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Brussels approves IPCEI projects

Brussels approves IPCEI projects

3rd funding wave for H2 infrastructure measures

The decision has finally come. In mid-February 2024, the European Commission approved 24 German IPCEI projects aka Important Projects of Common European Interest. Within the framework of IPCEI Hydrogen, funding is granted to large-scale projects across the entire hydrogen value chain – from H2 production and transportation to storage infrastructure and industrial deployment.

These projects are approved by the European Commission in several “waves.” In the current third wave, attention was turned to infrastructure schemes involving a total of seven EU member states (Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia). Across all projects, the aim is to build almost 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) of Hpipelines, more than 3.2 gigawatts of H2 production capacity in addition to approximately 370 gigawatt-hours of H2 storage capacity.

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“While the renewable hydrogen supply chain in Europe is still in a nascent phase, Hy2Infra will deploy the initial building blocks of an integrated and open renewable hydrogen network. This IPCEI will establish the first regional infrastructure clusters in several Member States and prepare the ground for future interconnections across Europe, in line with the European Hydrogen Strategy. This will support the market ramp-up of renewable hydrogen supply and take us steps closer to making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.”

Vice President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager, responsible for competition policy

“For a successful roll-out of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen, all pieces of the puzzle need to come together. With this new Important Project of Common European Interest, 32 companies, including 5 SMEs, will invest in hydrogen infrastructure, for a total of more than 12 billion euro of private and public investment, to match supply and demand of hydrogen. It provides industries with more options to decarbonise their activities while boosting their competitiveness and creating jobs.”

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton

“I’m pleased that the wait for European funding approval has come to an end. It means we have made an important step toward realizing our hydrogen project. I now hope that we will soon receive funding approval from the German government so that we have a good basis for making the final investment decision within our committees.”

EWE Chief Executive Officer Stefan Dohler

It is expected that member states will provide up to EUR 6.9 billion in public funding which will then unlock EUR 5.4 billion in private investment. Involved in the 33 projects is a total of 32 companies, with small- and medium-sized businesses among them. Thus the IPCEI Hy2Infra should go some way in “helping to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal and the REPowerEU Plan,” according to Brussels.

Most of the participating companies have been waiting a long time for this go-ahead to be given, which will enable them to finally kick off their projects. It is anticipated that several large electrolyzers will be commissioned between 2026 and 2028 and a number of pipelines will be brought into service between 2027 and 2029.


Fig. 2: Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies plans, as part of its Green Hydrogen@Blue Danube project, to trial benzyltoluene as a hydrogen carrier for the purpose of ensuring safe and efficient transportation of green hydrogen for supplying industrial off-takers in the Danube region

Hydrogenious_LOHC_ReleasePLANT_Rendering, Source: Hydrogenious,

IPCEI

The IPCEI Hy2Tech, which focuses on the development of hydrogen technologies for end consumers, was approved on July 15, 2022. This was followed in the second wave on Sept. 21, 2022, by the IPCEI Hy2Use which targets hydrogen applications in the industrial sector.

“IPCEI Hy2Infra contributes to a common objective by supporting the deployment of hydrogen infrastructure important for achieving the objectives of key EU policy initiatives such as the European Green Deal, the REPowerEU Plan and the EU Hydrogen Strategy.

All 33 projects included in the IPCEI are highly ambitious, as they aim at developing infrastructure that go [sic] beyond what the market currently offers. They will lay the first building blocks for an integrated and open hydrogen network, accessible on non-discriminatory terms, and enable the market ramp-up of renewable hydrogen supply in Europe. This will allow for the decarbonisation of economic sectors that depend on hydrogen to reduce their carbon emissions.

Aid to individual companies is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and does not unduly distort competition.”

European Commission

DWV shortens its name

DWV shortens its name

As of January 2024, the DWV has a slightly shorter name. Instead of being called the German hydrogen and fuel cell association (Deutscher Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellen-Verband e.V.) it will – once again – be known as the German hydrogen association (Deutscher Wasserstoff-Verband (DWV) e.V.). The latter is exactly the same name it had when the association was founded in 1996 before it was subsequently changed.

A statement from the association says that the name change is designed to underline “its technological openness and the diversity among its member companies” and its position as “the only national association for hydrogen which covers the whole value chain and expertly represents the interests of all hydrogen technologies (not just explicitly the fuel cell).” The decision to make the amendment was approved by a large majority at its 28th general meeting which took place last November in Berlin.

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Plug Power – Price jumps with many questions

Plug Power – Price jumps with many questions

The Plug share price fell quickly to under 3 USD (2.50 USD at low) and then rose again to over 4 USD. At a price of less than 3 USD, it was possible to build up excellent trading positions (see H2-international Feb. 2024). Is there now a turnaround in the price trend or was this just a brief flare-up before the downward trend continues? Or will there even be an upward trend reversal?

There is a great opportunity for Plug Power to receive a credit (loan) totaling 1.6 billion USD from the US Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. This is to come in the third quarter, although there are also rumors that it could be approved much earlier, but I won’t take part in this speculation. In this ideal scenario Plug will then have sufficient capital to establish and expand several production facilities, for example in Tennessee and New York, and start production there. The stock market will value this – if it happens – very positively: with higher share prices.

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But a loan is borrowed capital that has to be repaid. What are the conditions? How high is the interest or coupon? What are the repayment arrangements? Will the loan be paid out immediately in full or in installments and with target definitions (milestones)? What is Plug doing with the money? If there is no clarity about this or the loan is not approved in the first place, then the stock market will be miffed or react in disappointment, with the consequence of falling share prices.

Parallel to this is running a share placement program (at-the-market) worth 1 billion USD. Of this, already over 305 million USD, through the placement of 77.4 million shares, have flowed into Plug’s account. This will also correlate positively with the DOE credit: If this is granted, Plug’s share price will – even if possibly only for a short time – climb, and this then enables the perfect placement of shares via ATM in the ramp-up. This money from the ATM program can be used to solve the short-term liquidity problem, since the cash on hand lay at just 135 million USD December 31, 2023.

There are also other possible difficulties, because the US Treasury Department is defining how hydrogen must be produced in order to receive the subsidy of up to 3 USD per kg. Plug is relying very heavily on this funding, but there are still questions: From which location must the regenerative energy come from, in what amount and at what point in time? And at which location must the electrolysis take place? With this are, like in the EU, a series of bureaucratic hurdles – unfortunately.

Disappointing figures

What are these figures: The turnover in fiscal year 2023 amounted to, instead of the expected 1.2 billion USD, only 891 million USD. The loss even amounted to 1.4 billion USD, which corresponds to a minus of 2.30 USD per share. The press conference on the results in March raised more questions than it answered.

For example, the material inventory is to be reduced by a value of 700 million USD via the delivery of finished products to customers. Whereas in 2023 only 400 million USD was invested in this area, no more capital is to flow into here in 2024.

The production at locations such as Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana is to be ramped up and contribute to an increase in the profit margin. These sites are already capable of producing liquid hydrogen for the company itself and supplying it to customers. The Texas and New York sites will only be continued once the DOE loan has been approved, as otherwise they tie up too much liquidity.

In addition, there is to be price raisings (among others for H2, stacks and electrolyzers) and a cost-cutting program of 75 million USD. Liquid hydrogen is currently still being purchased, which entails losses, but is to be replaced by self-produced hydrogen.

After Plug Power – I reported in detail – established production facilities in the USA and internationally in a variety of ways and thus severely strained liquidity, the planned cost-cutting program amounting to 75 million USD is now to take effect. Whether this amount will be sufficient may be doubted, however, because it seems downright ridiculous in view of the Plug’s liquidity problems and comes much too late. That the company has started to produce liquid hydrogen at several locations and has delivered to customers like Amazon and Walmart is good news for now, but will at first have little influence on the company figures.

With orders for electrolyzers too has Plug scored, but it will be some time before significant sales and thus profits are visible here. That the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) at the end of 2023, with the selling of 5.67 million shares, has completely withdrawn from Plug is not a good sign.

Summary

Words must now be followed by deeds, because all too often very full-bodied forecasts have been made. That Plug will bring partners on board for some projects seems very likely. And also the spin-off (partial sale) of some units is conceivable, if liquidity cannot be adequately presented soon. However, there is currently no need for action. Plug is clearly on my watch list, though, as the company is active in the right markets at the right time. Once the financial problems have been solved, there will possibly also be changes in management, which has lost trust, and Plug will continue on its way.

Over 170 million shares sold short (short interest, status mid-February) are dubious, however, as there is massive speculation against the company or – keywords Amazon and Walmart (warrants) – a form of hedging is being used – no guarantees. All the same, already 10 million shares were short covered in January/February. On the other hand, it is this short interest that can sometimes have a price-driving effect via the covering (short squeeze) when good news is reported. Everything has two sides.

There is still no need for action, however, since the publication of the figures for the first quarter is pending. That various business media in Germany count Plug Power among their top investments in hydrogen befuddles me, though. There are more convincing H2 investments.fa

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting

FuelCell Energy – Carbon capture as a growth story?

FuelCell Energy – Carbon capture as a growth story?

FuelCell Energy has with SOFC fuel cell power plants built its own capacities for clean energy totaling 62.8 MW (previous year: 43.7 MW). The company’s own high-temperature fuel cell serves as the basis for use in electrolysis, where the company has recognized great potential for itself. Along with that are various research projects, among others in Canada, and the company relies on specially developed carbon capture technology that is designed to avoid emissions and generate emissions-free energy at the same time. So far, so good. But you can’t avoid thinking of competitors such as Bloom Energy, Sunfire and Ceres Power (indirectly also Weichai Power and Bosch), which pursue similar visions and technological approaches to FuelCell Energy.

What all this means in terms of order and implementation potential is unfortunately not yet clear to me. The figures so far are sobering: The first quarter (fiscal year 31.01.24) brought a loss of 44.4 million USD. Turnover fell in the quarter to 16.7 million USD. Of liquidity, the company has no lack: 348.4 million USD was in the bank January 31, 2024. However, there has been a constant outflow of capital for years, aided by constant share placements on the stock exchange via an ATM program. Projects such as that with Exxon in Holland sound promising, but say very little about the potential. In South Korea, former partner Posco, via its subsidiary Korea Fuel Cells, forfeited the option of further orders in supplement to a previous project. Not a good sign.

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Joint venture with ExxonMobil

At first glance, it sounds promising: FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil have agreed to build a production plant for carbon capture in Rotterdam. It entails the avoidance of CO2 emissions or the storage and making usable, without generating a carbon footprint. CCS stands for carbon capture and storage. After successful deployment directly in the neighborhood of important industries, the project that is based on the technology of FuelCell Energy could be deployed at all production sites of ExxonMobil where CO2 emissions are generated. The process is to generate heat as a by-product and enable the production of green hydrogen.

Unfortunately, there is no indication of the exact investment volume (invest on the part of FuelCell Energy) and the order volume that can be derived from this. In any case, the project is financially supported by the EU via the Emissions Trading System Innovation Fund. ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy have already been working on the associated technologies for some time, so this specific project represents another important milestone.

The cash cushion is safeguarding the share price well. The stock exchange will rediscover FuelCell Energy when it can be shown how technologies such as carbon capture and SOEC can generate orders and earn money. That will take some time. The share is always suitable for trading, as good news quickly leads to major price swings.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting, written March 15th, 2024

Politicians with an open ear for hydrogen

Politicians with an open ear for hydrogen

Optimism at the H2 Forum in Berlin

A good 450 participants gathered at the specialist conference H2 Forum in Berlin February 19 and 20 to discuss innovative H2 technologies, strategies for the market ramp-up and the necessary regulatory framework conditions. A further 1,000 participants were connected online, even despite the considerable time difference in countries such as India and the USA.

The event was opened via a video by Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy. The two-day program was held under the motto “Empowering the future of hydrogen,” where this year’s focus was on the production of the green gas by electrolysis and its transport in Germany and Europe. At the H2 Forum were, among others, representatives from E.on, Enapter, EWE, Linde, FNB Gas and the H2Global Foundation. They discussed the role of hydrogen in the defossilization of the economic systems. Philipp Steinberg of the German economy ministry outlined the various phases of the development of the hydrogen core grid in Germany.

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Feelings of optimism and assurance were tangible throughout the high-ceilinged rooms of the Estrel Congress Center (ECC) as players from politics, industry and the energy sector talked about ambitious H2 projects at home and abroad. Inspiring as well was the approval by the EU Commission a few days before of a series of IPCEI projects, thus ending for some participating companies years of waiting. Additionally, the carbon contracts for difference and the auctions of the European Hydrogen Bank are giving hope to business representatives.

Spain: Megawatt-electrolysis in practice

For example, Özlem Tosun, project manager for green hydrogen at Iberdrola Deutschland, reported on the experience with a 20‑MW electrolysis plant, making it currently the largest in Europe. “I hope it doesn’t stay that way,” she added, in view of the necessary market ramp-up for green hydrogen. The Spanish energy corporation, known in the country primarily as an operator of wind farms in the Baltic Sea, started operation of the plant in Puertollano, May 2022 in the presence of the King of Spain. The city with nearly 50,000 inhabitants is located about 250 kilometers south of Madrid. The electricity for the hydrogen production comes from a 100‑MW photovoltaic park a few kilometers away and flows via an underground cable into the production hall, in which 16 electrolyzers of 1.25 MW each perform their work. These produce annually up to 3,000 tonnes of green hydrogen, which is temporarily stored in tower-high pressure tanks at 60 bar. The electrolysis plant is located next to the fertilizer factory of Fertiberia and currently covers ten percent of their hydrogen requirement, which according to Iberdrola saves 48,000 metric tons of CO2.

“But this is just the beginning,” stressed Tosun. “In the coming years, Iberdrola wants to increase the production more than tenfold – to 40,000 tonnes by 2027.” The demand is there, since otherwise Fertiberia is using for its ammonia synthesis gray hydrogen obtained from natural gas. That no comparable plant for the production of green hydrogen on an industrial scale is yet in operation is also due to the fact that the whole thing is not as simple as it sounds in the big plans and letters of intent. “It didn’t go smoothly from the start,” admitted Özlem Tosun. “On the contrary – we had a lot of problems. But we also learned a lot and were able to improve a lot as a result. Not only technically, but also economically.” One of the most important points was to optimize the efficiency of electricity use. Contributing to this was that the performance and efficiency of the electrolyzers were able to be increased further and further.

Overall, the practical experience in Puertollano was important “to be able to scale the system.” As far as the large-scale production of climate-neutral energy sources is concerned, the multinational energy company not only sees itself as a pioneer, but is also optimistic about the future. Because Spain first wants to become independent of fossil fuel imports and then be able to export renewable energies. So it’s no wonder that Germany is for Iberdrola “a key market,” as Tosun says, “especially for green hydrogen.”

Lack of regulation as a stumbling block

How the development of a German and European hydrogen industry can be accelerated was one of many other topics discussed at the conference. It is important to break down barriers – for example lack of regulation and infrastructure – it was said in a panel discussion. Such hurdles, the speakers agreed, were in addition to the high costs for H2 production, like before, the crucial reasons why not a small number of companies, despite the positive feasibility studies, are still waiting with the final investment decision. The following figures show just how wide the gap is between aspiration and reality when it comes to the gas of the future: In recent years, the German government has raised the target for domestic production of green hydrogen from the original three gigawatts to ten gigawatts, yet so far not more than 62 MW of generation capacity has been installed. That there is a long way to go, but which can go faster, further practical examples have shown.

“Never waste a green electron again!”

“Did you know that with the wind power that was curtailed in the first half of 2022 alone 1.5 million households in Europe could have been supplied with electricity for a year?“ (The figure refers to average households with a consumption of 3,500 kWh per year.) That was one of several questions with which Alexander Voigt, managing director of HH2E, began his speech. “What could we do with all the green electrons that are not being generated only because the power grid cannot absorb them?” His answer, of course: Hydrogen! But also high-performance battery storage, to be able to offer energy for stabilization of the power grid. That’s how he explained the business model of the planned HH2E factory in Lubmin, Germany. It will use surplus electricity to “reliably and cost-effectively produce green hydrogen.” In addition will come CO2-free heating and, if required, the conversion of the “green molecules” back into electricity.

Alexander Voigt, CEO von HH2E, nutzt künftig Überschussstrom in Lubmin (Foto: Monika Rößiger), Source: Monika Rößiger

With this, the plant could contribute to the decarbonization of industry in Germany and, at the same time, support the energy supply. The final investment decision will be made shortly, according to Voigt, and then the way would be clear for the start of construction. In the year 2026, according to the plan, energy generation is to start: around 100 megawatts of total capacity in the first expansion stage, divided between a 56‑MW electrolyzer and a 40‑MW battery storage system. The electricity for electrolysis is coming from offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea. Initially, the operators expect to produce around 7,200 tonnes of green hydrogen per year. The production capacity of the plant is scalable up to one gigawatt. Lubmin, once a transshipment point for Russian natural gas, will then become a center for green hydrogen. This can be fed into the existing natural gas grid that extends from the northeast of Germany to the southwest near Stuttgart.

In total, more than 40 companies from the entire H2 value chain presented their solutions and products in the high glass hall next to the conference hall in the Estrel Congress Center. The organizational framework of the H2 Forum was right: There was time to connect during the coffee breaks, lunch and supper. Lively discussions took place at all the tables and stands. That more politicians were present this time than at previous events was, according to Laura Pawlik, Sales Manager of the organizer IPM, particularly emphasized in the feedback from the participants. And also that the representatives from politics and administration were definitely open to further funding.

The date for the next conference has already been set: March 4 and 5, 2025, again in the ECC in Berlin. Focal points will be in addition to politics also the regulatory progress in Germany and Europe.

Ceres Power with strong partners

Ceres Power with strong partners

The main shareholders Bosch and Weichai are already counting on the English Ceres Power and their high-temperature fuel cell systems or their patents and know-how. With the South Korean Doosan Fuel Cell there is a license agreement and the planning of a joint FC production. Now, US company Delta Electronics is joining as a partner, which boasts a turnover of around 23 billion USD (over 80,000 employees) and recently closed a license agreement on the production of FC stacks for hydrogen production in the volume of 43 million GBP with Ceres Power, half of which will be counted towards the turnover for the current fiscal year. Delta will produce FC stacks on a license basis for various applications and markets at its 200 production sites worldwide. The company works with, among others, Microsoft and Tesla.

For us, it is interesting to see that Bloom Energy as well has bet very successfully on high-temperature fuel cells developed in-house (microgrids) and thus makes various energy sources such as natural gas, biogas and hydrogen usable. Bosch too addresses this market segment – among other things via a cooperation and license from Ceres.

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The share price of Ceres, like all other listed FC companies, has suffered greatly in recent years, but seems to me to have reached a price level at which one should build up positions. The partnerships with large companies allow the expectation of sustainably high revenue from licenses and sales, without Ceres having to strongly invest in the build-up of production capacities. Conclusion: A good portfolio addition in the area of FC and H2 technology.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting, written March 15th, 2024