Daily Energy Blog

Considerable time and effort has been spent tracking the federal government’s plan to spend billions of dollars to create a number of regional hydrogen hubs. News about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) hub-selection process has been hard to come by, especially since the potential applicants weren’t publicly disclosed at the time of the agency’s informal cutdown in late 2022 and many potential developers, for competitive reasons, have elected to play their cards very close to the vest. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll publish the DOE’s full list of 33 encouraged proposals for the first time, examine some of the plans that were combined in an effort to produce a stronger joint application, and share a little about the concept papers that didn’t make the DOE’s informal cut.

U.S. production of hydrogenated renewable diesel (RD), which is made from soybean oil, animal fats and used cooking oil, is growing faster than expected. That may sound like good news for the renewable fuels industry, but it comes with the fear that the rapid growth might push RD production levels well past the mandates set by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), potentially triggering a sudden crash in Renewable Identification Number (RIN) prices that — if it happens — would rock the market. In today’s RBN blog, we estimate the likelihood and possible timing of such a market-shaking event.

Given all the recent attention, you’d think the prospects for carbon-capture project development are fantastic. In the U.S., last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) featured significant increases in the 45Q tax credit for carbon sequestration, improving the economics for a wide range of carbon-capture projects. On a global level, it seems clear that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reach a net-zero world will continue for a long time to come. Nearly every plan to reach that target includes a significant reliance on carbon capture, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasting that 7,600 million metric tons per annum (MMtpa) of carbon dioxide (CO2) — that’s 7.6 gigatons per year — will need to be captured and sequestered by 2050. We are a long way from those levels, given that most estimates put global carbon-capture capacity at a little more than 40 MMtpa today, or less than 1% of what the EIA thinks we’ll need in less than 27 years. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the main factors holding back the wider commercialization of carbon-capture initiatives in the U.S.

Clean hydrogen’s supporters often tout its growth potential, boosted in no small way by the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that will soon go toward supporting the buildout of an extensive series of regional hubs across the U.S. Clean hydrogen has its share of detractors, too, who question how much of a fixture it can become in the U.S. energy mix and wonder about its reliance on all those federal subsidies. But there’s one thing just about everyone seems to agree on — nobody likes the seemingly ubiquitous hydrogen color scheme, with arguments that it is too simplistic, has become too politicized, and puts the industry’s focus on the wrong things. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the limitations of the hydrogen color scheme, the risks of relying on it too extensively, and how the new tax credit for clean hydrogen puts the focus on carbon intensity (CI) instead.

With so many low-carbon, carbon-neutral and carbon-negative shipping fuels being touted as the next big thing, it can be hard to determine which are for real and which are mostly hype. Some folks have been talking up LNG, biofuels, clean ammonia, fuel cells ... the list goes on and on. One way to separate the most promising prospects from the also-rans is to keep track of where big shipping companies are placing their bets — and how they’re hedging those wagers, just in case it takes longer than expected to develop fuel-production facilities. Clean methanol in particular is showing signs that it may be one of the frontrunners on both the supply and the demand sides, with an increasing number of firm orders being placed for massive container ships and other vessels that can be fueled by either methanol or low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) — there’s the hedge — and a number of new clean methanol production facilities being planned in the U.S. and overseas. (But still, a healthy dose of skepticism about it all is warranted.) In today’s RBN blog, we discuss recent developments in the clean methanol space.

A great deal of attention has been heaped on the carbon-capture industry over the past couple of years, from its inclusion in major federal legislation such as 2021’s infrastructure bill and last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, plus all sorts of recently announced carbon sequestration projects. Still, there are plenty of concerns that the technology is not fully baked, that many of the projects are not ready for prime time, and that few have the practical know-how to deploy carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at scale. But what if there was a company that has been doing carbon sequestration for a very long time — decades in fact? And what if that company has built out a huge carbon dioxide (CO2) collection, distribution and sequestration system on the Gulf Coast along with concrete plans for a massive expansion of this network to capture a lot more manmade, “anthropogenic” CO2, not in decades but in just a few short years? A company like that would be pretty much the ideal acquisition candidate for a cash-flush multinational with big ESG goals and strategies, right? As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, that is just what is happening with ExxonMobil’s acquisition of Denbury, a deal that will create today’s undisputed leader in CCS.

U.S. production of hydrogenated renewable diesel (RD), made from soybean oil and animal fats like used cooking oil, is growing faster than expected. That may sound like good news for the renewable fuels industry, but it comes with the fear that the rapid growth might trigger a sudden crash of Renewable Identification Number (RIN) prices that — if it happens — would rock the market. In today’s RBN blog, we have a go at describing what that might look like.

Discussions about electric vehicles (EVs) often focus on the additional demands they will put on the power grid in future years, with concerns about the grid’s reliability and ability to meet peak demand often taking center stage. There’s no doubt that a widespread transition to EVs would pose real challenges, but utilities in California and elsewhere are also starting to think creatively about how to transform those challenges into an opportunity — although there are significant hurdles to clear along the way, including the needed buy-in from EV owners. In today’s RBN blog, we explain California’s so-called duck curve, show how certain EV solutions aim to address some of the power grid’s current problems, and look at some ways to get EV drivers to become active (and willing) participants in a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) initiative, which increasingly looks like an essential element in any long-term plan.

The Renewable Identification Number (RIN) has long served as the tool used to force renewable fuels like ethanol and soybean oil into the U.S. gasoline and diesel supply. A creation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), RINs act as a subsidy that enables the production of renewable fuels that would not otherwise be economically justified. RIN prices are set by the usual workings of supply and demand, but chatter has bubbled up recently in the renewable fuels ecosystem that prices for a particular variety of RIN could be headed for a crash. In today’s RBN blog, we explain what’s behind the talk about RIN prices.

Around the world, there’s a strong push to put aviation on a more sustainable footing and reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Increasing the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) — a close cousin of renewable diesel (RD) — is key to this effort. But while the economic case for producing RD in the U.S. has been compelling for some time thanks to government subsidies, the returns on investment for producing SAF appear more dubious, despite a seemingly generous production tax credit for SAF in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, the incentive for making jet fuel is likely too small — and too short-lived — to overcome the higher cost of production for SAF compared to RD, and additional incentives may be needed to spur meaningful increases in SAF production.

It has become abundantly clear over the past couple of years that energy transition isn’t going to be a straight line leading directly to abundant carbon-free power and a net-zero world. All sorts of obstacles have popped up, indicating that the energy industry’s trilemma of availability, reliability and affordability not only clash with each other, they can also conflict with environmental priorities. The challenge is being felt now in Hawaii, where a commitment to expanding energy production from renewable sources and tamping down the use of fossil fuels while also keeping prices under control and reducing pollution is turning out to be no easy feat. In today’s RBN blog, we look at Hawaii’s recent efforts to phase out coal- and oil-fired power generation, why that’s turned out to be easier said than done, and what it all means for environmental performance and energy prices.

Clean ammonia, produced by reacting either “blue” or “green” hydrogen with nitrogen, is emerging as one of the most highly touted low-carbon energy sources of the future, thanks largely to massive tax incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Skeptics may question the extent to which clean ammonia — and clean hydrogen, on which it’s based — can realistically take market share from natural gas and coal as leading power-plant fuels over the next 20 to 30 years, but there’s a lot to be said for them and, as wind- and solar-power developers have already come to appreciate, billions of dollars in governmental support can do wonders. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at the growing list of U.S. clean ammonia projects now under development.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which became law several months ago, may have an enormous impact on the U.S. energy landscape over the long run, but many of its key provisions, including the much-discussed tax credits for electric vehicles (EVs), have been missing one big thing: rules of the road. Federal agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Treasury Department are responsible for implementing and enforcing laws passed by Congress, which are not only lengthy and complex, but often leave out important details. That’s where federal rulemaking comes into play, filling in the details and addressing questions left unanswered in the original legislation. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how the rules surrounding the New Clean Vehicle Credit (NCVC) are taking shape, the detailed steps that automakers will have to take to meet new sourcing and content requirements, and what it all means for prospective EV buyers.

There’s been a lot written about the federal government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in financial support to create a limited number of regional hydrogen hubs but not a lot of insight about how those hub proposals are being crafted to meet the Department of Energy’s (DOE) selection criteria. The details and strategies behind those plans have been hard to come by because few of the initial concept papers were made public while others remain a mystery, even months after the first informal winnowing of candidates. One exception is the Leading in Gulf Coast Hydrogen Transition (LIGH2T) hub proposal being prepared by a consortium that includes a large group of states, some key commercial partners, several universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). In today’s RBN blog, we look at what we know about the LIGH2T proposal, which will submit a full application by the April 7 deadline, and how it addresses three key factors likely to play a role in the selection process.

The buzz and activity around renewable diesel (RD), a chemically identical “drop-in” replacement for traditional petroleum-based diesel, continues to grow. The goals with RD, which is produced from renewable feedstocks, are to reduce the need for petroleum and to lower life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — critical steps in meeting climate agendas in many countries. Canada recently enacted legislation designed to promote the domestic production of RD as part of a broader emissions-reduction strategy. In today’s RBN blog, we take a tour of the newly emerging RD production sector in Canada and examine whether it could one day replace imports from the U.S.