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Macquarie invests $325m into green nitrogen developer

Macquarie has made an investment from its energy transition fund into a Swiss-based developer of green nitrogen projects, with facilities under development in the US and Brazil.

Macquarie Asset Management (MAM) and Atlas Agro Holding AG (Atlas Agro) have announced today an up to $325m investment in Atlas Agro and affiliated project entities via the Macquarie GIG Energy Transition Solutions (MGETS) fund, according to a news release.

Atlas Agro is building industrial scale green nitrogen fertilizer plants in the United States and Latin America which will utilize green hydrogen in its production process, in lieu of conventional nitrogen fertilizer production utilizing fossil fuels. Atlas Agro’s innovative business model will produce competitive carbon-free nitrate fertilizers locally in agricultural regions, thereby displacing imported products with a significant carbon footprint from both production and transportation.

“MAM, with their experience in projects and infrastructure, ability to initiate support investments with a wide range of expertise and their commitment to accelerate decarbonization of hard-to-abate-industries, is an ideal partner for us as we approach construction of our first plants in the United States,” said Petter Østbø, CEO of Atlas Agro.

The investment is a significant step towards enabling Atlas Agro’s expansion across the Americas and globally. It will assist the company in realizing its vision of providing a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil-fuel based fertilizer products, which contribute heavily to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

SpareBank 1 Markets AS acted as financial advisor and Homburger AG served as legal counsel to Atlas Agro. Allen & Overy LLP served as legal counsel to Macquarie Asset Management.

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Technology in focus: What is direct ocean capture and can it sail?

Bianca Giacobone explores the not-yet-seagoing technologies behind direct ocean capture, and the emerging players seeking to make it a reality.

The largest carbon capture system in the world is the ocean, sucking in about 31% of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, which makes it “the world’s greatest ally against climate change.” As a matter of fact, it sucks in so much CO2 that it’s becoming too acidic, endangering its ecosystems along the way. 

In the ongoing frenzy to find as many pathways to reverse climate change as possible, scientists and developers are looking to take full advantage of the ocean’s natural carbon sink qualities, while hopefully restoring it to its original, less-acidic state. Direct ocean capture (DOC) removes CO2 from seawater directly, through electrochemical-based methods or calcium looping.

It still hasn’t been deployed on a large scale, but it’s catching the eye of investors, despite not having been blessed by federal subsidies like its sister technology, direct air capture (DAC).

Los Angeles-based Captura, for example, recently announced it has raised over $30m in a Series A funding round from backers like Maersk Growth and Eni Next, while Deep Sky, a Canadian carbon removal developer with partnerships with both Captura and its competitor Equatic, raised CAD 75m ($55.6m) late last year. 

Much like direct air capture, DOC holds a big advantage in that there’s plenty of CO2 and seawater to go around, making it, theoretically, endlessly scalable. 

But “in many ways, from an engineering standpoint, direct ocean capture seems a better approach to carbon removal, because the medium seawater contains more carbon molecules per unit than air,” David Babson, executive director of the MIT Climate Grand Challenge Initiative, said in an interview. Plus, it can be 100% powered by renewable electricity, whereas direct air capture still requires some heat. 

Not that pursuing one denies the other. 

“We got into this mess of climate change by taking carbon out from underground and putting it into the air and therefore into the ocean,” Phil De Luna, chief carbon scientist and head of engineering at Deep Sky, said in an interview. “In order to reverse that, we have to take CO2 out of both the air and the ocean and put it back underground.”

Deep Sky, according to De Luna, is “an oil and gas company in reverse,” and much like an oil company, it doesn’t develop its technologies, but rather invests in what’s already been brewing, offering partners money, solutions, and potentially a place to store the CO2 once they have it. 

Courtesy of Deep Sky.

Deep Sky looks for four things when selecting a technology to invest in: it has to be fully electrified and easily scalable, and it has to have low energy intensity and a robust and uncomplicated supply chain. DOC is on its way to tick all those boxes and it should be ready for commercial deployment within a decade, according to Babson and De Luna. 

Equatic, one of the companies Deep Sky has partnered with, has two pilot facilities active in Los Angeles and Singapore and is going to announce a larger plant, estimated to remove around 4,000 tons of CO2 per year, in the near future, according to Edward Sanders, Equatic’s chief operating officer. 

Its technology is based on modules the size of 20ft shipping containers, which, placed on the coast and powered by renewable energy, pump in large amounts of seawater, pass an electrical current through it, and then trap the extracted CO2 in solid minerals. 

The modules are replicable, “like solar cell modules,” according to Sanders, an attractive feature for investors, and the CO2 removal happens within their boundaries, which means you can measure and report how much of it you’ve captured. That’s important for figuring out how many carbon credits to sell – since, as it stands, selling carbon credits is the basis of most of these companies’ revenue models.

As a new technology, DOC is expensive and needs to become cheaper to be deployed at a relevant scale. But unlike direct air capture, it cannot, currently, claim tax credits for carbon sequestration both in the United States and Canada. 

The lack of DOC-related subsidies is not an issue for Equatic, which, in addition to removing CO2 from the ocean, also produces around 30 kilograms of green hydrogen per module per day, and is therefore eligible for hydrogen tax credits. Captura, on the other hand, is investing in modules to prove that DOC is, essentially, direct air capture, since “you’re using the surface of the water to capture CO2 from the air, and you’re using this process to remove the CO2 from the water,” according to Babson at MIT. 

Captura declined an interview and did not respond to a request for comment.  

“It’s certainly one of the flaws in the Inflation Reduction Act that it has constraining language around direct air capture specifically, saying that direct air capture gets the credit and nothing else,” Babson said. “That runs afoul of policy 101. It limits the possibilities.” 

The next step is convincing the authorities in charge to include DOC in the technologies eligible for subsidies, which is bound to take some time. 

“Unfortunately,” Babson said, “when it comes to climate change and carbon removal and scaling an enormous negative emissions industry, we just don’t have time.”

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Aemetis closes $25m USDA loan to fund eight additional projects

When completed, the biogas digesters for the combined 15 dairies are designed to produce more than 400,000 MMBtus per year of carbon negative renewable natural gas.

Aemetis, Inc., a renewable natural gas and renewable fuels company focused on negative carbon intensity products, has closed its second $25m, 20-year term loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a total of $50m of Aemetis Biogas project financing arranged by Greater Commercial Lending (GCL) in the past nine months.

The Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy RNG Project is now fully funded to build biogas digesters and related assets for eight additional dairies using the $9.4m of equity financing already provided by Aemetis and the $25m of new debt financing guaranteed by the USDA. Magnolia Bank of Elizabethtown, Kentucky provided the primary funding for the $25 million loan to Aemetis Biogas 2, LLC (AB-2), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aemetis, Inc, according to a news release.

“The USDA Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) provides long term, 20-year financing that enables the construction of projects that improve air quality and reduce carbon pollution such as the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Digester Project,” stated Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis. “We appreciate the good working relationship that has been developed with the team at Greater Commercial Lending and we are pleased to have Magnolia Bank as the new primary lender for the AB-2 phase of the project.”

Aemetis Biogas has built and is fully operating dairy biogas digesters for seven dairies, a 40-mile biogas pipeline, the central biogas-to-RNG production facility and the PG&E gas utility interconnection unit. When completed, the biogas digesters for the combined 15 dairies are designed to produce more than 400,000 MMBtus per year of carbon negative renewable natural gas.

The long-term, 20-year project financing was guaranteed by the USDA through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and carries approximately an 8.75% fixed interest rate for the first five years. With two REAP loans closed and three more REAP loans in process, Aemetis Biogas is currently arranging $125 million of 20-year debt funding for the development, construction and operation of the Aemetis Central Dairy Digester project which has already signed 37 dairies and plans to build digesters for 65 dairies within the next 60 months.

Aemetis Biogas is building passive solar anaerobic digesters at dairies to capture biomethane from animal waste. After removal of key contaminants and gas pressurization at the dairy, a biogas pipeline connects the dairies to a central facility located at the Keyes ethanol plant where the biogas is converted into below zero carbon intensity RNG. The RNG is tested and odorized in an interconnection unit, then injected into the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) gas pipeline for delivery to transportation fuel customers throughout California. In addition to delivery of RNG through third parties, Aemetis is building an onsite RNG fueling station to fuel local trucks.

About 25% of the methane emissions in California are emitted from dairy waste lagoons. When fully built, the Aemetis biogas project plans to connect dairy digesters spanning more than 65 dairy farms, producing more than 1,650,000 MMBtu of renewable natural gas from captured dairy methane each year. The project is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to an estimated 6.8 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide over ten years, equal to removing the emissions from approximately 150,000 cars per year.

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C-Zero closes financing round for gas decarbonization pilot

The company has closed a $34m dollar financing round led by SK Gas.

C-Zero Inc., a clean energy company that has developed a technology for natural gas decarbonization, has closed a $34m dollar financing round led by SK Gas, a subsidiary of South Korea’s second-largest conglomerate, the SK Group.

SK Gas was joined by two other new investors – Engie New Ventures and Trafigura, one of the world’s largest physical commodities trading companies – in addition to participation from all existing investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Eni Next, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and AP Ventures, according to a news release.

The funding will be used to build C-Zero’s first pilot plant, which is expected to be online in Q1 2023. The plant will be capable of producing up to 400kg of hydrogen per day from natural gas with no CO2 emissions.

“We are excited to be scaling up our innovative technology with experienced investors and partners who recognize the need to decarbonize natural gas and the opportunity that turquoise hydrogen production represents,” said Eric McFarland, CTO of C-Zero. “Natural gas provides a quarter of the world’s energy, so the scale of the opportunity ahead of us is enormous. But we cannot do it alone.”

“We are eager to bring C-Zero’s technology to Korea, where we see great synergies with our plans to build a hydrogen value chain complex in Ulsan,” said Brian (Byung Suk) Yoon, CEO of SK Gas. “SK Gas strongly believes in the potential of methane pyrolysis and its ability to help countries like Korea in their decarbonization efforts by producing low-cost, clean hydrogen.”

“We see significant applications for low-carbon hydrogen production through methane pyrolysis which complement ENGIE’s existing activities and skill sets. Investing early on in C-Zero’s journey brings us familiarity with the technology, and could help ENGIE achieve its goal of Net Zero by 2045” said Johann Boukhors, Managing Director of ENGIE New Ventures.

“Trafigura is backing C-Zero as part of a series of investments in clean energy technologies, including low-carbon fuels needed for the energy transition. C-Zero is reaching a critical stage with the construction of its first pilot plant to successfully demonstrate the production of low-carbon hydrogen from natural gas,” said Julien Rolland, Head of Power and Renewables for Trafigura.

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Siemens Energy NA executive priming for scale in hydrogen

The North American wing of the global technology company is in the earliest stages of engaging EPC providers and economic development officials for its next US electrolyzer manufacturing site, Richard Voorberg, president of Siemens Energy North America, said in an interview.

To say the demand for electrolyzer capacity has grown exponentially in 2022 comes across as an understatement, as customers in industry and energy have increased their orders multiple times over.

Siemens Energy North America’s electrolyzer – which is 18 MW and among the largest in the market – was too large for many customers just a year ago, Richard Voorberg, president of Siemens Energy North America, said in an interview. But following passage of the IRA, the question became how many the customer could get – and how fast.

“How quickly can I get 100 of your electrolyzers?” Voorberg said he hears now, whereas before that same customer might have asked for half an electrolyzer.

The decision to make an electrolyzer as large as 18 MW was part of the company’s strategy to have bigger capacity as the market for hydrogen expanded, Voorberg said.

HIF Global recently said it has tapped Siemens Energy to engineer and design their proprietary “Silyzer 300” electrolyzers to produce approximately 300,000 tons per year of green hydrogen at an eFuels facility in Texas.

Siemens Energy NA is now in the earliest stages of developing a new electrolyzer manufacturing plant in the United States, as previously reported by ReSource.

The US plant will be similar to the plant Siemens Energy is building in Berlin, and won’t be built until after Berlin is completed, Voorberg said.

The company is actively engaging with state economic development committees to scout locations, incentives and labor supplies. It is also in the early stages of engaging engineers, EPC providers and other development partners, Voorberg said.

“We also need to decide in the next few months what we want to do in-house, with our own shops, versus what we want to outsource,” Voorberg said.

North Carolina, Houston, Alabama and upstate New York are all in Siemens Energy’s existing footprint and are as such strong contenders for the new facility, Voorberg said, though nothing is set in stone as far as location. The company would finance the facility within its normal capex expenses within a year.

In electrolyzer manufacturing there is some “test hydrogen” that is produced, so there will be a need to find some small offtaker for that, Voorberg said. The company could also use it to supply its own fork-trucks in the future.

Open to acquisitions

Diving into an acquisition of another electrolyzer manufacturer probably would not make sense for Siemens Energy, Voorberg said. But the company is open to M&A.

He cited the acquisition of Airfoil Components in Florida as the type of deal that the company could move on again. In that case, the target company had expertise in casting that was easier to acquire than build from scratch.

“Does that make more sense that we buy it, that we outsource it, or should we be doing something like that ourselves?” Voorberg said are questions he often asks.

“When it comes to less complicated things, like a commodity market, that’s not something we play well in or need to play well in,” Voorberg said. “When it comes to a specialty design-type product, that’s where we at Siemens Energy shine.”

Right now, the Siemens Energy parent company has a bid out to acquire the third of Siemens Gamesa, the Spanish-listed wind engineering company, that it does not own, Voorberg noted.

Start-up opportunity

Siemens Energy, through its in-house venture capital group and partnerships with US universities, is interested in helping technology startups scale, Voorberg said.

“We can play in between them and the customers and do the introductions and potentially even partner in with some of our technology,” he said.

The company keeps close relationships with incubators at Georgia Tech and the University of Central Florida, among others, Voorberg said.

Equity investments will be made through the VC group, Voorberg said, noting that effort as one that is strategic in growing the energy transition, rather than financial.

Additional non-equity partnerships, similar to the fellowship with the Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy, are on the table as well.

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Green ammonia provider looking to US for growth

A European green ammonia solutions provider is considering a number of strategies to grow in the US, including capital raising, strategic partnerships and a spinoff.

Proton Ventures, a provider of small-scale green ammonia solutions based in Holland, is considering several possibilities for growing its presence in the US, founder Hans Vrijenhoef said on the sidelines of the World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam.

Vrijenhoef, who also serves as president of the Ammonia Energy Association, founded Proton Ventures in 2000 after speaking to John Holbrook, an early proponent of ammonia as a fuel and a founder of the AEA.

Today Vrijenhoef is a minority shareholder owning one-third of the company, he said. The majority shareholder is Kees Koolen, the former CEO of Booking.com and a founding partner of EQT Ventures.

In the US the firm’s concept is to deploy its technology – small scale ammonia production – at wind farms in Midwestern states like Iowa, Kansas and the Dakotas to make fertilizer for regional farms and replace grey hydrogen in US agribusiness.

The company’s technology has also been deployed to convert flare gas at shale oil production sites in Saskatchewan into ammonia, Vrijenhoef said, adding that any energy source is applicable.

“We are in a position to deploy multiple hundreds of units in the US,” he said. “We need liquidity to do projects. We need a shareholder to come in.”

The company may have a need for a US-based M&A advisor, Vrijenhoef said. Multiple capital strategies, including a spinoff of the North American subsidiaries, are possible.

The technology is proven through a pilot project in Morocco, which has reached FID, he said. Modular ammonia units can produce between 1,000 and 20,000 tonnes, with the option to put multiple units at one site.

The company partly contracts its manufacturing in The Netherlands but could find new partnerships in the US, Vrijenhoef said. He highlighted an existing relationship with Northwest Mechanical in Davenport,Iowa.

The US subsidiary of Proton Ventures is an LLC based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Vrijenhoef said. A Calgary-based subsidiary is called NFuelTechnologies.

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Illinois ethanol company seeking offtaker for SAF project

Seeking to diversify into new markets, Marquis, a family-owned ethanol producer based in Illinois, is looking for an offtaker for its first sustainable aviation fuel plant.

Marquis, a family-owned ethanol producer based in Illinois, is seeking an offtaker for its first sustainable aviation fuel plant.

The company, which is developing the plant in partnership with LanzaJet, an SAF firm, recently completed a feasibility study for the project, and is looking for airlines or users of renewable diesel as offtakers, Dr. Jennifer Aurandt Pilgrim, the company’s director of innovation, said in an interview.

Marquis owns and operates a 400 million gallon per year ethanol plant – the largest dry-grind ethanol plant in the world – which produces sustainable ethanol for fuel and chemicals as well as a feed for the aquaculture and poultry industries.

The company will divert roughly 200 million of those gallons to make 120 million gallons per year of SAF and renewable diesel, Aurandt said, noting that Marquis is looking to branch into new markets where ethanol is a feedstock.

“As more electric vehicles come on, there will be about a 3 billion gallon demand destruction for ethanol, and SAF is one of the great markets that we can diversify into,” she said.

Aurandt said financing for the SAF facility will ultimately depend on who the offtaker is.

Use cases

United Airlines, Tallgrass, and Green Plains Inc. recently formed a joint venture – Blue Blade Energy – to develop and then commercialize SAF technology that uses ethanol as its feedstock.

SAF using corn as a feedstock does not currently qualify for incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, which uses standards laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization that effectively exclude corn-based SAF from qualifying.

Marquis and other ethanol producers are pushing for the adoption of a lifecycle greenhouse gas model, known as GREET, developed by the Argonne National Laboratory, that would allow corn-based feedstock to qualify, said Dustin Marquis, the company’s director of government relations.

The company is also looking to attract partners to set up operations in the Marquis Industrial Complex, which is touted as a 3,300-acre industrial site with natural gas lines, access to multiple forms of transportation, and carbon sequestration on-site.

“We’re looking for other businesses where there would be either vertical integration or business synergies between the two organizations,” Marquis said.

Marquis said in a news release it would develop two 600 ton per day blue hydrogen and blue ammonia facilities along with manufacturing for carbon neutral bio-based chemicals and plastics.

CO2 utilization

In its production process, Marquis makes 1.2 million tons of biogenic CO2 per year, and has applied for an EPA Class IV permit for sequestration.

“We like to say it’s direct air capture with the corn plant,” Aurandt said, adding that the CO2 is purified via fermentation to 99.9% pure, and will be injected into a formation that sits beneath the Marquis Industrial Complex.

The company is additionally developing a CO2 utilization project with LanzaTech, which would augment ethanol production using CO2 as a feedstock. The project was recently awarded an $8.54m grant from the US Department of Energy, the largest award in the category of corn ethanol emission reduction.

“We can increase the amount of ethanol that we produce here by 50%,” Aurandt said. “So we could make 200 million gallons of ethanol per year” from CO2, she added, noting that the pilot demonstration will be the largest CO2 utilization project in North America. It is expected to be operational in late 2024.

The SAF plant and the CO2 utilization project will use hydrogen for refining and as an energy source, respectively, Aurandt said.

Gas Liquid Engineering is the EPC for the CO2 unit, and Marquis will use compressors from Swedish multinational Atlas Copco.

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