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SAF developer eschews high-cost debt and equity to pursue DOE loan guarantee

A Colorado-based developer of sustainable aviation fuel projects will forgo high-cost equity and debt financing from the market to pursue a loan from the DOE, delaying completion of a SAF facility by a year.

Gevo, Inc CEO Patrick Gruber said on an earnings call this week that the company, a developer of low carbon fuels and chemicals, will forgo for now the high-cost equity and debt proposals it has received from potential investors for the construction of its first sustainable aviation fuel plant in South Dakota.

Instead, the company will seek a low-interest loan from the DOE – a decision that will delay the in-service date of its first SAF facility, known as Net Zero 1, by about a year, Gruber said.

Net Zero 1, in Lake Preston, South Dakota, is expected to be the first of several SAF projects the company is seeking to build using a modularized construction method, Gruber said. Using corn as feedstock, it would have the capability to produce approximately 60 million gallons per year of liquid hydrocarbons in the form of jet fuel and renewable gasoline. The plant is also expected to produce at least 420,000,000 pounds per year of high-value nutritional products.

The company expects to eventually secure third-party debt and equity investment in its net-zero projects, and to make money through development, fees, licenses, and a “carry” in the project – an equity interest that doesn’t necessarily require a cash investment, according to Gruber.

However, Gruber added that, in the current environment, “interest rates are high and expected to go higher.” After discussions with potential equity investors, Gruber said Gevo believes that the correct approach is to secure the DOE loan guarantee. The DOE process will delay financial close into 2024 and startup of Net Zero 1 to at least 2026, Gruber said.

In late April, Gevo gave notice that its offtake arrangement with Trafigura had been canceled. Gevo last year decided to utilize ethanol fermentation technology instead of isobutanol fermentation technology to produce SAF, requiring an amendment to the Trafigura deal that the parties could not agree to.

“This gives us a little more breathing room,” Gruber commented on the call, noting that airlines would step up for the lost offtake.

Addressing specifically the benefits to Gevo in delaying the Net Zero 1 project to pursue the DOE loan, Gruber noted the company doesn’t need to make orders for long-lead items between now and then.

“It gives us time to get the financing in order, make sure we’ve got everything in order to do the best deal,” he said. “We’ve got to go along with [the DOE] path. It helps with the overall financing.”

Gruber noted during the call that Gevo is looking at existing brownfield sites to build additional SAF plants, at a cost of roughly $400m – $500m depending on existing infrastructure.

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Apollo invests in hydrogen and CNG storage and transportation solutions provider

Apollo funds have acquired a majority interest in a manufacturer of cylinders that facilitate the use of natural gas and hydrogen.

Apollo-managed funds have acquired a majority interest in Composite Advanced Technologies, Inc, a provider of compressed natural gas (CNG), renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen transportation and storage solutions in the United States, according to a news release.

CATEC’s products and services help its customers transition away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels towards cleaner alternatives. Founded in 2014 and based in Houston, CATEC manufactures large format Type IV cylinders that facilitate the use of natural gas and hydrogen across a wide variety of industry applications when mounted on mobile trailers or used in stationary applications.

TerraNova Capital served as financial advisor and Baker Botts L.L.P. acted as legal counsel to CATEC. Vinson & Elkins LLP acted as legal counsel to the Apollo Funds. Financial terms were not disclosed.

CATEC’s high capacity, lightweight trailers and storage solutions help end-customers decarbonize, while making lower carbon energy sources more accessible and affordable. Gaseous fuels are one important solution for reducing carbon emissions in certain ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors. As penetration of natural gas continues and the hydrogen economy grows, logistics are expected be a constraint and CATEC is an early mover in providing safe and efficient solutions for a wide range of end uses.

Apollo Funds intend to invest further capital behind the company, seeking to establish a leading gaseous equipment manufacturing and services platform with enhanced capabilities and customer offerings to support expansion in the high-growth hydrogen transport and storage market, the release states.

Apollo Partner Scott Browning said, “CATEC’s proprietary manufacturing capabilities are critical to supporting the growing market demand to reduce carbon emissions in ‘hard-to-decarbonize’ industries. The CATEC team has built an impressive business, which we believe can scale to become a one-stop-shop platform for serving the equipment needs of the compressed gas value chain through various expansion initiatives. We look forward to helping accelerate the Company’s growth trajectory in support of the broader energy transition.”

Alberto Chiesara, Co-Founder and President of CATEC, added, “We are pleased to join forces with Apollo Funds to help expand our capabilities and better support the growing adoption of low-carbon fuel solutions such as hydrogen, RNG and CNG. Apollo’s track record in energy transition investing, industry experience and significant resources make them an ideal partner for CATEC as we scale and embark on our next phase of growth.”

Co-Founder of CATEC Ryan Comerford said, “It has been a privilege to help lead the team, and I’m confident new management, with the backing of Apollo Funds, will position the Company for further growth and success.”

The transaction underscores Apollo’s commitment to driving a more sustainable future and long track record of investing in or lending to companies supporting the energy transition. Last year, Apollo launched its Sustainable Investing Platform, which targets to deploy $50 in clean energy and climate capital by 2027 and sees the opportunity to deploy more than $100bn by 2030. Over the last five years, Apollo Funds have deployed over $23bn into energy transition and sustainability-related investments, supporting companies and projects across clean energy and infrastructure, including offshore and onshore wind, solar, storage, renewable fuels, electric vehicles as well as a wide range of technologies to facilitate decarbonization.

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FirstElement receives grant to expand manufacturing capacity

A $7.7m grant from the California Energy Commission is meant to help increase the output of the Santa Ana components manufacturing facility tenfold.

FirstElement Fuel has received a $7.7m grant from the California Energy Commission to increase the Company’s Santa Ana, CA manufacturing facility output by more than 10 times, according to a news release.

The California-based company is currently operating the world’s largest network of hydrogen refueling stations comprised of 85 dispensers across 40 station locations and serving hydrogen-powered vehicles across California.

The facility in Santa Ana produces components and systems for hydrogen refueling stations, including liquid hydrogen cryopump systems. FistElement will also contribute at least $14m to the project.

The manufacturing expansion project will extend through March 2026. FistElement will also increase its pump testing capability at its hydrogen logistics hub and field-testing facility  in Livermore, California as part of the project.

Quantron US and FirstElement recently announced that Quantron will be one of the first to take advantage of FirstElement’s network of hydrogen stations designed for hydrogen fuel-cell electric trucks.

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FuelCell Energy secures $20m debt financing for Naval Submarine Base

Lenders on the financing include Liberty Bank and Amalgamated Bank.

FuelCell Energy, Inc. has closed on a project debt financing transaction with Liberty Bank and Amalgamated Bank as senior lenders and the Connecticut Green Bank as subordinated lender for its Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (CMEEC) fuel cell microgrid-ready project at the Naval Submarine Base New London, located in Groton, Connecticut (Groton Project).

Liberty Bank and Amalgamated Bank’s senior commitment totals $12m with a seven-year term and Connecticut Green Bank’s commitment totals $8m with a 20-year term, according to a news release.

According to SEC filings, the portion of the loan provided by Liberty will accrue at 6.75%, while the piece from Amalgamated Lender will accrue interest at 6.07% during all times at which a “Carbon Offset Event” is not continuing and 7.32% at all times at which a “Carbon Offset Event” has occurred and is continuing.

Michael Bishop, EVP and CFO of FuelCell Energy, said, “We are thrilled to enter into this long-term financing solution with this banking group. With its recurring revenue and cash flow profile, this fuel cell project allows for the efficient and cost-effective financing of our Company. In addition, we believe this financing further highlights financial institutions’ confidence in the demonstrated long-term performance of our globally deployed power platforms. Lastly, the long-term nature of the loan commitments allows the Company to confidently redeploy that capital in support of our growth initiatives.”

“The Connecticut Green Bank is proud to be part of the Groton Project. This strategically important project and our continued partnership with FuelCell Energy, Amalgamated Bank, and Liberty Bank exemplify how the green bank model works to leverage public dollars to attract multiples of local- and national-level private investment into clean energy infrastructure,” said Bert Hunter, Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer of the Connecticut Green Bank. “This also highlights the environmental, economic, and strategic value of distributed base load fuel cells, capable of operating as a microgrid, as a key to grid resilience, reliability, and energy security, especially for our nation’s military defense.”

“Liberty Bank is proud to support FuelCell Energy, Inc., a leader in the green energy industry, with project financing for the Groton Project to provide grid resilience for the local community and our nation’s military. Liberty Bank is committed to clean energy solutions partnering with The Connecticut Green Bank, who is a testament to the power of collective action in addressing the urgent challenge of providing sustainable energy sources to Connecticut,” said Daniel Longo, First Vice President of Liberty Bank.

William Peterson, SVP Senior Lending Officer & Director of Climate Lending of Amalgamated Bank, commented, “Our team’s significant experience in sustainable lending uniquely positioned Amalgamated to partner with Liberty Bank and the Connecticut Green Bank to underwrite FuelCell Energy’s project at the Naval Submarine Base as it further develops its power supply through sustainable energy. Sustainable lending is a critical and growing source of financing as the United States strives to achieve net-zero emissions across federal operations by 2050. Amalgamated’s team of recognized thought leaders and sustainable lending experts are excited by the opportunity to help combat climate change as we work to underwrite sustainable solutions and emerging technologies much like FuelCell Energy’s project with the U.S. Navy.”

Bishop concluded, “We believe that the commitment from these respected financial institutions demonstrate the financeability of the solutions FuelCell Energy is offering to customers like CMEEC, that are helping them achieve their decarbonization, resiliency and clean energy goals.”

Proceeds of this financing have been (i) redeployed to FuelCell Energy (ii) used to retire a $3m corporate credit facility with Connecticut Green Bank (iii) used to fund project reserves and (iv) pay transaction fees.

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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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IPP retains banker for California plant sale

An independent power producer has retained a banker for a sale of a decades-old gas plant in California. Aging gas plants have been in the sights of clean fuels developers looking to retrofit or use facilities for clean fuel production and combustion.

GenOn, an independent power producer, has hired Solomon Partners to sell a 54 MW gas plant in California, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The plant, Ellwood, is located in Goleta, in Santa Barbara County, and was shuttered and retired by GenOn as of 2019. It reached COD in 1973 and ran two Pratt & Whitney FT4C-1 gas turbine engines.

Ellwood previously interconnected via Southern California Edison, a utility that is pursuing multiple natural gas decarbonization projects, including a hydrogen-blending initiative with Bloom Energy.

A teaser for the sale of Ellwood, which was issued last week, notes there is an opportunity to install a battery energy storage system at the site, one of the sources added.

Elsewhere in California, investment firm Climate Adaptive Infrastructure and developer Meridian Clean Energy are seeking to demonstrate decarbonization in peaker plants at the much newer gas-fired Sentinel Energy Center. Their plans include hydrogen blending.

GenOn declined to comment. Solomon Partners did not respond to requests for comment.

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Electrolysis start-up seeking seed money

A two-man hydrogen electrolysis and storage startup based in the southeastern US is seeking an equity investment from a strategic or venture capital investor.

Green Fuel, an early-stage hydrogen technology start-up, is seeking USD 2m in seed money from a strategic or venture capital investor to get its technology off the ground, CFO William Green said in an interview.

The Alabama LLC is comprised of the two founders: Green and inventor Gordon Marsh. Green is based in Missouri.

A patented electrolysis and storage tank system (200 psi) is currently being used for grilling on site of storage, Green said. That prototype application could be scaled up, but the company is interested in pursuing licensing applications in HVAC, fuel cell vehicles, and methanol production.

Green Fuel said in a news release that the atmospheric pressuring system can reduce the cost of hydrogen by 60% by eliminating the need for transportation and compression.

The technology can be scaled to on-site production and tank storage of between 5,000 psi and 10,000 psi, Green said. Proving out that use case is part of the investment need.

“This is a real world solution,” Green said of the invention, which addresses problems in hydrogen transportation and storage. The company is also presenting its technology to the military.

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