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Red Trail Energy becomes first ethanol plant in voluntary carbon markets

RTE sequesters CO2 from the fermentation process at its ethanol plant into a permitted underground Class VI well located approximately 6,500 feet directly beneath its facility.

Red Trail Energy, LLC (RTE), and Puro.earth today announced issuance of RTE’s carbon dioxide (CO2) removal credits on the Puro Registry, making it the first ethanol production facility to generate CO2 Removal Certificates (CORCs) in the voluntary carbon market (VCM) and the largest durable carbon removal project registered to date.

RTE will be offering its CORCs through its marketing arm RPMG.

RTE worked with clean energy advisory firm EcoEngineers to successfully register its project under the Puro Standard, a crediting platform for engineered carbon removal, according to a news release.

The carbon dioxide removal (CDR) credits are generated through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) from ethanol production in compliance with Puro’s Geologically Stored Carbon Methodology. Prior to the issuance of CORCs, RTE underwent an independent verification and successfully met all requirements of feedstock sustainability, carbon sequestration permanence and financial additionality.

RTE sequesters CO2 from the fermentation process at its ethanol plant into a permitted underground Class VI well located approximately 6,500 feet directly beneath its facility. This carbon removal will be available as CORCs to help buyers complement their emission reduction activities in pursuit of net-zero targets.

“We have not only achieved a groundbreaking milestone as one of the first bioenergy facilities with BECCS but have also emerged as pioneers in bringing verified CDR credits to the market,” said Red Trail Energy Chief Executive Officer Jodi Johnson. “This program strengthens our position in the ethanol industry and sets a new standard for sustainability and innovation, driving positive change and demonstrating the viability of proactive environmental stewardship within our industry.”

Through Puro.earth and with EcoEngineers’ guidance, RTE was issued more than 150,000 CO2 Removal Certificates from the first 14 months of BECCS operation.

“Engineered carbon removal is in its infancy and there are a great many risks for project developers. The need for high-quality removals programs, such as RTE, is undisputed in the context of our overrun global carbon budgets and the imperative to reduce carbon emissions,” says David LaGreca, Managing Director of VCM Services at EcoEngineers. “The VCM serves in this case to provide producers optionality for markets and to reduce revenue risks through diversification, consequently making such projects investable in the first place.”

Antti Vihavainen, Chief Executive Officer of Puro.earth, said, “This is the largest durable carbon removal credit issuance to date in the VCM, marking a monumental milestone toward scaling CDR to climate-relevant levels. At Puro.earth, we remain steadfast in our commitment to establishing rigorous standards that propel the expansion, commoditization, and liquidity of durable CDR markets. The significance of RTE’s CCS project cannot be overstated, as it serves as a compelling demonstration that through stringent methodologies for carbon removal and the financial incentives from CORCs, the vital infrastructure required for large-scale carbon sequestration will materialize.”

The Puro.earth-issued CORCs indicate 1,000-plus years of carbon sequestration durability, which provides the key environmental criteria of permanence. For traceability and transparency, CORCs are listed in the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA)-endorsed Puro Registry where their complete lifecycle is recorded, from issuance to retirement.

RTE is a 64 million-gallon-per-year corn ethanol production facility that captures and stores biogenic CO2 from its ethanol fermentation process. The first facility permitted under state primacy to capture and store CO2 in a Class VI well, with an estimated annual output of 180,000 tons. RTE captures the biogenic CO2, which would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere, and injects it for permanent storage into an underground Class VI well beneath its facility. RTE has continuous efforts in place to ensure that the fossil footprint of their main product, biofuel, is reduced through energy efficiency measures and reasonable agricultural practices.

CORCs generated in accordance with rigorous scientific and market requirements, including additionality and permanence, may supplement other incentives. RTE made an additional investment in first of its kind application of proven technology infrastructure to capture and inject the CO2 considering future revenue from carbon removal credits. CO2 Removal Certificate sales in voluntary markets are necessary to support building out CCS projects while reducing carbon removal project financial risks.

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E.P.A. makes selections for $20bn greenhouse gas reduction fund

The EPA announced its selections for $20bn in grant awards under two competitions within the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, established by the Inflation Reduction Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced its selections for $20bn in grant awards under two competitions within the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which was created under the Inflation Reduction Act as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, according to a news release.

The three selections under the $14bn National Clean Investment Fund and five selections under the $6bn Clean Communities Investment Accelerator will create a national clean financing network for clean energy and climate solutions across sectors, ensuring communities have access to the capital they need to participate in and benefit from a cleaner, more sustainable economy.

By financing tens of thousands of projects, this national clean financing network will mobilize private capital to reduce climate and air pollution while also reducing energy costs, improving public health, and creating good-paying clean energy jobs in communities across the country, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

National Clean Investment Fund (NCIF) Selectees

Under the $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund, the three selected applicants will establish national clean financing institutions that deliver accessible, affordable financing for clean technology projects nationwide, partnering with private-sector investors, developers, community organizations, and others to deploy projects, mobilize private capital at scale, and enable millions of Americans to benefit from the program through energy bill savings, cleaner air, job creation, and more. Additional details on each of the three selected applicants, including the narrative proposals that were submitted to EPA as part of the application process, can be found on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund NCIF website.

All three selected applicants surpassed the program requirement of dedicating a minimum of 40% of capital to low-income and disadvantaged communities. The three selected applicants are:

  • Climate United Fund ($6.97 billion award), a nonprofit formed by Calvert Impact to partner with two U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Self-Help Ventures Fund and Community Preservation Corporation. Together, these three nonprofit financial institutions bring a decades-long track record of successfully raising and deploying $30 billion in capital with a focus on low-income and disadvantaged communities. Climate United Fund’s program will focus on investing in harder-to-reach market segments like consumers, small businesses, small farms, community facilities, and schools—with at least 60% of its investments in low-income and disadvantaged communities, 20% in rural communities, and 10% in Tribal communities.
  • Coalition for Green Capital ($5 billion award), a nonprofit with almost 15 years of experience helping establish and work with dozens of state, local, and nonprofit green banks that have already catalyzed $20 billion into qualified projects—and that have a pipeline of $30 billion of demand for green bank capital that could be coupled with more than twice that in private investment. The Coalition for Green Capital’s program will have particular emphasis on public-private investing and will leverage the existing and growing national network of green banks as a key distribution channel for investment—with at least 50% of investments in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
  • Power Forward Communities ($2 billion award), a nonprofit coalition formed by five of the country’s most trusted housing, climate, and community investment groups that is dedicated to decarbonizing and transforming American housing to save homeowners and renters money, reinvest in communities, and tackle the climate crisis. The coalition members—Enterprise Community Partners, LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), Rewiring America, Habitat for Humanity, and United Way—will draw on their decades of experience, which includes deploying over $100 billion in community-based initiatives and investments, to build and lead a national financing program providing customized and affordable solutions for single-family and multi-family housing owners and developers—with at least 75% of investments in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Clean Communities Investment Accelerator (CCIA) Selectees

Under the $6 billion Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, the five selected applicants will establish hubs that provide funding and technical assistance to community lenders working in low-income and disadvantaged communities, providing an immediate pathway to deploy projects in those communities while also building capacity of hundreds of community lenders to finance projects for years. Each of the selectees will provide capitalization funding (typically up to $10 million per community lender), technical assistance subawards (typically up to $1 million per community lender), and technical assistance services so that community lenders can provide financial assistance to deploy distributed energy, net-zero buildings, and zero-emissions transportation projects where they are needed most. 100% of capital under the CCIA is dedicated to low-income and disadvantaged communities. Additional details on each of the five selected applicants, including the narrative proposals that were submitted to EPA as part of the application process, can be found on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund CCIA website.

The five selected applicants are:

  • Opportunity Finance Network ($2.29 billion award), a ~40-year-old nonprofit CDFI Intermediary that provides capital and capacity building for a national network of 400+ community lenders—predominantly U.S. Treasury-certified CDFI Loan Funds—which collectively hold $42 billion in assets and serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories.
  • Inclusiv ($1.87 billion award), a ~50-year-old nonprofit CDFI Intermediary that provides capital and capacity building for a national network of 900+ mission-driven, regulated credit unions—which include CDFIs and financial cooperativas in Puerto Rico—that collectively manage $330 billion in assets and serve 23 million individuals across the country.
  • Justice Climate Fund ($940 million award), a purpose-built nonprofit supported by an existing ecosystem of coalition members, a national network of more than 1,200 community lenders, and ImpactAssets—an experienced nonprofit with $3 billion under management—to provide responsible, clean energy-focused capital and capacity building to community lenders across the country.
  • Appalachian Community Capital ($500 million award), a nonprofit CDFI with a decade of experience working with community lenders in Appalachian communities, which is launching the Green Bank for Rural America to deliver clean capital and capacity building assistance to hundreds of community lenders working in coal, energy, underserved rural, and Tribal communities across the United States.
  • Native CDFI Network ($400 million award), a nonprofit that serves as national voice and advocate for the 60+ U.S. Treasury-certified Native CDFIs, which have a presence in 27 states across rural reservation communities as well as urban communities and have a mission to address capital access challenges in Native communities.
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WATT Fuel Cell receives investment from Generac Power Systems

Pennsylvania-based WATT closed a separate financing round led by EQT Corporation earlier this year, and is building momentum for commercial launch of fuel cell-driven power for homeowners.

WATT Fuel Cell has received an investment from Generac Power Systems, a market leader in residential energy technology, according to a press release.

The new investment closes 2022 with growing momentum toward commercial launch of fuel cell-driven power for homeowners. As a part of the transaction, a member from the Generac executive team will join the WATT board of directors.

WATT closed a separate financing round led by EQT Corporation earlier this year, alongside Senvest Management LLC, Park West Asset Management LLC, and Emerald Development Managers LP.

“This partnership with Generac is a major step forward for WATT as we begin addressing the world’s need for clean, reliable and cost-efficient energy sources in an increasingly disruptive marketplace,” said Caine Finnerty, WATT’s president, chief operating officer and founder. “Generac is the market leader in residential backup power, with a proven and growing brand built on the promise of dependable power for homes in the US and beyond. Partnering with and investing in companies with market leading energy-based technologies like WATT will maintain and extend that lead,” he added.

“Generac is excited to join WATT’s existing investor base and looks forward to collaborating with the WATT team towards the integration of this innovative technology into the Generac Home Energy Ecosystem,” said Patrick Forsythe, chief technical officer at Generac. “We assessed the global fuel cell industry and were impressed by the technological advancements the WATT team has made.”

WATT’s Imperium fuel cells make power using an electrochemical process that generates electricity from hydrogen molecules and other electrochemically oxidizable species derived from one of several readily available fuel options such as propane, natural gas, blended natural gas and hydrogen, or hydrogen.

“This investment by Generac further propels the viability of WATT’s fuel cell power generation technology and gives us an exponential boost as we approach our launch into the residential market,” said Rich Romer, CEO of WATT. “In today’s world of rising energy costs, growing disruptions and threats to the reliability of the power grid, and the need to for lower-carbon energy, WATT will help lead the continued drive for technology and innovation to address those issues.”

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Nel Hydrogen US industrializing PEM platform with GM

General Motors brings experience with fuel cells to advance Nel’s PEM line.

Nel Hydrogen US, a subsidiary of Norway’s Nel ASA, has entered into a joint development agreement with General Motors to industrialize Nel’s PEM electrolyzer platform, according to a press release.

The two companies are looking to enable more cost competitive sources of renewable hydrogen, the release states.

“Adding Nel as a strategic collaborator is an important step to help us commercialize fuel cell technology,” Charles Freese, GM executive director, Global HYDROTEC, said in the release. “Nel has some of the most promising electrolyser technology to help develop clean hydrogen infrastructure, and we believe our HYDROTEC fuel cell IP can help them get closer to scale.”

Detroit-based Nel Hydrogen US will be compensating GM for the development work and IP transfer on an ongoing basis and pay a license after successful commercialization dependent on how much of the end product is based on GM technology.

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Exclusive: New sustainability hedge fund to raise up to $2bn

A new hedge fund founded by a clean fuels industry veteran is gathering partners to raise up to $2bn initially for deployment into ammonia and other climate-transition technologies.

New Waters Capital, an emerging hedge fund based in New York City, is gathering its primary partners for its first fundraise of between $1bn and $2bn, founder Bill Brown said in an interview.

Brown formerly spent 15 years at North Carolina-based 8 Rivers Capital, which recently announced an ammonia project in Texas. Brown, a co-founder, sold his shares to South Korea’s SK, Inc. in that company’s majority takeover of 8 Rivers last year.

Brown recently created New Waters as a multi-strategy fund manager to invest in publicly traded companies in sustainability, AI, and clean fuels.

“The molecule-based economy is really important, and there’s some companies that have been in the molecule-based economy that are not really sure what they’re doing,” Brown said.

This creates an environment ripe for disruption, he said.

The firm is in the process of selecting its prime brokers, which will help determine the size of New Waters’ fundraises, Brown said. The first raise will be conducted in the next six months, and likely not be larger than $2bn to start.

New Waters’ law firm is Seward & Kissel.
The Wild West of molecules

Of all hydrogen produced in the US, about 65% is used for fertilizer production, Brown said. In Japan, where hydrogen is being co-fired with coal, replacing all coal-fired generation with ammonia would require 10 times the current ammonia production of the US.

“The market for molecules is so big, and yet the largest producer in the US of ammonia is CF Industries.” That company has one plant in Louisiana that represents roughly one third of total US ammonia production. “So CF is tiny compared to the opportunities out there.”

Brown said he is looking for the companies that are going to be the Valero and Phillips 66 of ammonia refining. He believes 8 Rivers is on track for something like that.

“We look at companies like that,” he said. “I think that entire market is up for grabs right now; it’s a whole new market.”

 Companies that can seize that market are the companies that are going to be part of the energy system of the future.

“In many respects right now, we’re in the Wild West, if you will, of the molecules of the future,” Brown said.

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Ambient Fuels evaluating hydrogen project acquisitions

The company is well capitalized following a $250m equity investment from Generate Capital and is now opportunistically reviewing an initial slate of project M&A offerings.

Following an equity investment from Generate Capital, Ambient Fuels has begun to evaluate potential acquisitions of hydrogen projects that are under development, CEO Jacob Susman said in an interview.

“We’ve seen our first project M&A opportunities come through in the last 10 days or so,” Susman said.

Three projects for sale involve land positions, he said. Those that appear most attractive have a clear line of site to offtake or a strong approach to renewable power supply. Two out of three are not on the Gulf Coast.

“In no instance are these brokered deals,” Susman said.

Following the $250m equity investment from Generate Capital, Ambient is capitalized for several years and has no immediate plans to seek debt or tax equity, Susman said. The transaction was done without the help of a financial advisor.

Moving forward Ambient is open to JV formation with a partner that can help access offtake and renewable power, Susman said. Those points will drive future capital investment in the company and were resources that Generate brought to the table besides money.

According to ReSource‘s project tracker, Ambient is involved in at least two of the hubs that were encouraged by the DOE to submit a final application: California’s Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES), and the Port of Corpus Christi Green Hydrogen Hub.

In 2021 Ambient completed a funding round led by SJF Ventures. Several other VC funds and angel investors also participated.

In January The Hydrogen Source reported that Ambient was in exclusivity with an equity provider.

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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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