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Midstream hydrogen firm to seek capital for projects within one year

The first slate of the company's salt cavern hydrogen storage and pipeline projects will likely reach FID within six to 12 months, setting the stage for a series of project finance and tax equity transactions.

NeuVentus, the newly formed midstream infrastructure and hydrogen storage company backed by Lotus Infrastructure Partners, will likely seek project financing and tax equity for its first cache of projects in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and Louisiana in six to 12 months, CEO Sam Porter said in an interview.

“It sure looks like 45V and 45Q, and basically everything the IRA just did, is like a brick on the accelerator,” Porter said, explaining that he expects additional federal clarifications for hydrogen to come this year. “We’re looking at FIDing a first batch of projects, which I think are really going to marry up some things that the project finance community loves.”

That includes salt cavern storage and pipelines with a novel ESG twist, Porter said. The company plans to own and operate its developments as a platform. If in time demand for projects becomes overwhelming, the equity holders could sell those projects.

NeuVentus recently launched with Lotus’ backing. The private equity firm’s position is that they are able and ready to fund all project- and platform-level equity, Porter said.

“There’s certainly project level finance requirements, debt, tax equity and sponsor equity,” Porter said. The company will first get its projects de-risked as much as possible.

Pickering Energy Partners was mandated for NeuVentus’ seed raise. Porter said there could be additional opportunities for financial advisors to participate in fundraising, though Lotus has significant in-house capabilities and relationships.

Vinson & Elkins served as the law firm advising Lotus Infrastructure, formerly Starwood Energy, on the launch of NeuVentus.

The company is also open to acquiring abandoned or underutilized infrastructure assets, convertible to hydrogen, Porter said. Assets that connect production and consumption that can be more resistant to embrittlement than newer midstream infrastructure and would be of interest.

Exiting assets in regions that are good for hydrogen production, namely those that are sunny and windy, and are relatively close to consumption, will get the closest look.

Oil & gas in the energy transition

Renewable-sourced hydrogen offers an opportunity for traditional oil and gas operators to continue their work in salt domes.

NeuVentus’ plan is to focus on storage first, and then have the pipeline emanate from that, Porter said. The founding team of the company has a lot of experience in oil & gas and structuring land deals (mineral rights and surface/storage rights) in the Gulf region, where salt caverns are abundant.

The company is also open to an anchor tenant that needs a pipeline segment between production and consumption. But from a developers’ perspective the most prudent play will be around storage sites located with multiple interconnection options, he said.

There are roughly 1,500 miles of pipeline and 9 to 10 million kilograms of daily hydrogen production and consumption in the Texas and Louisiana Gulf region, Porter said.

“I think we’re going to see a significant need for more midstream build-out,” he said. “The traditional fee-for-service model is going to be appealing to a lot of the new entrants.”

A molecule-agnostic approach

Hydrogen is “a Swiss army knife” of a feedstock for numerous use cases, Porter said. That all of those use cases will prevail is uncertain, but NeuVentus ultimately only needs one or two of them to grow.

“Additional hydrogen infrastructure is going to be required,” whether it’s for ammonia as fertilizer or methanol as fuel or something else, Porter said. “We don’t necessarily care: all of them are going to require clean hydrogen.”

Equity owners in NueVentus will be opportunistic when it comes to an eventual financial exit, Porter said.

“The beauty of this is that I can see a number of potential buyers,” he said.

An offtaker that wants to vertically integrate, like foreign consumers of hydrogen products, could want to acquire a midstream platform for purposes of national energy security. Industrial gas companies could want to acquire the infrastructure as well. Large energy transfer companies that move molecules are obvious acquirers as well, and finally the company could remain independent or list publicly under its own business plan.

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Gulf Coast Sequestration appoints CEO

GCS is building a world-scale carbon sequestration hub on the Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast Sequestration has named Dave Cook as CEO.

Prior to joining GCS, Cook was a director of Vaalco Energy, following its merger with TransGlobe Energy Corporation of which he was Chair from 2019 to 2022. Previously, he served as CEO of Noreco in London and INEOS DENOS in Copenhagen. Earlier in his career, he spent more than 20 years with BP in various international assignments.

GCS is building a world-scale carbon sequestration hub on the Gulf Coast.

W. Gray Stream, founder of GCS, will assume the role of Executive Chairman. Completing the leadership team, Benjamin Heard will serve as Chief Strategy Officer, while Scott Stepp is Chief Financial Officer.

“With two Class VI permit applications with the Environmental Protection Agency, GCS is at the forefront of our nation’s efforts to develop and implement carbon capture and sequestration. Under Dave’s leadership, I’m confident we are well positioned to continue our significant progress toward building a carbon sequestration hub on the Gulf Coast,” Stream said.

The addition of Cook follow the recent hire of former Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) regulator Kaycee Garrett as Head of Permitting. Garrett worked in the Underground Injection Control section of the LDNR Office of Conservation for ten years, followed by five years of consulting experience to advance injection well permit applications for operators across the Gulf Coast.

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RONN Motor Group completes paperwork for SPAC merger

The Arizona-based Hydrogen Fuel Cell automaker has to-date delayed the completion of their S-1 because of market conditions.

RONN Motor Group, a multi-National hydrogen solution company, has completed all significant filings, including the u-1 filing, to list on the NASDAQ through a reverse triangular merger with Lee Pharmaceuticals, according to a news release.

RONN Motor Group created one of the first hydrogen-assisted supercars in 2008 and has been active in the automotive space for many years. The company will be submitting the application for a corporate name change to “RONN” along with a ticker change, but their logo will remain.

The company’s form 10 submission had begun; RONN plans to complete their S-1 in 2023, which was delayed in 2022 due to market conditions. The S-1 will be completed with updated financials when market conditions improve.

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Chrysalix Venture Capital closes fifth fund

The 120m fund will deploy into technologies supporting carbon neutrality in energy, mining, transport, chemicals, steel and cement, and forestry.

Chrysalix Venture Capital, an industrial sustainability investor with offices in Holland and Canada, has closed its fifth fund at $120m to invest in early-stage companies across the globe, according to a news release.

The Carbon Neutrality Fund is dedicated to developing technologies enabling carbon neutrality in energy, mining, transport, chemicals, steel and cement, and forestry. It will focus on technologies that include resource efficiency solutions, alternative fuels, materials substitution and circularity, carbon as a resource, negative emission technologies, carbon analytics and markets and will primarily invest across Canada, the US and Europe.

Investors in the fund include Evonik, LyondellBasell and Siam Cement Group (SCG).

“With this first close, the Fund is on its way to raising its target size of [$120m] and is supported by Chrysalix’s expanded presence in Europe, as well as the Chrysalix  ecosystem which includes many of the leading global industrial companies, top universities from Europe, North America and Asia, partnerships with climate technology accelerators and providers of non dilutive and growth capital,” the release states.

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Exclusive: Carbon conversion startup planning capital raise

A Halliburton Labs-backed startup is developing a pilot plant in the Pacific Northwestern US, while forming financial relationships for an industrial-scale carbon conversion facility in the same location.

OCOchem, a Washington state-based carbon conversion startup, will seek new capital partners to build its first commercial scale facility in 2026, CEO Todd Brix said in an interview.

Starting in late 2024 or early 2025, the company will likely go to market for new liquidity – including project debt and equity, Brix said. He declined to talk about capex, but said the first commercial plant in Richland, Washington will cost “multiple tens of millions of dollars.”

The company is working with two EPCs now and is represented legally by Miller Nash law firm in the Pacific Northwest, Brix said. The company does not have a formal relationship with an investment bank but will likely form one for a Series A and later rounds.

“We’ve been in touch with a number of private equity and project finance people,” Brix said of early-stage discussions.

OCOchem is considering land options in Richland for its first plant and is organizing to begin permitting, Brix said. There is opportunity to form relationships with industrial partners in need of an offtaker for their CO2 emissions and new incremental revenue streams, as well as customers for chloral hydrates and other formic acid products.

“We expect to build hundreds of these plants all around the planet,” Brix said, referring to the process of electrochemically converting emitted CO2 and water to formic acid, which can then be used to make a suite of products like hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and formate (methanoate) derivatives. “We are close to industrial size on our plants right now.”

CO2 is captured from steam methane reformers, natural gas processing and piping, and ammonia production, among other processes. The gas is then combined with water in a cellular, modular process producing formic acid, derivatives of which can be used in a range of industries like pharmaceuticals.

The company recently raised $5m in seed funding from lead investor TO VC, which joined backers LCY Lee Family Office, MIH Capital Management, and Halliburton Labs. An additional $8m has been raised in grant funding from the US departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD).

The company is also partnered with the Nutrien Corporation on a small scale facility in Kennewick, Washington, just upriver from Richland, Brix said. Financing for that project is largely arranged with the FEED completed.

Brix owns a majority of the company with his father.

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Exclusive: American Clean Power to advocate for ‘grandfathering’ in 45V rules

The clean energy trade group plans to continue promoting the concept of “grandfathering” for early-mover green hydrogen projects in response to IRS guidance for 45V rules, according to industry sources familiar with the plans.

Clean energy industry trade group American Clean Power (ACP) plans to continue championing the concept of “grandfathering” in the green hydrogen sector, arguing that it is critical for the economic viability of early green hydrogen projects under the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean hydrogen tax credits, according to sources familiar with the group’s plans.

Grandfathering would allow these projects to adhere to less stringent annual time-matching requirements before transitioning to an hourly regime.

ACP, through its previously released Green Hydrogen Framework, has proposed to grandfather in the early-mover projects under annual time-matching as long as they start construction before January 1, 2029. That’s in contrast to guidance for the 45V clean hydrogen tax credit that would require renewable energy generation associated with green hydrogen projects to be matched hourly beginning in 2028.

The trade group, which consists of 800 clean energy companies, previously argued against too-soon hourly matching in a November white paper. Representatives of ACP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In response to the IRS guidance, ACP is seeking to underscore that, without grandfathering, early projects will have to be designed from the start to meet hourly matching requirements, significantly increasing costs and negating the benefits of annual time matching, sources said.

The notice of public rulemaking on 45V was issued on December 26, and is open for public comment for 60 days. The tax credit rules, which would require strict adherence to the so-called three pillars approach for incrementality, temporal matching, and deliverability, are viewed by some in the industry as overly burdensome.

ACP’s position is that the project finance market can handle some changes midstream in long-term agreements, but not fundamental shifts like transitioning from annual to hourly time matching. 

This switch could lead to a dramatic decrease in green hydrogen production and a concurrent exponential increase in production costs. Investors, anticipating these risks, might finance green hydrogen production agreements as if they were under an hourly regime from the beginning, thereby eliminating the initial benefits of annual time matching, according to the sources familiar.

A Wood Mackenzie study estimates that hourly time matching requirements could result in a price increase of 68% in Texas and 175% in Arizona, for example.

ACP, according to sources, stresses that the absence of grandfathering would create an economic cliff for agreements straddling both accounting systems. This would add to project costs, potentially discourage customer interest in green hydrogen, and hinder the industry’s maturation, the sources explained. In contrast, grandfathering first-mover projects under an annual time matching regime would ensure competitive production costs, driving demand for green hydrogen, the trade group believes.

Moreover, sources explained that ACP’s position is that the transition from annual to hourly matching without grandfathering would likely necessitate assuming hourly matching from the onset in power purchase agreements, leading to higher hydrogen costs from the start. This could delay green hydrogen industry development and give an advantage to blue hydrogen with early adopters, potentially excluding green hydrogen from the market.

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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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