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Nature-based carbon removal developer raises $14m

Cultivo's pipeline of natural capital projects surpassed 100m hectares last year, equivalent to more than double the land size of California.

Cultivo, a nature-based carbon removal and land regeneration start-up, has raised $14m in Series A funding to accelerate its mission to unlock investment into regenerating nature at scale through high-quality projects, according to a news release.

The funding round co-led by MassMutual Ventures and Octopus Energy Generation, with participation from Salkantay Ventures and Peña Verde, will speed up the business’ growth and brings Cultivo’s total funding to over $20m.

As part of this news, Cultivo has also signed an agreement with Octopus Energy Generation for them to deploy up to $40m into natural capital projects across North America, Europe and Australasia.

Cultivo’s pipeline of natural capital projects surpassed 100m hectares last year, equivalent to more than double the land size of California. This pipeline has the potential to remove more than 3 Gigatons of carbon dioxide, which is roughly equivalent to the EU’s annual carbon emissions (2.73 GtCO₂ in 2022).

The growth in Cultivo’s pipeline has been driven by financial institutions and companies turning to Cultivo to originate their own high-quality natural capital projects. For example, projects that regenerate degraded land through sustainable grassland management or reforestation activities.

Cultivo co-designs and monitors these high-quality projects to measure the increases in carbon capture, biodiversity, and water storage, as well as the social impact on the local communities and land stewards.

Commenting on the new funding, Dr Manuel Piñuela, CEO and Co-Founder of Cultivo, said: “Investors are recognizing the value and scale of the natural capital investment opportunity, and companies are wanting to secure a future supply of high-quality carbon removal credits to mitigate volatility and quality concerns seen in the voluntary carbon market. This funding allows us to continue to deliver our growing pipeline of high-quality natural capital projects for our institutional customers, and accelerate the development of our AI-driven science & technology platform. We’re deeply honored to have MassMutual Ventures and Octopus Energy Generation join us on our mission to regenerate nature at scale.”

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CCUS developer closes 45Q direct transfer deal

A Mercuria Energy-backed CCUS developer has closed a 45Q direct transfer deal with assistance from Marathon Capital.

CapturePoint LLC has closed on a private Section 45Q direct transfer tax credit transaction for carbon dioxide (CO2) captured at the company’s Arkalon facility near Liberal, Kansas and utilized for Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR) operations in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, according to a news release.

The CapturePoint Arkalon CO2 capture facility has the capacity to capture 250,000 metric tons of CO2 annually from nearby bio-ethanol production. CapturePoint transports the captured CO2 through its 170-mile regional network of dedicated CO2 pipelines to over 75 active CO2 injection wells the company uses for CO2-EOR operations. Once CO2-EOR operations cease, the CO2 is ultimately securely stored permanently underground.

The new Arkalon CO2 capture facility was placed in service in April 2023, generating Section 45Q tax credits for capturing and utilizing industrially sourced CO2 emissions. The Tax Credit Transfer Agreement between CapturePoint and the buyer includes placement of 100% of the 45Q tax credits generated by the Arkalon facility for a total of 12 years. At closing, CapturePoint will transfer all 2023-generated 45Q tax credits to the buyer.

“CapturePoint is at the leading edge of carbon management innovation in the United States,” said CEO Tracy Evans, “and our Arkalon CO2 capture facility and Panhandle CO2-EOR operations are helping the nation achieve important environmental and energy security goals. Our team is also developing expansive deep underground carbon storage sites – like our CPS Central Louisiana Regional Carbon Storage Hub — to permanently and safely sequester much larger volumes of CO2 currently released into the atmosphere by industrial emitters.”

The Section 45Q transaction announced today was placed privately by Marathon Capital. ReSource previously interviewed Evans last year about the company’s plans.

“We were honored to support CapturePoint on one of the industry’s first Section 45Q tax credit transfer transactions for their Arkalon CO2 capture facility,” said Matthew Shanahan, Managing Director at Marathon Capital. “We wish the CapturePoint team continued success as a leader in carbon management services.”

With both the Arkalon CO2 capture facility Section 45Q placement and an earlier transaction announced in January 2023 for CO2 captured at a nitrogen fertilizer facility in Coffeyville, Kansas, CapturePoint now has nearly one million metric tons per year of industrially sourced CO2 being utilized in CO2-EOR operations and generating 45Q tax credits.

CapturePoint LLC and its affiliate CapturePoint Solutions LLC offer a wide array of carbon management services and are pioneering the U.S. development of leading-edge carbon solutions including deep underground geologic carbon storage sites. The companies are privately held, with significant financial backing from prominent investors in clean energy innovation including an affiliate of Mercuria Energy, one of the world’s largest independent energy and commodity groups.

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Fluitron appoints Linh Austin as president and CEO

Austin, the former COO of BayoTech, has been appointed CEO at Fluitron, a manufacturer of integrated hydrogen gas compression, storage, and dispensing systems.

Fluitron, a manufacturer of integrated hydrogen gas compression, storage, and dispensing systems, has appointed Linh Austin as president and chief executive officer.

Austin is the former chief operating officer of BayoTech and regional chief executive officer of McDermott International’s Middle East and North Africa business. Fluitron is a portfolio company of Ara Partners, a decarbonization-focused private equity firm.

Austin brings more than 30 years of experience in the energy industry to Fluitron, including significant leadership experience directing US and international oil & gas businesses, hydrogen operations, P&L management, strategy, and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC). He has also led significant re-engineering initiatives, cost reductions, AI implementation, and energy transition efforts across multiple businesses.

“We are thrilled to welcome Linh to Fluitron as Chief Executive Officer,” said Tuan Tran, a partner at Ara. “Linh is a proven energy industry leader with the vision and expertise necessary to build upon the successful enterprise Fluitron has established over the past 47 years and take the company into its next phase of growth and innovation as a leader in hydrogen gas handling.”

“Linh has been a respected voice at the forefront of energy transition. We are delighted that he has chosen to bring his experience and passion to the leadership of Fluitron,” added Troy Thacker, Managing Partner of Ara Partners.

As Regional CEO for McDermott International in the Middle East and North Africa, Austin was responsible for over $3bn of business, and more than tripled the company’s regional revenue in under six years while maintaining margins. He also previously held several leadership roles at BP in both the US and UK.

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BlackRock’s Larry Fink underscores ‘enormous’ capital demands for infrastructure

In acquiring GIP, BlackRock believes that, over the next 10 years, infrastructure and energy investments will become a major component of the private market ecosystem.

The growth of private markets in infrastructure underpins the industrial logic of BlackRock’s $12.5bn deal for infrastructure asset manager Global Infrastructure Partners, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said today.

In a Friday morning call with analysts, Fink emphasized the expected growth of private capital in infrastructure and energy markets over the next 10 years as a major factor in its acquisition of GIP.

“Growing public deficits, a modernizing digital world, advancing energy independence, and the energy transition are driving the mobilization of private capital to fund critical infrastructure,” Fink said.

“I believe that the amount of capital that is to be needed as we digitize everything, the need to upgrade our power grids worldwide is a must,” he said. “The capital associated with that is going to be enormous.”

BlackRock is acquiring GIP for $3bn of cash and approximately 12 million shares of BlackRock common stock. The combination creates the second-largest global infrastructure private markets business, with over $150m in client assets, according to a presentation.

Fink expects BlackRock to continue to partner with corporations in acquiring asset carve-outs or co-investing in infrastructure projects, such as its deals with Occidental Petroleum (direct air capture) and AT&T (5G buildout).

GIP Founding Partner, Chairman, and CEO Bayo Ogunlesi, who is slated to become a member of BlackRocks’ board following the transaction, highlighted the complementary aspects of the business combination.

“BlackRock has built a terrific infrastructure business,” he said. “But they make mid-market or mid-cap investments. We make large-cap investments.”

He added, “[BlackRock has] a terrific infrastructure debt business that is mostly investment grade, ours is mostly below investment grade. They have a capital solutions business that we don’t have. So if you put these two businesses together, we can go to clients, large cap clients, mid cap clients, offer them a complete array of solutions.”

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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: Hydrocarbon recycling firm raising pre-IPO equity

An early-stage company capturing and recycling CO2 from hydrocarbon engines in the northeastern US and Germany has hired an investment bank to help them with a public listing and is raising pre-IPO platform equity.

ESG Clean Energy, a Massachusetts-based carbon capture and recycling firm formed in 2016, plans to go public in 2025 but will first raise pre-IPO platform equity, CEO Nick Scuderi said in an interview.

ESG Clean Energy will change its name in a re-brand and has hired an investment bank to help with the IPO, which does not yet have a targeted quarter, Scuderi said. He declined to name the advisor.

After the name change but prior to the public listing, ESG is seeking to raise between $20m and $40m in platform equity, he said. The company is interested in a traditional IPO, not a SPAC or private debut opportunity.

Angel investors have backed the company to date, with some $40m total raised, Scuderi said. He owns a controlling stake in the company.

Power, water and CO2

ESG Clean Energy, billed as a thermal dynamics and fluid mechanics engineering company, has patented technology for use in fossil combustion engines – both piston-driven engines and bottoming cycles (secondary thermal dynamic waste-to-energy systems). Exhaust is treated to produce CO2 and water.

The technology is commercialized, producing power at a facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts under a 5 MW/20-year PPA with Holyoke Gas & Electric. The 5,000 square-foot plant in the city proper has two Caterpillar G3520 natural gas engines each producing 2 MW of power running on natural gas during peak hours.

The waste-heat from Holyoke One is used to create commodities, including distilled water.

“What we have is a design, a system, where we utilize our technology to separate the water from the exhaust,” Scuderi said. “We can utilize this technology in any power plant in the US that’s running on natural gas.”

In arid regions, the distilled water aspect has obvious potential. The Holyoke One facility makes up to 14,000 gallons of distilled water per day, Scuderi said.

The system is also applicable in ICE engines, Suderi said. The company has been in discussions with auto manufacturers to license ESG’s IP; he declined to name which auto companies.

The CO2 is sold to offtakers who do not re-emit it into the atmosphere, such as cannabis growers and CO2 beverage makers. ESG is also able to sell carbon credits.

Bankable opportunities in the US and Germany

Holyoke One, at a cost of $20m, can be replicated throughout the US and, post-IPO, ESG has eyes on power projects in New England, California and Florida, Scuderi said.

Power plants that produce from 100 MWh to 200 MWh will cost between $400m and $450m, and each of those projects will be set up as a separate LLC, Scuderi said. The demand is particularly large in powering data storage.

“We have different [investment] funds that are very large that are willing to put up the money” to fund the projects, Scuderi said. “It’s bankable because the power sales agreement is tied to a data storage company that’s triple-A rated.”

Data-heavy geographies like Virginia are targets for this kind of development, and ESG plans to sharpen its focus on these projects, as well as project finance efforts, following the IPO.

Now, the company has six large scale projects in development in Germany, including one advanced project serving a cloud computing offtaker in the Berlin area, needing 150 MW to 200 MW of power per hour, Scuderi said.

“In Germany, we’re very far along with getting power sales agreements,” he said. “Once we deploy this technology in one location, the world’s going to want it.”

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Interview: Vinson & Elkins’ Alan Alexander on the emerging hydrogen project development landscape

Vinson & Elkins Partner Alan Alexander, whose clients include OCI and Lotus Infrastructure, has watched the hydrogen project development space evolve from a fledgling idea to one that is ready for actionable projects.

Vinson & Elkins Partner Alan Alexander, whose clients include OCI and Lotus Infrastructure, has watched the hydrogen project development space evolve from a fledgling idea to one that is ready for actionable projects.

In the meantime, a number of novel legal and commercial issues facing hydrogen project developers have come to the forefront, as outlined in a paper from the law firm this week, which serves as a guide for thinking through major development questions that can snag projects.

In an interview, Alexander, a Houston-based project development and finance lawyer, says that, although some of the issues are unique – like the potential for a clean fuels pricing premium, ownership of environmental attributes, or carbon leaking from a sequestration site – addressing them is built on decades of practice.

“The way I like to put it is, yes, there are new issues being addressed using traditional tools, but there’s not yet a consensus around what constitutes ‘market terms’ for a number of them, so we are having to figure that out as we go,” he says.

Green hydrogen projects, for example, are “quite possibly” the most complex project type he has seen, given that they sit at the nexus between renewable electricity and downstream fuels applications, subjecting them to the commercial and permitting issues inherent in both verticals.

But even given the challenges, Alexander believes the market has reached commercial take-off for certain types of projects.

“When the hydrogen rush started, first it was renewables developers who knew a lot about how to develop renewables but nothing about how to market and sell hydrogen,” he says. “Then you got the people who were very enthusiastic about developing hydrogen projects but didn’t know exactly what to do with it. And now we’re beginning to see end-use cases develop and actionable projects that are very exciting, in some cases where renewables developers and hydrogen developers have teamed up to focus on their core competencies.”

A pricing premium?

In the article, Vinson & Elkins lawyers note that commodities pricing indices are not yet distinguishing between low-carbon and traditional fuels, even though a clean fuel has more value due to its low-carbon attributes. The observation echoes the conclusion of a group of offtakers who viewed the prospect of paying a premium for clean fuels as unrealistic, as they would need to pass on the higher costs to customers.

Eventually, Alexander says, the offtake market should price in a premium for clean products, but that might depend in the near term on incentives for clean fuels demand, such as carbon offsets and levies, like the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

“Ultimately what we need is for the market to say, ‘I will pay more for low-carbon products,’” he says. “The mindset of being willing to pay more for low-carbon products is going to need to begin to permeate into other sectors. 30 or 40 years ago the notion of paying a premium for an organic food didn’t exist. But today there are whole grocery store chains built around the idea. When the consumer is willing to pay a premium for low-carbon food, that will incentivize a farmer to pay a premium for low carbon fertilizer and ammonia, which will ultimately incentivize the payment of a premium for low-carbon hydrogen. The same needs to repeat itself across other sectors, such as fuels and anything made from steel.”

The law firm writes that US projects seeking to export to Europe or Asia need to take into account the greenhouse gas emissions and other requirements of the destination market when designing projects.

In the agreements that V&E is working on, for example, clients were first focused on structuring to make sure they met requirements for IRA tax credits and other domestic incentives, Alexander says. Meanwhile, as those clean fuels made their way to export markets, customers were coming back with a long list of requirements, “so what we’re seeing is this very interesting influx” of sustainability considerations into the hydrogen space, many of which are driven by requirements of the end-use market, such as the EU or Japan.

The more stringent requirements have existed for products like biofuels for some time, he adds, “but we’re beginning to see it in hydrogen and non-biogenic fuels.”

Sharing risk

Hydrogen projects are encountering other novel commercial and legal issues for which a “market” has not yet been developed, the law firm says, especially given the entry of a raft of new players and the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

In the case of a blue hydrogen or ammonia project where carbon is captured and sequestered but eventually leaks from a geological formation, for example, no one knows what the risk truly is, and the market is waiting for an insurance product to provide protection, Alexander says. But until it does, project parties can implement a risk-sharing mechanism in the form of a cap on liabilities – a traditional project development tool.

“If you’re a sequestration party you say, ‘Yeah, I get it, there is a risk of recapture and you’re relying on me to make sure that it doesn’t happen. But if something catastrophic does happen and the government were to reclaim your tax credits, it would bankrupt me if I were to fully indemnify you. So I simply can’t take the full amount of that risk.’”

What ends up getting negotiated is a cap on the liability, Alexander says, or the limit up to which the sequestration party is willing to absorb the liability through an indemnity.

The market is also evolving to take into account project-on-project risk for hydrogen, where an electrolyzer facility depends on the availability of, for example, clean electricity from a newly built wind farm.

“For most of my career, having a project up and reaching commercial operations by a certain date is addressed through no-fault termination rights,” he says. “But given the number of players in the hydrogen space and the amount of dollars involved, you’re beginning to see delay liquidated damages – which are typically an EPC concept – creep into supply and offtake agreements.”

If a developer is building an electrolyzer facility, and the renewables partner doesn’t have the wind farm up and running on time, it’s not in the hydrogen developer’s interest to terminate through a no-fault clause, given that they would then have a stranded asset and need to start over with another renewable power provider. Instead, Alexander says, the renewables partner can offset the losses by paying liquidated damages.

Commercial watch list

In terms of interesting commercial models for hydrogen, Alexander says he is watching the onsite modular hydrogen development space as well as power-to-fuels (natural gas, diesel, SAF), ammonia and methanol, given the challenges of transporting hydrogen.

“If you’re going to produce hydrogen, you need to produce it close to the place where it’s going to be consumed, because transporting it is hard. Or you need to turn it into something else that we already know how to transport – natural gas, renewable diesel, naphtha, ammonia.”

Alexander believes power-to-fuels projects and developers that are focused on smaller, on-site modular low-carbon hydrogen production are some of the most interesting to watch right now. Emitters are starting to realize they can lower their overall carbon footprint, he says, with a relatively small amount of low-carbon fuels and inputs.

“The argument there is to not completely replace an industrial gas supplier but to displace a little bit of it.”

At the same time, the mobility market may take off with help from US government incentives for hydrogen production and the growing realization that EVs might not provide a silver-bullet solution for decarbonizing transport, Alexander adds. However, hydrogen project developers targeting the mobility market are still competing with the cost of diesel, the current “bogey” for the hydrogen heavy mobility space, Alexander says.

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