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US, Canada and Mexico to form North American hydrogen market

The effort is one component on a long list of verbal commitments to a cross-border clean economy.

The three major North American economies will jointly develop a North American clean hydrogen market, according to information put out by the White House following the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City.

The effort will include “potential cooperation on research and development, safety codes and standards, cross-border hydrogen clusters, green freight corridors, and integrated maritime operations,” a fact sheet of key deliverables reads.

The summit also saw commitments to methane emissions reduction, electrification and decarbonization of public transit, cross-border standardization and development of EV charging infrastructure, and trilateral conservation.

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California Resources appoints CFO from Sempra Energy

CRC has appointed Nelly Molina as its new CFO. She most recently held senior finance positions at Sempra Energy.

California Resources Corporation, an independent energy and carbon management company committed to energy transition, today announced that Manuela (Nelly) Molina has been appointed as executive vice president and chief financial officer, effective May 8, according to a news release.

As previously announced, CRC’s prior CFO Francisco Leon was named President and Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Company’s Board of Directors as of April 28, 2023.

Molina is an energy executive with more than 25 years of corporate finance, capital markets and project financing experience and brings an extensive background in the development of energy infrastructure projects in the natural gas and power sectors. She joins CRC from Sempra Energy, where she held various senior finance leadership roles, including most recently as vice president of audit services and vice president of investor relations.

Earlier in her tenure at Sempra Energy, she served as CFO of Infraestructura Energética Nova, S.A.P.I. de C.V. (IEnova), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, which was listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange until October 2021. During her time at IEnova, she completed over $10bn of financing initiatives, including the company’s initial public offering. Previously, Molina served in leadership roles with Kinder Morgan and the former El Paso Corporation in Mexico.

“I am thrilled to welcome Nelly to the CRC team,” said Francisco Leon, president and CEO of CRC. “She has a strong track record of driving growth and expertise in navigating today’s evolving energy industry. With her financial acumen and prior experience in disciplined planning, execution and compliance, I look forward to working together as we continue to advance on our strategic realignment of our business operations and structure and focus on driving cash flow generation, enhancing our financial flexibility and delivering value for our shareholders.”

Molina said, “I am honored to join CRC as its next CFO and build upon the Company’s strong financial foundation. This is a great organization with significant opportunities for sustainable future growth and value creation. As the Company carries on with its energy transition initiatives, I’m excited to work with Francisco and the rest of the team to expand on the carbon management business, safely produce and deliver low carbon intensity energy to the local communities where CRC operates and help California achieve its climate goals.”

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LSB Industries pushing blue over green

LSB executives said they have paused a green ammonia project due to expected capital costs and a lack of clarity on tax credit incentives. But they detailed plans for a blue ammonia facility, including spending some $150m of cash over three years to fund their equity portion of the project, which was recently proposed for the Houston Ship Channel.

US ammonia producer LSB Industries sees market forces working in favor of blue ammonia projects versus green ammonia, and is prioritizing its blue projects while pausing a green ammonia facility planned for Pryor, Oklahoma.

Executives yesterday pointed to lower natural gas prices and an uptick in power prices along with missing guidance from the US Treasury for green molecules as the reason for pausing the green ammonia project.

Oklahoma-based LSB will use a project financing structure to fund its proposed blue ammonia plant in the Houston Ship Channel and likely find initial offtakers among Japanese and Korean power companies, CEO Mark Behrman said.

The facility, which would produce approximately 1.1 million metric tons of ammonia and capture and sequester 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 annually, is currently in the pre-FEED phase and planned for construction on the Vopak Moda Houston Ship Shuttle Ammonia Terminal.

“We selected the supplier of the technology license basic, engineering design, proprietary equipment, and catalyst, and we are in negotiations to finalize the related agreements,” Behrman said in prepared remarks. “In addition to engineering and design activities, we are working to secure offtake customers for the anticipated ammonia production. We expect initial offtakers to be Japanese and South Korean power companies.”

LSB is developing the facility in partnership with INPEX, Japan’s largest E&P company, and plans to build and operate an ammonia synthesis loop using low-carbon hydrogen produced by Air Liquide, who will also handle the carbon capture and sequestration as well as the nitrogen supply.

Based on LSB’s feasibility study, the cost of the project would come in between $500m and $750m, Behrman said, which could conservatively be financed with 60% debt, and, when taking the $750m figure, would amount to $450m of debt and $300m of equity to fund the facility.

“And for simplicity purposes, we haven’t worked out the ownership structure quite yet,” Behrman said, “but assuming that LSB and INPEX [have] 50/50 ownership of the loop that would be $150m of cash from LSB over a three-year period.”

The pre-FEED phase will last until 2Q24 followed by a one-year FEED period that would finish in 2Q25, he said.

“Within the time of us executing on a FEED study, we would expect that we would have negotiated take-or-pay contracts with the federal government, Japanese and Korean and potentially European and U.S. off-takers for the ammonia that we would produce,” Behrman said. “At the end of FEED, we would have to make a decision on whether we’re moving forward, so FID, and we would not move forward without take-or-pay contracts.”

Green ammonia pause

Meanwhile LSB has paused its green ammonia project, “given the uncertainty around the 45 tax credits, combined with the project’s current capital costs,” Behrman said.

He added: “We remain excited about this project and our opportunity to be an early entrant into the production of green ammonia and we continue to have discussions with potential offtakers for green ammonia supply, but we need clarity and finalization of the 45V tax credits before we can make a decision to move forward.”

Natural gas prices have decreased in the US while electricity prices have increased, working in favor of natural gas products.

“That then is a considerable headwind for the build-out of industry based on sourcing power from the grid, which includes green ammonia production,” he said.

“This development is also why we believe the path to blue ammonia is much easier than the path of green ammonia today, especially considering the lack of a green premium favoring production economics,” the executive said. “Therefore, our current focus is on making sure we execute effectively on our El Dorado blue ammonia project and our Houston Ship Channel blue ammonia project as they both set us up well for the future.”

At El Dorado, LSB is in discussions with the EPA for a Class V carbon capture and sequestration permit, and expects to commence production at the plant in 2H25.

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Tree Energy Solutions and EWE building electrolyzer in Wilhelmshaven

The electrolzser, to be installed and operated starting in 2028, has a planned total capacity of 1 GW at the hub on the North Sea coast.

Tree Energy Solutions and German utility EWE are signing an MoU to build an electrolyzer in TES’ Green Energy Hub in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, according to a press release.

The electrolzser, to be installed and operated starting in 2028, has a planned total capacity of 1 GW.

The hub in Wilhelmshaven is on the North Sea coast and can accommodate up to 2 GW capacity electrolyzers with renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.

In October Tree Energy Solutions agreed to terms for Fortescue Future industries to make an equity investment of EUR 30m to become a strategic shareholder in TES, and to invest EUR 100m for a stake in the construction of the import terminal in Wilhelmshaven. Before that the Belgium-based company concluded its second fundraising round at EUR 65m.

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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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Of CfDs and RFNBOs: Untangling the global hydrogen policy web

US ammonia and hydrogen project developers are increasingly looking to Japan and South Korea as target markets under the belief that new rules for clean hydrogen and its derivatives in Europe are too onerous.

Much fuss has been made about the importance of pending guidance for the clean hydrogen industry from US regulators. Zoom out further and major demand centers like the European Union, Japan, and South Korea have similarly under-articulated or novel subsidy regimes, leaving US clean fuels project developers in a dizzying global tangle of red tape. 

But in the emerging global market for hydrogen and ammonia offtake, several themes are turning up. One is that US project developers are increasingly looking to South Korea and Japan as buyers, turning away from Europe following the implementation of rules that are viewed as too onerous for green hydrogen producers.

The other is that beneath the regulatory tangle lies a deep market, helping to answer one of the crucial outstanding questions that has been dogging the nascent ammonia and hydrogen industry: where is the offtake? 

Many projects are proceeding towards definitive offtake agreements and final investment decisions despite the risks embedded in potential changes in policy, according to multiple project finance lawyers. In most cases, reaching final agreements for offtake would not be prudent given the raft of un-issued guidance in these major markets, said the lawyers, who acknowledge a robust offtake market but may advise their clients against signing final contracts.

The European Union rules for green hydrogen and its derivatives became law in June, and included several provisions that are proving challenging for developers and their lawyers to structure around: prohibiting state-subsidized electricity in the production of green hydrogen, and the requirement that power for green hydrogen be purchased directly from a renewable energy supplier. 

Taken together, the policy developments have pushed many US project developers away from Europe and toward Japan and South Korea, where demand for low-carbon fuels is robust and regulations are viewed as less burdensome, if still undefined, experts say.

Developers are carefully choosing jurisdictions for their target offtake markets, “limiting their focus to North Asian rather than European buyers, with the expectation that certain standards and regulations will be less strict, at least in the near term,” said Allen & Overy Partners Hitomi Komachi and Henry Sohn, who are based in Japan and Korea, respectively.

Trade association Hydrogen Europe lambasted the new European rules last year while they were still in formation, saying they would cause a “mass exodus” of the continent’s green hydrogen industry to the US.

Make or break

US policymakers delivered a shock blow with last year’s approval of the Inflation Reduction Act – but its full benefits have yet to flow into the clean fuels sector due to outstanding guidance on additionality, regionality, and matching requirements. 

At the same time, the 45V tax credit for clean hydrogen has been called potentially the most complex tax credit the US market has ever seen, requiring a multi-layered analysis to ensure compliance. The US policy uncertainty is coated on top of an already-complex development landscape facing developers of first-of-kind hydrogen and ammonia projects using electrolyzer or carbon capture technologies. 

“Even though folks are moving forward with projects, the lack of guidance impacts parties’ willingness to sign definitive documents, because depending on the guidance, for some projects, it could break the economics,” said Marcia Hook, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington DC.

Now, US developers seeking access to international markets are contending with potential misalignment of local and international rules, with Europe’s recently enacted guidelines serving as a major example of poorly arrayed schemes. 

Some US developers have already decided it may be challenging to meet the EU’s more rigorous standards, according Hook, who added that, beyond the perceived regulatory flexibility, developers appear to be garnering more offtake interest from potential buyers in Asia.

Projects that depend on outstanding guidance in Asia are also moving ahead, a fact that, according to Alan Alexander, a Houston-based partner at Vinson & Elkins, “represents a little bit of the optimism and excitement around low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia,” particularly in Japan and Korea.

“Projects are going forward but with conditions that these schemes get worked out in a way that’s bankable for the project,” he added. “It’s not optimal, but you can build it in,” he said, referencing a Korean contract where conditions precedent require that a national clean hydrogen portfolio standard gets published and the offtaker is successful in one of the  Korean power auctions.

RED III tape

Unlike the US, the EU has focused on using regulation to create demand for hydrogen and derivative products through setting mandatory RFNBO quotas for the land transport, industry, shipping and aviation sectors, according to Frederick Lazell, a London-based lawyer at King & Spalding.

Lazell called the EU rules “the most fully-developed and broad market-creation interventions that policymakers have imposed anywhere in the world.” As a result, being able to sell RFNBO into Europe to meet these quotas is expected to fetch the highest prices – and therefore potentially the highest premiums to suppliers, he said.

The European guidelines enacted in June introduced several provisions that will make it challenging for US developers to structure projects that meet the EU’s classification for renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs).

For one, the European Commission issued guidance that prohibits subsidies for renewable energy generation when it is transmitted via a power purchase agreement through the electrical grid to make RFNBO.

This provision potentially eliminates all green hydrogen-based projects in the US from qualifying as an RFNBO, a managing partner at a US-based investment firm said, given that green hydrogen projects will likely be tied to renewables that are earning tax credits.

“The EC’s decision to include this restriction on State aid makes the EU’s version of additionality more onerous than even the strictest requirements being considered in the US,” lawyers from King & Spalding wrote in a September note, adding that some people in the industry argue that the decision is inexplicable under the RED II framework that authorized the European Commission to define additionality. 

A second challenge of the EU regulations is the mandate that PPAs be contracted between the RFNBO producer and the renewable energy source. Such a requirement is impossible for electricity markets where state entities are mandated to purchase and supply power, a structure that is common in multiple jurisdictions. Moreover, the requirement would remove the possibility of using a utility or other intermediary to deliver power for green hydrogen production.

“These technical issues may be serious enough for some in the industry to consider challenges before the Court of Justice of the European Union,” the King & Spalding lawyers wrote. “However, it is not yet clear whether there is the appetite or ability to turn such suggestions into a formal claim.”

Go East

Although the subsidy regimes in Japan and South Korea are expected to be less stringent in comparison to the EU, the programs are still not completely defined, which leaves some uncertainty in dealmaking as projects move forward.

The traditional energy sector has always dealt with change-in-law risk, but the risk is heightened now since regulations can change more rapidly and, in some cases, impact ongoing negotiations, said Komachi and Sohn, of Allen & Overy, in a joint email response. 

“Certain regulations coming into force may be contingent or related to the funding plan of the project,” they said. As such, clean fuels offtake frameworks need to facilitate not only the tracking and counting of emissions, they added, but also leave sufficient flexibility as regulatory frameworks evolve.

Japan, through its Hydrogen Basic Strategy, set out targets to increase the supply of hydrogen and ammonia in the country while reducing costs, deploying Japanese electrolysis equipment, and increasing investment into its supply chain. Additionally, Japan is contemplating a contracts-for-difference-style regime to support the gap between the price of clean hydrogen or ammonia and corresponding fossil fuels for 15 years.

Still, standards for “clean hydrogen” have not been clarified, though most observers believe the country will follow a carbon emissions lifecycle analysis in line with IPHE criteria, which is proposed at 3.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen. Similarly, rules around “stacking” subsidies in Japan with other jurisdictions such as the Inflation Reduction Act have not been defined.

Meanwhile, Korea is considering carbon emissions standards of up to 4 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of hydrogen. It is pushing for greater use of hydrogen in part through its Amended Hydrogen Act, requiring electric utilities to buy electricity made from hydrogen in a bidding round starting in 2024. The requirement scales up from 1,300 GWh of general hydrogen in 2025 to 5,200 GWh for general hydrogen and 9,5000 GWh for clean hydrogen in 2028.

Both countries are working to incentivize the entire supply chain for hydrogen and ammonia to ensure the separate pieces of infrastructure will be available on investable and bankable terms, with the aim of creating a demand center when the export centers are developed, Komachi and Sohn added.

They also point out that the emerging clean fuels offtake market will operate in the near term in a more spotty fashion in comparison with the more liquid markets for oil and gas.

“Hydrocarbon markets have gradually moved towards portfolio players, trading and optimization,” said Goran Galic, an Australia-based partner at Allen & Overy. “Smaller market size, technological and regulatory considerations mean that clean fuels, at least initially, require more of a point-to-point approach and so building long-term working relationships between the developers and offtakers is a key aspect of offtake strategy.”

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US clean fuels producer prepping equity and debt raises

A Texas-based clean fuels producer is close to mandating an advisor for a platform equity raise. It has already tapped Goldman Sachs to help arrange a cap stack in the billions for a project in Oregon.

NXTClean Fuels, a Houston-based developer of clean fuels projects, is preparing a $50m to $100m platform equity raise in the near term and has large debt and equity needs for a pair of projects in Oregon, CEO Chris Efird said in an interview.

The company is close to engaging a new financial advisor for the raise, which will launch late this year or early next, Efird said.

Port Westward

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs’ post-carbon group is retained for the capital stack on NXTClean’s flagship project at Port Westward, at the Port of Columbia County, Efird said. The $3bn CapEx (including EPC) project is fully permitted by the State of Oregon and is awaiting one federal Clean Water Act permit. An Environmental Impact Statement is expected this fall.

The project is dedicated to producing a split of renewable diesel and SAF, amounting to roughly 50,000 barrels per day total permitted capacity when fully operational.

FID is expected for roughly August 2024, he said. About 30 months from FID the plant will reach COD.

“What we’re most focused on right now is the true senior debt,” Efird said. On the equity side the company is engaged with strategic partners that have indicated interest in post-FID equity.

NXTClean has conversations ongoing with the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, along with commercial project finance lenders.

Red Rock

In April NXTClean acquired what was the Red Rock Biofuel facility in Lakeview, Oregon. That woody biomass-to-SAF facility foreclosed after $425m in investment, following technical and financial issues brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. NXTClean purchased the facility for $75m in preferred stock at auction on the courthouse steps.

GLC advisors was retained by lead bondholder Foundation Credit to advise on that process, Efird said.

Red Rock is being repurposed to produce carbon-negative RNG for the adjacent Tallgrass Ruby Pipeline, Efird said. The fully-permitted project has a significant amount of equipment already installed or on skids.

A first phase will require a spend of $100m to $150m. Some $50m of equity will augment a balance of debt, raised in part through USDA programming, Efird said. Cash flow from the first phase will help with the second phase, which will bring the capital needs of the facility up to as much as $400m.

Looking forward

Geographically, NXTClean will expand in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, Efird said.

Each of NXTClean’s two projects are held by a separate subsidiary. The company has a third subsidiary called GoLo Biomass that focuses on feedstock aggregation, Efird said. It engages with fish processors in Vietnam and used cooking oil suppliers in South Korea to augment supply from large companies.

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