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Sempra partners with Japanese utilities on e-natural gas project

Sempra Infrastructure and Mitsubishi Corporation are in a consortium with three major Japanese gas utilities to potentially develop an e-natural gas project on the Gulf Coast.

Sempra Infrastructure has formed an agreement with Tokyo Gas, Osaka Gas, Toho Gas, and Mitsubishi Corporation to evaluate a proposed e-natural gas project in the US Gulf Coast, according to a news release.

“If the project is successful, it could be the first link of an international supply chain of liquified e-natural gas, a synthetic gas produced from renewable hydrogen and carbon dioxide,” the release states.

The project would produce some 130,000 tons of e-natural gas per year that would be liquified to become liquified e-natural gas via Mitsubishi’s tolling capacity at the Cameron LNG terminal in Southwest Louisiana and exported to Japan, where the product is commonly referred to as e-methane.

It would include the production or procurement of green hydrogen, as well as the construction of facilities to produce the gas.

The consortium is comprised of three of the leading gas utilities in Japan and Mitsubishi Corporation which have been conducting preliminary feasibility work on the project since 2022.

The project would allow existing natural gas infrastructure, including the global liquefied natural gas supply chain and the gas distribution systems, to be used for delivery of the fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are currently implementing a Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of carbon capture, utilization and storage, conversion and recycling, and carbon dioxide removal. This proposed project would meet many of the objectives in the memorandum, and could complement it, should the policy frameworks recognize e-natural gas as a carbon-neutral fuel.

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Clean Vision chooses West Virginia for $50m hydrogen facility

The Nevada-based company will leverage a $50m total investment in a manufacturing facility converting plastic feedstock into precursors for recycled content plastics and clean fuels, including hydrogen.

Clean Vision Corporation has signed a Memorandum of Agreement to collaborate on a manufacturing facility focused on recycling plastic feedstock into precursors for recycled content plastics and clean fuels, according to a news release from the governor.

The MoA is between the company’s Clean-Seas West Virginia subsidiary and the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. The total investment is $50m over three years.

Upon completion of construction and commencement of operations, the facility, located in Quincy in eastern Kanawha County, will process plastic for conversion to clean energy at a rate of 100 tons per day, starting in 2024, with plans to scale up to 500 tons per day over time.

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Washington state passes SAF incentives

The incentive increases for each one percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas beyond 50 percent, up to a potential incentive of $2 per gallon.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee yesterday signed new legislation to create policy and per-gallon price incentives for the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in Washington.

The new law creates a per-gallon incentive for SAF with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are at least 50 percent lower than traditional jet fuel. The incentive increases for each one percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas beyond 50 percent, up to a potential incentive of $2 per gallon.

The per-gallon incentive can be claimed as a tax credit by fuel producers or consumers like airlines, but only once on any gallon.

Incentives will begin when a manufacturing facility becomes capable of producing at least 20 million gallons per year. Currently there is no continuous SAF production occurring in Washington state.

The bill also requires Washington State University and University of Washington to calculate the emission benefits near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from the increased use of SAF.

Port of Seattle studies on SAF infrastructure and production feasibility indicate that regionally produced SAF is achievable, according to a news release. Studies also found that policy incentives to reduce the cost of production and sale price would accelerate the deployment of lower carbon, cleaner SAF.

The legislation can be viewed here.

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American Airlines invests in Universal Hydrogen

American joins Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation and Toyota Ventures, as well as several major hydrogen producers and aircraft lessors, as strategic investors.

American Airlines has made a strategic equity investment in Universal Hydrogen Co., a company building a green hydrogen distribution and logistics network for aviation.

The investment supports American’s science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2035, and ultimately its commitment to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050, and makes American the first U.S. airline to make two direct investments focused on the development of both hydrogen-electric propulsion technology and the future of hydrogen distribution logistics, according to a news release.

American joins Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation and Toyota Ventures, as well as several major hydrogen producers and aircraft lessors, as strategic investors in Universal Hydrogen.

Universal Hydrogen’s fuel distribution network uses modular hydrogen capsules that are handled like cargo, eliminating the need for new fueling infrastructure at airports and speeding up fuel loading operations. Universal Hydrogen anticipates starting hydrogen deliveries for regional aircraft in 2025, with plans to expand its services to larger, single aisle aircraft — first for auxiliary power in the late-2020s and then as a primary fuel by the mid-2030s. Because these segments represent two-thirds of aviation emissions — and with green hydrogen being a true zero-carbon fuel — these advances put aviation on a path to meet Paris Agreement emissions targets.

“This technology has the potential to be a game-changer on the industry’s path to zero-emission flight,” said American’s Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr. “As the world’s largest airline, American has a responsibility to exercise leadership in making aviation sustainable. Our investment in Universal Hydrogen represents a vote of confidence for green hydrogen as a key element of a sustainable future for our industry.”

“Together with our investors, we are putting together the end-to-end value chain to make hydrogen aviation a near-term commercial reality,” said Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “This move by American is a strong signal that customers want a true zero-emissions solution for passenger aviation and are willing to back tangible, pragmatic steps to get there quickly.”

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Exclusive: Zero-emission locomotive start-up in Series B capital raise

A locomotive start-up focused on the US market for zero-emission freight trains is undergoing a Series B capital raise, with sights on a much larger Series C raise next year.

OptiFuel Systems, a provider of zero-emission line haul locomotives and generation solutions, is conducting a $30m Series B capital raise.

The South Carolina-based firm is seeking to finalize the Series B by the end of this year, and plans to use proceeds to advance production of its zero-emission technologies for the rail industry, which represents a massive decarbonization opportunity, CEO Scott Myers said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the firm will seek to tap the market for around $150m for a Series C next year, Myers added. The company is not working with a financial adviser. 

While the Series B will focus on bringing to production some of OptiFuel’s smaller rail offerings, such as the switcher locomotives, the Series C will be mostly dedicated to progressing testing, manufacturing, and commercialization of its larger line haul locomotive.

The company is also considering making its own investments into digesters for RNG facilities, from which it would source the gas to run its RNG-fueled locomotives. As part of its offering, OptiFuel also provides refueling infrastructure, and envisions this aspect of its business to be just as profitable as selling trains.

“We anticipate that we would be the offtaker” of RNG, “and quite potentially, the producer,” Cynthia Heinz, an OptiFuel board member, said in the interview.

A systems integrator, OptiFuel offers modular locomotives for the freight industry that can run on zero-emission technology such as renewable natural gas, batteries, and hydrogen. The company recently announced that it will begin testing of its RNG line haul locomotive, which is a 1-million-mile test program that will take two years and require 10 RNG line haul locomotives.

Image: OptiFuel

The company’s target market is the 38,000 operating freight trains in the U.S., 25,000 of which are line haul locomotives run by operators like BASF, Union Pacific, and CSX. Fleet owners will be required to phase out diesel-powered trains starting next decade following passage of in-use locomotive requirements in California, which includes financial penalties for pollution and eventual restrictions on polluting locomotives. Other states are evaluating similar measures.

“The question is not will the railroads change over: they have to,” Myers said. “The question is, how fast?”

Following completion of testing, OptiFuel aims to begin full production of the line haul locomotive – which has a price tag of $5.5m per unit – in 2028, and is aiming to produce 2,000 per year as a starting point. The smaller switcher units are priced between $1.5m and $2.5m depending on horsepower.

OptiFuel has held discussions with Cummins, one of its equipment providers, to source at least 2,000 engines per year from Cummins to support its production goal. 

“That’s a $10bn-a-year market for us,” Myers added.

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Exclusive: US-Ukraine battery storage firm in seed round

A US-based battery storage technology firm with operations in Ukraine and a utility-offtake pilot project in the southwestern US is in the early stages of finding institutional investors in the US and Europe.

SorbiForce, an Arizona-based battery storage technology firm, is raising $4.7m in seed funding with ambitions to find strategic investors for larger fundraising efforts in the next year, CEO Serhii Kaminskyi said in an interview.

The company, which was founded in western Ukraine and still has R&D operations there, aims to finish the seed round in five months, Kaminskyi said. Currently the US operations are housed at the University of Arizona Center for Innovation.

The batteries the company designs use little metal compared to other battery pack systems, instead using organic matter that can ultimately be biodegraded. The packs are filled with “ultra porous carbon materials” capable of storing up to 0.7 MWh.

SorbiForce is assisted by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff and Squire Patton Boggs as legal counsels, Kaminskyi said.

The seed round is for a 1 MW pilot project near Tucson, Arizona. That project has offtake contracted with Tucson Electric Power, Kaminskyi said. The B2B business model will be to sell batteries to customers in power generation, industrials, municipalities, and EV charging.

Kaminskyi, speaking from southern Italy, said the company is testing batteries in that country and has had discussions with offtakers in Germany, including automakers. The company has signed an agreement with a European energy company, he said, declining to name which.

The early-stage company is too-early for many financial investors, Kaminskyi said, and is looking for institutional investors with downstream need for battery storage.

“We’ve already received money from customers,” Kaminskyi said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put strain on the company, particularly concerning the families of the company’s founding employees, Kaminskyi said. The facilities in Ukraine are safe, but he is in process of moving those facilities to Arizona.

Kaminskyi owns 56% of the company, with additional equity held by the founding scientific team and US employees, he said.

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Exclusive: Biofuels developer interviewing bankers for capital raise

The developer of a renewable diesel and SAF plant in East Texas is seeking a banker for assistance raising development and FID capital.

Santa Maria Renewable Resources, a biofuels developer with a project in East Texas, is interviewing bankers for an upcoming capital raise.

The Houston-based firm is seeking a banker to help it raise some $40m in development capital, in a role that would then pivot to arranging project finance for a final investment decision, CEO Pat Sanchez said in an interview.

The company recently announced its selection of Topsoe as technology provider for the 3,000-barrels-per-day facility, which will produce renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. It also tapped Chemex to conduct the FEED study.

Sanchez is the former COO of Sanchez Midstream Partners, having left in 2020 after preferred shareholder Stonepeak took over the company.

He perceives headwinds for capital raising in the biofuels space, but believes the project profile he is promoting is superior to peers due to its hedged profile and the incorporation of a sustainable agriculture component that extracts additional value from an oilseed.

The superior returns, which he claims are north of 25% on an unlevered basis, “come from the integration of two industries” – biofuels and agricultural commodities – “on one site.”

Using Topsoe technology, the proposed plant can swing between 100% SAF to 100% renewable diesel, depending on the needs of the offtaker.

The project has an agreed-upon term sheet for offtake with an oil major. Under the agreement, the oil major is required to deliver feedstock in the form of camelina, canola, and soybean, he said.

Only one company in the U.S. closed on a development capital raise for a bio-based fuel project in 2023. That company was DG Fuels, and it raised up to $30m in development capital for a woody biomass-based Louisiana SAF plant expected to cost $4.2bn and reach FID in 2024.

“There seems to still be some headwinds in some companies on the biofuels side that are struggling to raise development capital,” Sanchez said, noting that the biofuels and clean energy sectors were some of the worst performers in 2023.

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