Biochar: burnt offerings?

Biochar is a miraculous material, improving soils, enhancing agricultural yields and avoiding 1.4kg of net CO2 emissions per kg of waste biomass (that would otherwise have decomposed). IRRs surpass 20% without CO2 prices or policy support. Hence this 18-page note outlines the opportunity, leading companies and a disruption of biofuels?

Biochar is presented as a miracle material by its proponents, improving water and nutrient retention in soils by 20% and crop yields by at least 10%. We review technical papers in support of biochar on pages 2-3.

Bio-char pricing varies broadly today, however we argue bio-char can earn its keep at a price in the thousands of dollars per ton, based on its agricultural benefits (pages 4-5).

The production process is described in detail on pages 6-8, reviewing different reactor designs, their resultant product mixes, their benefits and their drawbacks.

Economics are laid out on pages 9-10, outlining how IRRs will most likely surpass 20%, on our numbers. Sensitivity analysis shows upside and downside risks.

Carbon credentials are debated on pages 11-12, using detailed carbon accounting principles. Converting each kg of dry biomass into biochar avoids 1.4kg of CO2 emissions.

We are de-risking over 2GTpa of CO2 sequestration, as the biochar market scales up by 2050. There is upside to 6GTpa, if fully de-risked, as discussed on pages 13-14.

Biofuels would be disrupted? We find much greater CO2 abatement is achieved converting biomass into biochar than converting biomass into biofuels. Hence pages 15-16 discuss an emerging competition for feedstocks.

Leading companies are profiled on pages 17-18, including names that stood our for our screening work.

Offshore offsets: nature based solutions in the ocean?

Nature based carbon offsets could migrate offshore in the 2020s, sequestering 3GTpa of CO2 for prices of $20-140/ton. In a more extreme case, if CO2 prices reached $400/ton, oceans could decarbonize the world. This 19-page note outlines the opportunity in seaweed and kelp cultivation. It naturally integrates with maritime industries, such as offshore wind, offshore oil and shipping. Over 95% of the 30MTpa seaweed market today is in Asia, but Western companies are emerging.

Nature based solutions to climate change can be improved by limiting their land use and shoring up their longevity. These considerations naturally suggest a role for oceans, which cover 70% of the planet and are a 45x larger carbon sink than the atmosphere (pages 2-5).

Seaweed and kelp’s characteristics, as nature-based solutions, are spelled out on pages 6-8, explaining how they are cultivated, their typical biomass absorption rates, and their typical CO2 sequestration mechanisms.

World-scale potential as a carbon sink is outlined on pages 9-10, including the possibility of decarbonizing the world.

Commercialization is under way, across 30MTpa of seaweed and kelp cultivation in Asia, and a dozen interesting companies in the West. We profile some of the companies that stood out on pages 11-13.

Economics can be attractive, $20-40/ton CO2 prices enhance IRRs and will help the opportunity to scale up. But $400/ton CO2 prices are needed for pure sequestration projects that do not yield any sellable biomass (pages 14-17).

Integration options with pre-existing maritime industries, as well as conclusions for the world’s route to net zero, are spelled out on pages 18-19.

Solid state batteries: will they change the world?

Solid state batteries promise 2x higher energy density than traditional lithium ion, with 3x faster charging and lower risk of fires. Thus they could re-shape global energy, especially heavy trucks. But the industry has been marooned by uncontrollable cell degradation. QuantumScape’s disclosures suggest it is light years ahead. Many of its claims are supported by patents. But costs may remain high. These are the conclusions in our new 20-page report.

Solid state battery technology is explained on pages 2-4, enabling the replacement of graphite anodes in conventional lithium ion batteries with pure lithium anodes, which have 10x higher charge density.

How would this change the energy industry? Our conclusions are spelled out on pages 5-11, covering electric vehicles, consumer electronics, heavy trucks, aviation, drones, other futuristic sci-fi concepts (!) and oil markets.

Technical challenges remain. Pages 12-14 outline our “top five issues”, based on reviewing over a dozen technical papers that were published in the past year.

The costs and CO2 intensities of solid-state batteries are going to be crucial. We have estimated both on pages 15-18, starting with our models of conventional lithium ion batteries, then adapting the numbers.

Has Quantumscape cracked the code? To answer this question, we reviewed 25 of the company’s patents from 2019-20. The positive is a focus on manufacturing methods, to meet 2023-24 commerciality targets. But we also draw conclusions on the avoidance of dendrites, proprietary catholytes and manufacturing costs.

Nuclear power: what role in the energy transition?

Uranium markets could be 50-75M lbs under-supplied by 2030. This deficit is deeper than other commodities in our roadmap to  net zero. Demand is driven by China, constructing reactors for 50-70% less than the West, yielding zero carbon power at 6-8c/kWh. This 18-page note presents the outlook for nuclear in the energy transition and screens uranium  miners.

An overview of the nuclear power industry is outlined on pages 2-5, in order to understand the market, its sub-components, and the energy-economics of nuclear power generation.

Capex costs have held back nuclear growth in the West, as heavy investments and devastating delays can kill IRRs and require 16c/kWh levellized costs (pages 6-7).

China is different, constructing new reactors for 50-70% less than the West, yielding passable economics at 6-8c/kwh, while generating clean baseload power (pages 8-9).

China drives our demand forecasts, underpinning 75% of future global demand on our ‘roadmap to net zero’, with stark upside as a diversification to under-supplied LNG markets, if China exports its technology and as new start-ups require inventory builds (pages 10-13).

Impacts on the uranium market are quantified on page 14. We are bridging to 50-75M lbs of under-supply by 2030, with risks skewed to the upside.

Uranium prices must re-inflate, from sub-$30/lb to $60-90/lb marginal costs (page 15).

Uranium miners are screened on pages 16-18, including profiles of ten public companies, from incumbents to early-stage developers. Rare Earth metals are a common by-product of uranium mining and also relevant to the energy transition.

Oil demand: the rise of autonomous vehicles?

We are raising our medium-term oil demand forecasts by 2.5-3.0 Mbpd to reflect the growing reality of autonomous vehicles. AVs eventually improve fuel economy in cars and trucks by 15-35% and displace 1.2 Mbpd of air travel. But their convenience also increases total travel demand. This 20-page note outlines the opportunity and leading companies.

Patent activity into autonomous vehicles is accelerating at the second-fastest rate of any technology in the future of energy. We review fifty patents into AVs and conclude Level 5 autonomy remains science fiction, but Level 4 applications are credible within 2-5 years (pages 2-5).

Impacts on trucking fuel economy are explored on pages 6-8, including technical papers into platooning and other efficiency gains.

Impacts on passenger vehicles are presented on pages 9-10. Efficiency gains are offset by greater demand for increasingly convenient mobility.

Long distance journeys above 100-miles comprise 40% of all travel miles today. 50% of this market is currently serviced by plane, but we expect switching from aviation to autonomous vehicles (pages 11-14).

Impacts on total oil demand are bridged on pages 15-17, running through our assumptions, category-by-category. Our 2030-40 oil demand forecasts are raised by 2.5 – 3.0 Mbpd.

Five broad implications for different industries and sub-industries are spelled out on page 18. We are increasingly constructive on fuel retail businesses, particularly those selling carbon offsets to decarbonize long-distance car trips.

Leading companies in autonomous vehicles are diligenced in our full screen. Ten of the most exciting companies are profiled on pages 19-20.

LNG in the energy transition: rewriting history?

A vast new up-cycle for LNG is in the offing, to meet energy transition goals, by displacing coal and improving industrial efficiency. 2024-25 LNG markets could by 100MTpa under-supplied, taking prices above $9/mcf. But at the same time, emerging technologies are re-shaping the industry, so well-run greenfield projects may resist the cost over-runs that marred the last cycle. This 18-page note outlines who might benefit and how.

Global LNG supplies need to rise at an 8% CAGR to meet the energy transition objectives in our decarbonization roadmaps for China, Europe and broader industrial heat, as spelled out on pages 2-4.

But global LNG supplies are currently only set to rise at half of this rate, leaving a potential supply gap of 100MTpa by mid-decade, exacerbated by delays and deferrals amidst COVID (page 5).

Marginal costs for the LNG industry are disaggregated on pages 6-8, based on a detailed breakdown of capex costs, including upside-downside analysis of project characteristics.

Can future projects resist re-inflation if the industry undergoes a vast new up-cycle, as foreseen in our models? We present our reasons for optimism on pages 9-14, outlining evidence from 40 recent patents, plus the best new technologies from technical papers. This shows what the most resilient and lowest-risk projects will look like.

Beneficiaries in the LNG supply chain are described on pages 15-16, including next-generational modularization technologies, drone technologies to de-risk construction and the use of additive manufacturing for hard-to-manufacture components.

Beneficiaries among new LNG projects are described on pages 17-18, profiling examples and opportunities.

Shifting demand: can renewables reach 50% of grids?

25% of the power grid could realistically become ‘flexible’, shifting its demand across days, even weeks. This is the lowest cost and most thermodynamically efficient route to fit more wind and solar into power grids. We are upgrading our renewables ceilings from 40% to 50%. This 22-page note outlines the growing opportunity in demand shifting.

Renewables would struggle to reach 50% penetration of today’s grids, due to their volatility. Pages 2-7 quantify the challenges, which include capacity payments for non-renewable back-ups, negative power pricing >20% of the time, >10% curtailment and 30% marginal cost re-inflation for new projects.

But a greater share of renewables would help decarbonization. This objective is explained on page 8, showing the relative costs and CO2-intensities of electricity technologies.

Renewable electricity storage is not the solution. It is costly and thermodynamically inefficient, which actually dilutes the impact of renewables. Costs and efficiency losses are quantified for batteries and for hydrogen on pages 9-11.

Demand shifting is a vastly superior solution. Pages 12-17 outline half-a-dozen demand-shifting opportunities that have been profiled in our research to-date. Companies in the smart energy supply chain are also noted and screened.

What impacts? We model that up to 25% of the grid can ultimately be demand-flexible, while this can help accommodate an additional 10pp share for renewables in the grid, before extreme volatility begins to bite (see pages 18-19).

Europe leads, and we now assume renewables can reach 50% of its power grid by 2050, with follow-through consequences for our gas and power models (page 20).

Our global renewables forecasts are not upgraded, as the bottleneck on a global basis is simply annual capacity additions, which must treble between 2020 and 2050, in our roadmap to ‘net zero’. (pages 21-22).

Industrial heat: the myth of electrify everything?

“Electrify everything then decarbonize electricity”. This mantra is popular, but dangerously incorrect for industrial heating. It raises output costs by 10-110% without any material CO2 savings. This 19-page note presents five separate case studies in the steel, cement, glass, petrochemical and paper industries, which exceed 15% of global CO2. Only a CO2 price is likely to maximize efficiency gains across multiple disparate industries.

Industrial heating comprises 20% of global CO2 emissions. We outline the market by process, by temperature range and by fuel sources on pages 2-5.

The costs and CO2 intensity of gas, coal and electricity are broken down on pages 5-7, in units of kg/kWh and c/kWh, along with workings. This analysis shows electrification can only save CO2 if it confers a step-change in exergetic efficiency. Which needs to be assessed process-by-process, industry-by-industry.

Electrification of the steel industry is discussed on pages 8-9. Over half of the emissions are chemical emissions from coking. The other half is from blast furnaces. Recycling scrap metal in electric arc furnaces is the best electrification opportunity we can find for any high-grade heating process, but it also has drawbacks.

Electrification of the cement industry is discussed on pages 10-11. Approximately half of the emissions are chemical emissions from calcining CaCO3. Because cement costs are so low, there is a risk that electrification doubles total production cost.

Electrification of the plastics industry is discussed on pages 12-13. Presently there is no commercially available electric alternative to an ethane cracker, although some interesting concepts are at early stages of technical readiness.

Electrification of the glass industry is discussed on page 14. Again, the process is challenging to electrify, and like cement, this can greatly increase production costs.

Electrification of the paper industry is discussed on page 15. Vast quantities of water and steam make this industry one of the least heat-efficient globally. Heat exchangers and heat pumps can help. But they may actually increase CO2 intensity if electricity replaces wood offcuts and other sustainable biomass, currently used as a low carbon fuel.

A comparison of the costs and CO2 intensities of different electrification technologies ties all of our work together on page 16. At best, electrification will have a neutral impact on the CO2 intensity of industrial heat, if renewable penetration ever reaches 50% of the grid. At today’s typical grid mixes, electrification may increase CO2 intensity 20-50%.

Better options are needed to decarbonize industrial heat, as outlined on pages 17-19. No simple mantra like “electrify everything” can substitute for effective process engineering, which is highly site-specific. A CO2 price could incentivize many of these initiatives. We outline attractive options and who benefits.

Vertical greenhouses: what future in the transition?

Vertical greenhouses achieve 10-400x greater yields per acre than field-growing, by stacking layers of plants indoors, and illuminating each layer with LEDs. Economics are exciting. CO2 intensity varies. But it can be carbon-negative in principle. This 17-page case study illustrates how supply chains are localizing and more renewables can be integrated into grids.

The first rationale for vertical greenhouses is to grow food closer to the consumer, which can save 0.6kg of trucking CO2 per kg of food. Eliminating freight is much simpler than decarbonizing freight (pages 2-4).

The second rationale for vertical greenhouses is that they are 10-400x more productive per unit of land, hence they can free up farmland for reforestation projects that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere (pages 5-6).

The third rationale for vertical greenhouses is that their LED lighting demands are flexible, which means they can absorb excess wind and solar, in grids that are increasingly laden with renewables. They are much more economical at achieving this feat than batteries or hydrogen electrolysers (pages 7-10).

The overall CO2 intensity of vertical greenhouses depends on the underlying grid’s CO2 intensity, but the process can in principle become carbon negative (pages 11-13).

The economics are exciting. We model 10% IRRs selling fresh produce at competitive prices, with upside to 30% IRRs if fresher produce earns a premium or operations can be powered with low-cost renewables when the grid is over-saturated (pages 14-15).

Leading companies in vertical greenhouses and in their supply chain are discussed on pages 16-17.

China: can the factory of the world decarbonize?

China now aspires to reach ‘net zero’ CO2 by 2060. But is this compatible with growing an industrial economy and attaining Western living standards? Our 16-page note finds the best middle ground to balance these objectives: Coal is phased out, oil demand plateaus at 20Mbpd, gas rises by a vast 10x to 300bcfd, and 9GTpa of gross CO2 emissions must be captured or offset. The biggest challenges are geopolitics and sourcing enough LNG.

The vastness of China’s industrial economy is outlined on pages 2-4. China’s industrial complex consumes more energy than the entire USA. China’s textile manufacturing industry alone consumes more energy than the entire power grid of Spain. We provide data by major sector and by energy source.

It is more challenging to decarbonize an industrial economy than a service-oriented economy. These are our findings on pages 5-6.

A high case scenario is laid out on pages 7-9. It is not impossible that China’s CO2 doubles by 2060, more than offsetting all decarbonization efforts in the West. This would be problematic.

A low case scenario is laid out on pages 10-12. The easiest route to reaching net zero is if China chooses slower economic growth and less economic development for its citizens. But is this remotely fair or realistic?

A middle-ground solution is given on pages 13-15. This is our base case. Full decarbonization is achieved, without materially sacrificing growth and development. But vast changes are needed in China’s energy sector.

The largest bottleneck to achieving this bottleneck is whether China can source enough gas, especially LNG, to reduce its reliance on coal, as argued on page 16. The ramp-up in renewables is also vast, but realistic, we think.