LanzaTech rakes in taxpayer funds despite tight relationship with China-run energy giant Sinopec
Collin Anderson • December 14, 2022 5:00 am
President Joe Biden’s Energy Department funneled millions of dollars to a green energy company in the months after the company partnered with a Chinese state-owned entity that it acknowledges could face business-crippling sanctions.
Carbon capture company LanzaTech, federal spending disclosures show, has received more than $10 million in grant payments from the Biden administration since April 2021, when the company announced a partnership with Sinopec Capital—the clean energy investment arm of the Sinopec Group, a Chinese state-owned oil conglomerate also known as the China Petrochemical Corporation—to “debut an international market of new energy and new materials.” LanzaTech has acknowledged in SEC disclosures that its association with Sinopec, which China has used to purchase oil from U.S.-sanctioned nations such as Russia and Iran, could jeopardize its bottom line. The company’s financial interactions with Sinopec and other Beijing-run entities, LanzaTech wrote in a November filing, could bring “complications” and “restrictions” should the United States or other nations implement “sanctions on certain Chinese individuals.” That filing also notes “that the Chinese government may intervene or influence our operations at any time” and that LanzaTech may be unable to “protect our interests” in Chinese joint ventures “by nominating a non-Chinese director to the board of directors of any such joint venture.” Sinopec Capital managing director Bo Ren, who worked for CITIC’s brokerage arm prior to joining Sinopec and who graduated from a Chinese university that sits on a U.S. trade blacklist for stealing American trade secrets, is a LanzaTech board member.
Biden has placed green energy at the center of his administration’s priorities, with the Democrat working to invest billions of dollars in “America’s clean energy economy” to create “good-paying jobs” in the United States. However, China’s dominance of the clean energy supply chain challenges that priority. In addition to LanzaTech, Biden’s Energy Department has touted a $200 million grant to lithium battery company Microvast Holdings, which the department said would “supercharge the private sector to ensure our clean energy future is America-made.” Microvast operates primarily out of China and was recently added to a Securities and Exchange Commission watchlist of Chinese companies that have failed to comply with American auditing requirements, the Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday.
LanzaTech’s partnership with Sinopec was not the first time the company aligned itself with a Beijing-run entity. In June 2018, LanzaTech entered into a joint venture with Chinese state-owned steel giant Shougang Group to build an ethanol plant in China’s Hubei province, one of the company’s three plants in the communist nation. LanzaTech has also raised millions from CITIC Capital, a subsidiary of China’s largest state-run conglomerate. Still, the company’s relationships with Beijing did not stop the Biden administration from sending LanzaTech millions of dollars for green energy projects such as “low-cost sustainable aviation fuel.”
For Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton, Biden’s support for companies such as LanzaTech shows that the Democrat’s “green energy agenda is stamped with the words ‘made in China.'”
“Instead of handing millions of taxpayer dollars to a Chinese-backed company, the president should be encouraging American energy production and American energy independence,” Cotton told the Free Beacon.
Neither the White House nor LanzaTech returned requests for comment. The Energy Department told the Free Beacon that it “makes financial assistance awards on a competitive basis and follows a rigorous merit review process using independent technical experts” and “requires that DOE-funded inventions be substantially manufactured in the United States.” The department did not return a follow-up request for comment on its payments to LanzaTech following the company’s Sinopec partnership.
LanzaTech has political connections to top Democrats. One of the company’s most influential financiers, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, led then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s India policy team in 2008 and went on to host a $32,400-a-head Democratic Party fundraiser at his California mansion, which Obama personally attended. Obama’s former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager Jim Messina, meanwhile, joined LanzaTech’s board in 2013. LanzaTech received tens of millions of dollars in Energy Department grants during Obama’s time as president, some of which carried over to the Trump administration, which awarded the company less than $3 million in new grants prior to its Sinopec deal. In September 2022 company CEO Jennifer Holmgren accepted a White House invite to brief Biden administration officials and members of Congress “on the progress LanzaTech has made in leveraging biotechnology and biomanufacturing for a safe, secure, and sustainable U.S. bioeconomy.”
Beyond LanzaTech, the Biden administration has already faced criticism for its dealings with Sinopec. Biden’s Energy Department in April announced the sale of nearly one million Strategic Petroleum Reserve barrels to the Chinese state-controlled gas giant’s trading arm, Unipec, a move the administration said would “support American consumers” and “combat Putin’s price hike.” But the sale—which helped drain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to its lowest level in more than four decades—came as Unipec underwent an “unusual buying spree” aimed at boosting China’s own oil reserves. It also came as China used Sinopec and its state-run affiliates to strengthen the nation’s energy relationship with Russia and Iran. The sale prompted congressional Republicans to open a formal investigation into the Biden administration.
Biden is now facing similar probes over his green energy grants. Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on Dec. 7 launched an inquiry into the administration’s Microvast grant. That grant “endangers our national security” and “undermine[s] the United States’ position in its race against China for technological supremacy,” Barrasso said in a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Former energy secretary Rick Perry also called for congressional investigations into Granholm for the grant, which he called “unacceptable.”
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