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Seattle-based First Mode to collaborate with Mitsui & Co.

First Mode will tap Mitsui's international business network to commercialize products for decarbonizing heavy industry haulage, such as mining.

First Mode, the developer and manufacturer of decarbonization products for heavy industry, has reached a strategic alliance with Mitsui & Co., Ltd, the international trading company and investment group with extensive interests in the mining industry, to accelerate heavy industry’s adoption of low-carbon and zero-emissions product solutions at scale.

First Mode’s expertise in powertrain systems electrification and hydrogen technologies, coupled with Mitsui’s global business network, will equip the alliance to explore new business opportunities that catalyze the integration of First Mode’s Path to Zero™ product line into previously hard-to-abate sectors like mining, according to a press release.

“We are honored to enter into a strategic alliance with Mitsui to support and help scale our solutions that are proven to reduce heavy industry’s polluting outputs. The collaboration underscores our shared commitment to sustainability and the critical role of partnerships when addressing complex global challenges through innovation,” said Julian Soles, CEO of First Mode.

In mining, a typical heavy-haul truck burns about 1 million liters of diesel fuel per year and remains in continuous operation for 10-15 years. Across First Mode’s customer market, over 13,000 of these trucks are in global operation, releasing 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – the equivalent emissions of 8 million passenger cars per year.

To help the sector achieve its goal of 85-100% emissions reduction by 2050, First Mode’s Path to Zero™ product line begins with a low-risk hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) retrofit that requires no infrastructure changes and uses regenerative braking to decrease truck fuel use and carbon emissions by up to 25%. From there, the HEV’s interoperable “feed forward” design enables mining companies to complete their fleet conversion to zero-emissions using First Mode’s full battery or next-generation hydrogen fuel cell EV drivetrains at a pace and timeline that they control.

“Mitsui recognizes First Mode as a pioneer in decarbonization solutions for the mining sector, particularly in the replacement of diesel fuel. Our relationship with them dates back to 2020, when we first explored the possibility of testing their early-stage fuel cell innovation at one of our mine sites. As such, we are eager to support their growth by leveraging our presence in the mining, mobility, and other heavy industries,” said Ken Ito, General Manager of Mitsui’s Coal & Carbon Solution Division.

First Mode has been working in the mining sector since 2018, with successes that include developing the world’s first and largest hydrogen fuel cell electric truck in partnership with Anglo American’s nuGen™ zero emissions technology program. In 2023, following a capital investment and supply agreement with Anglo American that made Anglo American not only the majority shareholder but also a key customer, First Mode launched its Path to Zero™ product line of diesel hybrid, battery electric, and next-generation hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains.

Nothing like the First Mode Path to Zero™ product line exists in the market today, according to First Mody, because its sequential retrofit approach to decarbonization helps mining, rail, and other heavy industry companies safeguard their original haulage investments while also starting, progressing, and succeeding on their path to zero emissions.

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Montana Renewables completes startup, gets bridge loan from I Squared

Calumet Specialty Products Partners said this week that its Montana Renewables subsidiary completed the startup of its sustainable aviation fuel and pretreatment units.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners, L.P. said this week that its its Montana Renewables subsidiary completed the startup of its sustainable aviation fuel and pretreatment units.

Calumet and its SAF off-taker plan to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 10, 2023 to recognize this important milestone.

“We are pleased to report that our leading Sustainable Aviation Fuel, Renewable Diesel, and Renewable Hydrogen platform is fully complete and operating,” said Bruce Fleming, CEO of Montana Renewables. “As we ramp up our pre-treater and draw down existing safety stock of clean feed, we reconfirm go-forward EBITDA guidance of $1.25 to $1.45 per gallon based on local sourcing of untreated feedstocks.”

On April 19, MRL closed a $75 million bridge loan with I Squared Capital. The bridge loan bears a variable rate of interest at SOFR plus 6.0 to 7.3% per annum and we have the flexibility to prepay 50% of principal under the bridge loan from free cash flow by the end of 2024. “Our capital markets strategy remains unchanged,” said Fleming. “This transaction provides strategic optionality as we continue to build North America’s largest SAF business.”

Calumet’s CEO Todd Borgmann added “Following a year in which we’ve demonstrated the power of Calumet’s legacy Specialty business, we can now add the full earnings power of Montana Renewables. Over the past two years, our Montana Renewables team has quickly launched a leading renewables platform and created a first mover advantage in SAF. This major accomplishment is the most recent step in our transformational plan to unlock value for Calumet’s unitholders.”

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Strata closes $300m revolving loan

The proceeds of the loan will support the development, construction, and operation of Strata’s upcoming renewable energy, energy storage, and Power to X projects.

Strata Clean Energy has closed a $300m new revolving loan and letter of credit facility to expand Strata’s operational fleet and accelerate the commercialization of its diversified 17+ GW development pipeline.

Nomura Securities International, Inc. (Nomura) led the financing, acting as Sole Coordinating Lead Arranger, Bookrunner, and Nomura Corporate Funding Americas, LLC as Administrative Agent, with First Citizens Bank and ING Capital as Joint Lead Arrangers alongside five other participant banks.

The loan adheres to a Green Financing Framework in accordance with the 2023 Loan Syndications and Trading Association (LSTA) Green Loan Principles. Nomura and ING Capital acted as Green Structuring Agents.

The proceeds of the loan will support the development, construction, and operation of Strata’s upcoming renewable energy, energy storage, and Power to X projects. This facility also provides working capital for Strata’s growing EPC and O&M divisions, both of which have played a pivotal role in the Company’s 15-year history of high-quality execution for its own Independent Power Producer (IPP) and third-party customers.

“This facility strengthens Strata’s liquidity position and enables us to drive forward with groundbreaking and economically viable renewable initiatives in markets nationwide,” said Alice Heathcote, CFO of Strata Clean Energy. “The support of our financial partners is instrumental in propelling us forward as a leading fully-integrated cleantech platform, offering a comprehensive one-stop solution for development through construction, with an unwavering commitment to quality.”

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CB&I and Daewoo studying LH2 carrier and storage design

The companies will conduct a feasibility study of a liquid hydrogen carrier including an a storage tank design

CB&I, McDermott’s storage business line, and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. (DSME), have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a feasibility study of a liquid hydrogen (LH2) carrier including an LH2 storage tank design, according to a news release.

CB&I will evaluate its LH2 storage tank design for ocean-going ships and DSME will investigate and develop the ship’s general design to install the LH2 storage tank. The output of the feasibility study is expected to contribute to the future design of a large-scale LH2 carrier.

CB&I spheres can store LH2 at temperatures of -423 degrees Fahrenheit and the company is nearing completion of the world’s largest LH2 sphere in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The ability to ship large quantities of hydrogen across the ocean is an increasing need to help countries like South Korea achieve carbon reduction goals in a hydrogen economy.

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Exclusive: Ambient Fuels options land in Texas

Ambient Fuels recently entered into an option agreement to purchase land in Texas. Among only a handful of green hydrogen developers to attract equity capital last year — from Generate Capital — Ambient has not yet made public announcements about its projects or locations. 

Ambient Fuels, a green hydrogen developer backed by Generate Capital, recently signed a 24-month option to purchase a plot of land in Chambers County, Texas, according to filings made with the clerk there.

A memorandum outlines the option to purchase land in Mont Belvieu, to the east of Houston. The agreement is effective as of October 2, according to the filing.

Ambient declined to comment.

According to the ReSource project tracker, Ambient has been involved in three Gulf Coast hydrogen hub efforts: The Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES) hub; the Port of Corpus Christi Green Hydrogen Hub; and the Horizons Clean Hydrogen Hub (HCH2). ARCHES was selected for DOE funding.

ReSource reported in June that Ambient Fuels had begun to evaluate potential acquisitions of hydrogen projects that are under development.

In May, 2023, Generate Capital, a sustainable infrastructure investment and operating company, made an investment into Ambient, including a commitment to fund up to $250m of green hydrogen infrastructure.

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Exclusive: Australian fuels producer looking for US development partners

An Australian fuels producer and concentrated solar power developer partnered with German and US fossil interests is developing its first US clean fuels project in Texas, and is looking for development partners with eyes on the greater southwest.

Vast Energy, the Australia-based and NASDAQ-listed concentrated solar power (CSP) developer and fuels producer, is in the early stages of developing a project near El Paso, Texas – the company’s first in the US – and is seeking US development partners to generate a pipeline of projects throughout the country, CEO Craig Wood said in an interview.

Vast is in process with two projects in Port Augusta, South Australia: VS1, a 30 MW solar/8 MWh storage plant, and SM1, a demonstration solar-to-methanol plant co-located with VS1, producing up to 7,500 mtpa of green methanol from VS1 electricity and heat with extra power available on the grid.

VS1 is scheduled for FID in 3Q24 with FID on SM1 coming the following quarter, Wood said.

Vast recently announced funding agreements with German partner Mabanaft for up to AUD $40m for SM1, after the SM1 project was selected last year as a part of the German-Australian Hydrogen Innovation and Technology Incubator (HyGATE).

Methanol from the $80m SM1 will in part be exported to Germany. Vast is also working with EDF to provide additional financing, Wood said.

“Essentially it’s going to be debt free and on balance sheet,” Wood said.

German container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd recently signed an MOU with Mabanaft to explore options for the supply of ammonia as bunker fuel to Hapag-Lloyd in the Port of Houston.

US opportunity

In the US, where Vast listed to be primed for opportunistic growth, the company has a shortlist of locations around El Paso, has engaged with regional economic development leaders, and held early talks with EPC providers, Wood said.

The El Paso project is being developed in conjunction with Houston-based oil and gas drilling business Nabors Industries, Wood said. Nabors backed the SPAC that took Vast public at a valuation of up to $586m in early 2023. Its current market cap is $64m.

There are ongoing discussions on whether to produce eSAF or methanol in El Paso, Wood said.

To produce eSAF, Vast would use a solid-oxide electrolyzer coupled with the Fischer-Tropsch process, Wood said. Meanwhile, the methanol distillation process lends itself well to Vast’s ability to produce low-cost heat.

CSP has a lower level of embedded carbon than any renewables technology other than wind, Wood said.

“The work that we have done to date indicated that you would most likely power an eFuels project with a CSP plant that was configured to operate in the day and night,” Wood said.

As for project costs, envisioning a project producing some 200 million liters per annum, roughly $3bn would be needed for the power station, and then half that for the infrastructure to make the fuels.

Preliminary offtake for the El Paso project is going to be critical for attracting investment, Wood said. Offtake will depend on the type of fuel produced, though conversations are ongoing with shipping companies (methanol) and airlines (eSAF).

“We’re not expecting to have any problem placing the product,” Wood said. Offtake would likely be targeted for the Port of Los Angeles, LAX airport, the ports of the Gulf Coast, or Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Development of CSP makes sense anywhere climate is sunny and hot, Wood said. The company could logically expand into more of West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California.

The region around Farmington, New Mexico is particularly attractive for CSP development, Wood said. As a huge amount of coal-fired capacity in that area is retired, those interconnections, workforces and resources are ripe for repowering.

The turbines that one of those coal fired power stations would have is the same turbine at the core of Vast’s technology, Wood said. One difference is that Vast’s can be turned on and off quickly.

Development partnerships 

There is an opportunity for Vast to find a development partner, or partners, to stand up a pipeline of projects in two to three years’ time, Wood said.

“Almost everyone wants to wait until our project in Port Augusta reaches COD,” Wood said. “But we don’t want to wait that long to be developing projects in the US.”

Vast is capable of building CSP plants, which can be configured to operate in the day and night, co-located with existing larger-scale solar pv to provide additional generation and, critically, storage, Wood said. By directing sunlight to receivers and heating molten salt, CSP can store energy for 12-to-20 hours overnight to alleviate solar pv’s intermittency issues.

“Coming along and essentially retrofitting complementary CSP next to those [pv plants], we think is a very sensible way to go, both in terms of shared cost but also in terms of managing incremental transmission build,” Wood said. “We’re looking for people we can have conversations with.”

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Exclusive: Carbon conversion startup planning capital raise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brix owns a majority of the company with his father.

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