with proprietary CO2 utilization technology, is seeking partners to invest at both the platform and project level as it advances a series of commercial proposals.

Based in Houston and owned by its three founders, the firm is developing and commercializing technology that utilizes waste CO2 and methane to produce high purity hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can then be used to make low-carbon syngas, fuels, chemicals, and solid carbon products.

The founders went “all in” on the technology and funded the first $10m for development themselves, and have since raised an additional $10m from two different ethanol producers that are planning to use the product, called HYCO1 CUBE, at their ethanol plants.

“We’re in the process of raising between $20m – $30m this year, with one or more strategics in investment sizes of $10m or more,” HYCO1 co-founder and CFO Jeffrey Brimhall said in an interview.

Beyond that, Brimhall says the firm plans to close on project financing for various projects in development, “which will spin development capital, license fees, and revenue back to HYCO1.”

HYCO1 is having direct conversations for the platform capital with the investment teams from potential strategic partners – like further ethanol producers, or specialty chemical producers and other operators of steam methane reformers.

Using the technology, the company hopes to qualify for tax credit incentives under 45V for the hydrogen produced utilizing recycled CO2 as a feedstock, as reflected in comments made last week to the IRS.

Projects in development

Meanwhile, HYCO1 is advancing a first three projects to maturity: a $175m green carbon syngas project on the US Gulf Coast; a $400m green methanol project on the Gulf Coast; and a $1.2bn green carbon synthetics project at an existing ethanol plant in Lyons, Kansas.

For the Kansas ethanol project, HYCO1 is having conversations with the “top five banks,” Brimhall said, about a project finance deal. 

“We’re starting offtake discussions for both methanol and synthetics,” he said. “And as those offtake discussions firm up, we know for a fact that big intermediaries are going to want to come in and we’re likely going to work with those who have discretionary capital that they can invest on their own account and then pull in others with them.”

The company recently entered into a 20-year carbon dioxide supply agreement with Kansas Ethanol for the project. It will be co-located with Kansas Ethanol and utilize all 800 tons per day of CO2 emitted by the plant to produce approximately 60 million gallons per year of low-carbon and zero-carbon products.

HYCO1 is working to reach FID on the Kansas project by 1Q25, but its critical path depends on getting in the pipeline of an ISODEWAXING provider, such as Chevron or Johnson Matthey, said Kurt Dieker, another HYCO1 co-founder and its chief development officer.

“Assuming a conservative schedule, assuming they get engaged in the next 10 weeks, that would put us in 1Q of next year” for FID, said Dieker, who has deep experience in the ethanol industry, having worked for ICM, the technology behind 70% of the ethanol gallons produced in the US today.

The CUBE

HYCO1’s CUBE technology essentially works as a conversion catalyst applying heat to CO2 and methane to create hydrogen and carbon monoxide, the building blocks of virtually all petrochemical and carbon-based downstream products.

The company built a pilot facility in Houston two years ago, and has been characterizing the catalyst with 10,000 hours of uptime operation and data on how it works, Brimhall said.

As it was advancing the CUBE characterization process, the founders found they could shape the syngas ratio on the fly, moving it from 1-to-1 to above 3-to-1, he added.

“And because we’ve done the 1-to-1 all the way up to 3.5+-to-1, we also know we can produce pure CO by essentially taking the hydrogen off and using it as part of the endotherm that we need to make the reaction work,” he said. “So we could produce anywhere from pure CO to effectively pure hydrogen.”

That level of flexibility with a “single plant, single process, single catalyst” has never been done before, according to Brimhall, and it gives the company “immense capabilities to go into virtually any situation and solve for decarbonization and at the same time make high value products downstream.”

He added, “When we talk to people that really know the space and know industrial gases, they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, you can do that?’”

Methanol efficiencies

HYCO1 is currently in talks with six super major methanol producers about using the company’s technology for methanol supply, Brimhall said.

“Every one of them immediately went to diligence on our technology,” he said, noting that HYCO1 has promised to make natural gas-based methanol production more efficient, requiring only 27 MMBtu of natural gas per ton of methanol versus the typical 35 MMBtu of natural gas. 

“The difference between 35 MMBtu and 27 or 25 is a massive change in a commodity market,” Brimand said, “and whoever owns that technology is going to have a competitive advantage.

The methanol majors are evaluating how to use the technology to their benefit, which, according to Brimhall, might require them to make an investment in HYCO1 along with the first plant. 

“We’ve spent the last three or four months driving the technical diligence part with a team of 15 engineer PhDs to basically come back and say to them, ‘Here’s the proof, here’s the number.’”

HYCO1 plans to offer it concurrently to all of the methanol producers in order to extract the best terms on the first projects, he said.

Project developer or licensor?

HYCO1’s business model comes down to whether they are a project developer or a licensor of technology. According to Brimhall, they are a project developer first and a technology licensor second.

“We have to be project development oriented in our minds across multiple verticals in order to get traction and proof, viability, efficacy,” he said. “So we’re acting in a kind of a super-project developer mode to ultimately get the attention of big offtakers, strategic partners, and potential licensors downstream.”

However, a large licensor will not likely step in to provide a multi-project license until they see the product working at scale given the breakthrough nature of the technology, Brimhall said, and the economics that flow from it.

Take syngas for example, a market dominated by a few large players like Air Liquide, Air Products, and Linde. HYCO1 wants to position its first project in that sector and then start having licensing discussions with those big firms, or additional engineering firms like Technip, Fleur, or Bechtel.

The large firms could provide an initial “bolus” of capital to HYCO1 for having developed the technology “and getting a license that means something, whether it’s geographic or it’s exclusive worldwide or it’s bi-vertical,” Brimhall said.

“There’s an initial payment that commensurates with what the market opportunity is. And then there’s a minimum they’re going to have to step up to in order to keep us satisfied that they’re really a licensor that is going to ultimately realize value to the Topco or HYCO1 as a TechCo.”

“So it’s really project development first, licensing second kind of business model,” he added. “And it’s on multiple verticals. That’s what happens when you have, you know, potent technology.”

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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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