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Renewable hydrogen developer in exclusivity with strategic investor

A renewable hydrogen developer based in the western US is reaching the final stages of a capital raise with an investor in exclusivity.

NovoHydrogen, the Colorado-based renewable hydrogen developer, is in exclusivity with clean energy investment platform Modern Energy, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

ReSource reported in February that GreenFront Energy Partners was advising the company on a Series A.

NovoHydrogen CEO Matt McMonagle said previously that the company has about 30 projects in development in the US, ranging from a few megawatts to hundreds of megawatts. Its most active markets are the West coast, Northeast, Appalachia, Texas and the Rocky Mountains, though the company is not geographically constrained.

The company aims to begin construction on its first projects by the end of this year, the executive had said.

NovoHydrogen declined to comment. GreenFront and Modern Energy did not respond to requests for comment.

Modern Energy, a certified B-Corporation, recently put $90m into net metered solar developer Industrial Sun along with partner EIG. In 2020 EIG committed USD 100m to Modern Energy through a debt facility to fund the development of clean energy assets.

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Stonepeak acquires 50% stake in Virginia offshore wind farm

The infrastructure fund will acquire a 50% stake in Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project for $3bn.

Stonepeak, a leading alternative investment firm specializing in infrastructure and real assets, today announced that it has reached an agreement with Dominion Energy to acquire a 50% interest in its Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project through the formation of an offshore wind partnership.

The project is expected to be the largest offshore wind farm in the U.S. and one of the largest offshore wind farms globally upon completion.

CVOW is a 2.6 GW offshore wind project 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, Virginia capable of serving the power needs of 660,000 homes.

Dominion Energy began developing CVOW in 2013 and is scheduled to begin offshore construction this spring. Construction is expected to be completed by year-end 2026. When fully constructed, each year CVOW will avoid carbon emissions equivalent to removing 1 million cars from the road, and will play an important role in supporting energy security and reliability, and lowering fuel costs by diversifying Dominion Energy customers’ energy supply.

Under the terms of the agreement, at closing Dominion Energy expects to receive proceeds of approximately $3bn, representing 50% of the CVOW construction costs incurred through closing less $145m (the initial withholding), Dominion said in a separate press release.

If the final construction costs of CVOW are $9.8bn or less, excluding financing costs, Dominion Energy will receive $100 million of the initial withholding. Such amount is subject to downward adjustment with Dominion Energy receiving no withheld amounts if the total costs, excluding financing costs, of CVOW exceed $11.3 billion. The transaction is expected to improve the company’s estimated 2024 consolidated FFO-to-debt by approximately 1.0% and reduce the company’s overall financing needs during construction.

Following closing, Dominion Energy and Stonepeak will each contribute 50% of the remaining capital necessary to fund construction of CVOW, provided the total project cost, excluding financing costs, is less than $11.3 billion (mandatory capital contributions). This represents 50/50 cost-sharing up to 15%, or nearly $1.5 billion, higher than the project’s current project budget ($9.8 billion) and up to 20%, or nearly $2.0 billion, higher than the project’s current pre-contingency budget ($9.45 billion).

“Having previously partnered with Dominion Energy, we look forward to extending our relationship through CVOW, which is a fitting addition to our global renewables strategy given its potential to provide meaningful renewable capacity to the U.S., advanced stage of development, and downside-protected fundamentals,” said Rob Kupchak, Senior Managing Director at Stonepeak. “Dominion Energy’s impressive track record building and operating large-scale infrastructure projects paired with Stonepeak’s experience successfully constructing offshore wind assets gives us confidence in CVOW’s path forward, and we are excited to partner with Dominion in delivering this critical renewable energy generation resource to its customers.”

Dominion Energy will continue to oversee CVOW’s day-to-day operations and construction at close, supported by Stonepeak’s expertise in investing in and delivering large and complex renewables and energy infrastructure projects including offshore wind. The transaction is subject to customary and regulatory approvals and is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

Vinson & Elkins LLP served as legal advisor to Stonepeak. Mizuho Securities USA, through its affiliate Greenhill & Co., and Santander US Capital Markets LLC served as co-financial advisors.

McGuireWoods LLP and Morgan Lewis served as legal advisors to Dominion. Citi and Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC acted as sellside co-financial advisors for the transaction.

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NuScale Power, Shell to research hydrogen production from modular nuclear reactor

NuScale, Shell, and industry participants will assess a concept for an energy system for hydrogen production using small modular reactor technology.

Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power, LLC (NuScale) along with Shell Global Solutions (Shell) and industry participants will develop and assess a concept for an economically optimized Integrated Energy System (IES) for hydrogen production using electricity and process heat from a NuScale VOYGR™ small modular reactor (SMR) power plant, according to a press release.

The project, entitled, “Development and Demonstration of a Concept for an Economically Optimized IES,” will be completed in two phases. Additional research participants include Idaho National Laboratory, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), Fuel Cell Energy, FPoliSolutions, and GSE Solutions.

NuScale’s flexible SMR technology holds the potential to balance and stabilize power grids dominated by renewable energies through hydrogen production, the release states. Energy markets present reliability concerns at times when energy demand is high and renewable energy production is low. In these markets, hydrogen would be used as an end-product or as a stored energy source to be processed through a Reversible Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (RSOFC) for electricity generation.

“Hydrogen has been identified as a pathway for global decarbonization and NuScale’s SMR technology complements this goal through low carbon hydrogen production,” said John Hopkins, NuScale Power president and chief executive officer.

A NuScale control room simulator will be modified to evaluate the dynamics of the IES and will include models for the Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cell (SOEC) system for hydrogen production, in addition to a RSOFC for electricity production. The research will consider the number of NuScale Power Modules™ needed for use in SOEC hydrogen production and the quantity of hydrogen stored for subsequent electricity production. Further, local economic factors from the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project will be assessed, such as the impact in the Western Energy Imbalance Market, resource adequacy programs, and other local market factors to be defined.

“We are pleased to join this collaboration, which is in line with our efforts to explore technologies that have the potential to enable decarbonization and support the energy transition,” said Dirk Smit, vice president of research strategy at Shell.

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DOE releases billion-ton biomass report

The report, which is released only every five years, details the opportunities and constraints to reaching 1 billion tons of biomass production per year in the U.S., and includes county-level data on resource availability.

The Department of Energy’s 2023 Billion-Ton Report provides a detailed analysis of the potential biomass resource availability in the United States, finding that more than 1 billion tons of biomass could be sustainably produced annually in the U.S., given adequate market conditions. 

This production capacity could significantly expand the current bioenergy economy, contingent upon the realization of market demand and adherence to environmental sustainability constraints.

The decarbonization of America’s transportation and industrial sectors depends on a significant increase in the production of renewable biomass for use in liquid fuel, bio-based chemicals, and other products, the DOE said in a press release. Highlights from the report include:  

  • The U.S. currently uses about 342 million tons of biomass, including corn grain for ethanol and wood/wood waste for heat and power, to meet roughly 5% of America’s annual energy demand 
  • The U.S. can triple the production of biomass, producing an estimated 60 billion gallons of low greenhouse gas liquid fuels, while still meeting the projected demand for food, feed, fiber, conventional forest products, and exports 
  • Currently available but unused biomass resources can add around 350 million tons of additional biomass per year above current uses and double the U.S. bioeconomy 
  • Biomass resources, like energy crops, in a future mature market can provide more than 400 million tons of biomass per year above current uses 
  • Further technological innovations could lead to evolving and emerging resources that represent additional biomass potential 
  • The analysis ensures sustainable outcomes by accounting for potential risks to soil, air and water quality, water availability, and the imperative to protect America’s forests and biodiversity 
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exclusive

Analysis: Premium for clean hydrogen unlikely

A group of hydrogen offtakers say they have every intention of decarbonizing their fuel intake, but barring the implementation of a carbon-pricing mechanism, paying a premium for it is unrealistic.

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act ignited investor interest in the global market for clean hydrogen and derivatives like ammonia and methanol, but offtake demand would be better characterized as a flicker.

And while many questions about the nascent market for green hydrogen remain unanswered, one thing is clear: offtakers seem uninterested in paying a “green premium” for clean fuels.

That doesn’t mean offtakers aren’t interested in using clean fuels – quite the opposite. As many large industrial players worldwide consider decarbonization strategies, hydrogen and its derivatives must play a significant role.

Carbon pricing tools such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism in Europe could introduce a structural pricing premium for clean products. And industry participants have called for carbon levies to boost clean fuels, most recently Trafigura, which released a white paper today advocating for a carbon tax on fossil-based shipping fuels.

But the business case for clean fuels by itself presents an element of sales risk for potential offtakers, who would have to try to pass on higher costs to customers. Even so, there is an opportunity for offtakers to make additional sales and gain market share using decarbonization as a competitive advantage while seeking to share costs and risks along the value chain.

“It’s a very difficult sell internally to say we’re going to stop using natural gas and pay more for a different fuel,” said Jared Elvin, renewable energy lead at consumer goods company Kimberly-Clark. “That is a pickle.”

Needing clean fuels to reach net zero

Heavy-duty and long-haul transportation is viewed as a clear use case for clean fuels, but customers for those fuels are highly sensitive to price.

“We’re very demand focused, very customer focused,” said Ashish Bhakta, zero emission business development manager at Trillium, a company that owns the Love’s Travel Shop brand gas stations. “That leads us to be fuel-agnostic.”

Trillium is essentially an EPC for fueling stations with an O&M staff for maintenance, Bhakta said.

As many customers consider their own transitions to zero-emissions, they are thinking through EV as well as hydrogen, he said. Hydrogen is considered better for range, fueling speed and net-payload for mobility, all of which bodes well for the clean fuels industry.

One sticking point is price, he said. Shippers are highly sensitive to changes in fuel cost – and asking them to pay a premium doesn’t go far.

Alessandra Klockner, manager of decarbonization and energy solutions manager at Brazilian mining giant Vale, said her employer is seeking partnerships with manufacturers, particularly in steel, to decarbonize its component chain.

In May Vale and French direct reduced iron (DRI) producer GravitHy signed an MoU to jointly evaluate the construction of a DRI production plant using hydrogen as a feedstock in Fos-sur-Mer, France. The company also has steel decarbonization agreements in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

In the near term, 60% of Vale’s carbon reductions will come from prioritizing natural gas, Klockner said. But to reach net zero, the company will need clean hydrogen.

“There’s not many options for this route, to reach net zero,” she said. “Clean hydrogen is pretty much the only solution that we see.”

Elvin, of Kimberly-Clark, noted that his company is developing its own three green hydrogen projects in the UK, meant to supply for local use at the source.

“We’re currently design-building our third hydrogen fueling facility for public transit,” he said. “We’re basically growing and learning and getting ready for this transition.”

The difficulty of a “green premium

The question of affordability persists in the clean fuels space.

“There are still significant cost barriers,” said Cihang Yuan, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, an NGO that has taken an active role in promoting clean fuels. “We need more demand-side support to really overcome that barrier and help users to switch to green hydrogen.”

Certain markets will have to act as incubators for the sector, and cross-collaboration from production to offtake can help bring prices down, according to Elvin. Upstream developers should try to collaborate early on with downstream users to “get the best bang for your buck” upstream, as has been happening thus far, he added.

Risk is prevalently implied in the space and must be shared equitably between developers, producers and offtakers, he said.

“We’ve all got to hold hands and move forward in this, because if one party is not willing to budge on any risk and not able to look at the mitigation options then they will fail,” he said. “We all have to share some sort of risk in these negotiations.”

The mining and steel industries have been discussing the concept of a green premium, Klockner said. Green premiums have actually been applied in some instances, but in very niche markets and small volumes.

“Who is going to absorb these extra costs?” she said. “Because we know that to decarbonize, we are going to have an extra cost.”

The final clients are not going to accept a green premium, she said. To overcome this, Vale plans to work alongside developers to move past the traditional buyer-and-seller model and into a co-investment strategy.

“We know those developers have a lot of challenges,” she said. “I think we need to exchange those challenges and build the business case together. That’s the only way that I see for us to overcome this cost issue.”

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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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Exclusive: E-fuels developer raising $500m

A developer of green hydrogen for e-fuel products is looking for a more diverse set of backers for a recently launched Series C capital raise.

Ineratec, the German power-to-liquid fuels developer and technology provider, has launched a $500m Series C and could take on a US-based financial advisor to help, CEO Tim Boeltken said in an interview.

German boutique Pava Partners helped Ineratec on its $129m Series B, which was led by Piva Capital. The Series B raise, which was announced in January, also included participation from HG Ventures, TDK Ventures, Copec WIND Ventures, RockCreek, Emerald, Samsung Ventures as well as the increased support from current investors, including global corporates like ENGIE New Ventures, Safran Corporate Ventures and Honda.

The Series C can include equity, debt and project finance, Boeltken said.

The company, which takes a modular approach to fuels production, serves customers in Switzerland, Spain and Finland. Its e-fuels process involves two main steps: first, turning CO2 and hydrogen into synthesis gas, then using a second reactor to turn the synthesis gas into liquid and solid hydrocarbons, according to its website.

Growth in the US would include eventual rollout of its 100 MW commercial unit, none of which have been built to date. Now the company is focused on its 10 MW commercial units, following completion of a 1 MW industrial plant operating now.

In the next month Ineratec will be scouting locations in the US, Boeltken said, adding the the company is “hoping for many, many US installations” with eyes on additional applications in South America and Japan. The company also intends to establish a US headquarters.

Sites in New York and California are of first interest but there are also growth intentions in Texas, Washington state and Appalachia.

Ineratec is currently raising project finance for a “triple-digit” million capex project in the Europe, he said.

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