Tuesday, 06/21/2022

One of the biggest, most important steps in the U.S.’s ongoing energy transition will be the selection and build-out of at least four new clean hydrogen hubs –– development supported to a significant degree by an $8 billion commitment in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was signed into law by President Biden in November. Surely there will be a lot of angling among states and regions to land big chunks of that federal money, but it’s a safe bet that one of the new hydrogen hubs will be located along the Texas-Louisiana coast. After all, this stretch of low-lying land not only boasts the U.S.’s highest concentration of existing hydrogen production and consumption, it also offers an extensive network of hydrogen pipelines, easy access to vast amounts of natural gas and renewable power, scores of potential sites for underground hydrogen storage and carbon sequestration, and a slew of marine terminals for exporting hydrogen-packed ammonia to global markets. Best of all, perhaps, the region has the human capital to make a new energy hub happen — heck, look at the infrastructure and markets the folks and companies between Freeport and Lake Charles have already developed for crude oil, natural gas and NGLs. In today’s RBN blog, we begin a detailed look at the federal government’s push to advance clean hydrogen as a fuel of the future and the Houston-led effort to make the western Gulf Coast a buzzing center of hydrogen-related activity.

Thursday, 06/09/2022

California faces a broad set of challenges when it comes to reducing wildfires, which have been increasingly frequent and intense over the last decade — impacting the lives of those dealing with the threat, not to mention effects on the economy and environment. Separately, the state has been working to reduce transportation-related pollution and incentivize the development and use of a wide array of alternative fuels. Yosemite Clean Energy (YCE), which announced plans for its first plant site in late 2021, has an approach it says will not only make the state a cleaner and safer place but also foster the development of new transportation fuels. In today’s RBN blog, we look at YCE’s plans to turn wood waste into renewable fuels, how its unique “Stump to Pump” approach relies on partnerships with local communities, and the green hydrogen and renewable natural gas it plans to produce at sites across California.

Sunday, 06/05/2022

There is a fundamental difference in the way value is established in renewable, decarbonized energy markets versus traditional commodities. In traditional energy markets, value is defined by natural laws — physics, chemistry, geography. But in the world of renewables and decarbonization, value is primarily determined by man-made laws — RULES that specify what a particular flavor of energy is worth, what is required to prove that worth, and how that value is ultimately captured by market participants. In effect, a molecule’s (or electron’s) pedigree is as important — if not more important — than its energy content. Whether you are deep into renewables markets or you deal with energy commodities that are impacted by the rules, it is critically important that you understand everything about how these rules work and how they are regulated. In today’s RBN blog we’ll begin an exploration into the inner workings of energy transition market mechanisms.

Thursday, 05/26/2022

Supply chains are screwed up. Inflation has returned with a vengeance. And the politics of energy in the U.S. are all over the place, with demands for energy companies to do more today even as plans are being made to phase them out of existence tomorrow. This is today’s world — traditional energy markets learning to live with the impact of renewables, decarbonization and sustainability initiatives, while at the same time dealing with the aftermath of a pandemic and the consequences of a war with a totally uncertain trajectory — and it’s likely to be with us for a long time to come. That was the focus of our Spring 2022 School of Energy and it’s the subject of today’s RBN blog. Warning: Today’s blog includes a couple of blatant plugs for a newly available replay of our recent conference in Houston.

Tuesday, 05/24/2022

In case you hadn’t noticed, many of the largest, most successful companies in the U.S. and Canada are placing big bets on the energy transition. Take “blue” hydrogen, which is produced by breaking down natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and capturing and sequestering most of the CO2, and blue ammonia, which is made from blue hydrogen and nitrogen. Last fall, Air Products & Chemicals announced a multibillion-dollar project in Louisiana, and now it’s a joint venture of Enbridge and Humble Midstream, which is planning a large, $2.5 billion-plus blue hydrogen/ammonia project down the Texas coast, at Enbridge’s massive marine terminal in Ingleside. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss what we’ve learned about the companies’ plan.

Sunday, 05/22/2022

At the most basic level, carbon-capture technology is not new, but it has attracted a lot more attention in recent years amid discussions about how best to transition to a net-zero world by 2050. Efforts to ramp up carbon capture have faced a number of hurdles, however, including the difficulty in capturing some emissions at the point where they’re generated. That’s where direct air capture (DAC) — which essentially works as a large-scale air filter and can be located just about anywhere — comes into play. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the still-emerging technology and its limitations, a project in Iceland that is the largest currently in operation, and plans by Occidental Petroleum to make Texas home to the world’s largest DAC facility. 

Tuesday, 05/17/2022

Hydrogen has been touted as a zero-emissions vehicle fuel, as a clean power generation source and, more generally, as a big part of the move toward decarbonization. Much of the current interest in hydrogen is its possible role as a grid-scale energy storage solution — one that might help support the growth of wind and solar renewable power generation. However, if we convert renewable energy to hydrogen, how do we store it? And how do we get it to end-use markets? As appealing as a hydrogen solution may be, these questions require thoughtful answers given some of hydrogen’s unique characteristics. With this in mind, a new set of stakeholders are beginning to take an interest in the natural gas pipeline network with an eye toward repurposing it to include hydrogen blends. In today’s RBN blog, we look at some reasons why hydrogen blending is being discussed and even being implemented on a limited basis in Europe and North America. 

Sunday, 05/15/2022

Since the first OPEC oil embargo nearly a half-century ago — and more recently with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — energy producers and consumers alike have learned important lessons about the significance of energy commodity sourcing. It all comes down to this, really: (1) know what you’ll need going forward; (2) diversify your sources of supply, focusing on suppliers who are reliable and friendly; and (3) don’t screw up by becoming overly dependent on suppliers who could prove to be sketchy. For decades, the industry’s focus was on oil and gas — which is still critical, as Europe knows all too well. But as policymakers attempt to transition to renewables and electrification, a whole new set of commodity-supply concerns is coming to the fore. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the challenges associated with securing the key materials required to build the machinery of the energy transition.

Thursday, 05/12/2022

Electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. may be at a turning point, with high gasoline prices prompting would-be car buyers to give them a second look — or a first look, in many cases. EV adoption has been slow to pick up speed in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including the lack of a nationwide charging network and concerns about “range anxiety.” But a major factor has always been that gasoline-fueled cars have been cheaper to purchase and operate than EVs. The recent run-up in gasoline prices, amplified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has changed the math in those comparisons, at least in the short-term. Is the pace of EV adoption about to accelerate, or will trends in gasoline and electric power prices put the transition into cruise control, or even neutral? In today’s RBN blog, we look at how forecasts for power and gasoline prices might shape the conversations around EVs through 2030.

Tuesday, 05/03/2022

The energy market has been in chaos for some time. Even before Russia’s horrific attack on Ukraine, the multinational push to decarbonize the global economy was slow-motion-crashing into reality. Of course, global supply shortages only got worse following the invasion and the widespread response to it. The disruptions highlight the critical need for a balanced energy policy, both in the U.S. and abroad. This became evident in Europe last year, when a heavy, early reliance on renewable energy, largely wind, left much of the continent short on fuel and scrambling for natural gas when the wind didn’t blow enough. The overall supply-demand balance caused prices to rise steadily as the global economy climbed out of its COVID-induced recession. Then the situation became more dire as embargoes on Russian crude oil and gas were planned and implemented. In the U.S., the Biden administration, eager to both “green” the economy and keep gasoline prices in check, has been giving mixed signals to E&Ps and their investors, telling them to both ramp up investments in production and expect to play a smaller and smaller role going forward. It’s a confusing world. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the current energy environment, the policy roller-coaster, challenges to the increased usage of renewables that remain unaddressed, and how the politics of decarbonization are making the ongoing energy transition a very difficult row to hoe.

Monday, 05/02/2022

Carbon-capture projects have been slow to take root in the U.S., but that may be changing as a number of companies are now advancing plans to capture the carbon dioxide that results from ethanol production in the Midwest. Ethanol plants are an obvious choice, given that the CO2 resulting from ethanol fermentation is highly concentrated, which makes capturing it more efficient (and less expensive) compared to many other industrial processes. But while the relative ease and economy of capturing those emissions might seem like a no-brainer, convincing the public to go along with those plans has been more difficult. In today’s RBN blog, we look at what’s being planned.

Tuesday, 04/12/2022

Much like baling out a flooded basement with a spoon or shoveling the driveway in the middle of a snowstorm, carbon-capture projects to date have had minimal impact at best on the bigger goal of reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. But an ExxonMobil-led project that’s taking shape in and around Houston could soon set a new mark for the scale at which carbon-capture projects operate. The plan calls for capturing, gathering, compressing and sequestering up to 50 million metric tons per annum (MMtpa) of CO2 by 2030, and up to twice that much by 2040 — enough to start making a real dent in Gulf Coast CO2 emissions. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the biggest carbon-capture project currently taking shape: ExxonMobil’s proposed Houston CCS Innovation Zone.

Friday, 04/08/2022

On March 24, 2022, in the wake of the still-unfolding crisis in Ukraine, “energy and climate ministers” from 40 countries convened in Paris for an International Energy Agency summit to send a “strong message of unity” regarding energy security and to issue a consensus on accelerating “clean energy transitions worldwide.” But there are already strong signals that accelerating the construction of solar and wind power systems, battery storage and electric vehicles (EVs) won’t be easy and won’t be cheap. One of the greatest challenges ahead is this: The minerals and metals that will be needed to build it all may not be available in the massive, almost unthinkable volumes that will be required. And the materials that will be available may cost a lot more — maybe even enough to force a scale-back of energy transition goals. There was already evidence of impending shortages and higher prices well before Ukraine was invaded by Russia. And the price inflation has worsened considerably since then, in part because Russia is a major supplier of many key commodities. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the major cost challenges of pursuing the energy transition.

Wednesday, 04/06/2022

Even before the recent spike in crude oil and gasoline prices, the subject of a contentious House committee hearing Wednesday with executives from six large oil and natural gas companies, electric vehicles (EVs) were having a bit of a moment. From legacy brands such as BMW and General Motors to the EV startup Polestar, several automakers used their spots during February’s Super Bowl — the most-watched event on the TV calendar, where the cost for a 30-second ad went for a whopping $6.5 million — to highlight their latest EV offerings. Now, with gasoline prices about 50% higher than they were a year ago (and about 20% higher than they were on Super Bowl Sunday), EVs are getting a whole new level of attention from everyday drivers, not just Tesla fanboys, car afficionados, or the environmentally conscious. In today’s RBN blog, we look at whether the recent run-up in gasoline prices will help turn EVs into a more economical option.

Tuesday, 04/05/2022

When the world’s second-largest container-ship company makes a massive, long-term commitment to a carbon-neutral shipping fuel, you can’t help but take notice. Over the past few months, A.P. Moller-Maersk has placed orders for a dozen large, ocean-going container vessels that will be fueled by “green” methanol, which can be produced by “breaking up” water to produce hydrogen, then combining the H2 with captured CO2 to “make up” enviro-friendly bunkers. And, to ensure an ample supply of the climate-friendly fuels for its first 12 “boxships,” the shipping giant also has entered into strategic partnerships with six alternative fuel companies that by 2025 will be producing a total of at least 730,000 metric tons (MT) a year of either bio-ethanol or e-methanol — two chemically identical forms of green methanol. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss why Maersk thinks bio-methanol and e-methanol may be the carbon-neutral shipping fuels everyone’s been searching for.