The International Chamber of Shipping has published a short but powerful report to "endorse" the International Maritime Organization's Initial Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, adopted in April 2018. The ICS report calls the IMO's Initial GHG Strategy "a historic agreement which the global industry, as represented by ICS, fully supports," and discusses four fuel technologies that could deliver the IMO's targets: batteries, hydrogen, ammonia, and nuclear.
The ICS report also demonstrates four realities, which apply, perhaps uniquely, to the maritime sector. First, corporations are driving change, in advance of government legislation. Second, these corporations are looking for more than incremental reductions in emissions and instead targeting total sectoral decarbonization with the ambition "to achieve zero CO2 emissions as soon as the development of new fuels and propulsion systems will allow." Third, they realize that LNG and other low-carbon fuels cannot meet these targets: "the ultimate goal of zero emissions can only be delivered with genuine zero CO2 fuels that are both environmentally sustainable and economically viable." Fourth, they recognize that, because ships are long-lived assets, the need to invest in zero CO2 fuel technologies is urgent and immediate.
GenCell Energy, the Israeli fuel cell manufacturer, has made two major announcements in the last month. In June, it unveiled its ammonia-fueled alkaline fuel cell system. In July, it announced its first commercial customer.
Its A5 Off-Grid Power Solution is a "nano power plant that operates fully independent of the grid." The first phase of product trials, using ammonia as a fuel to provide uninterruptible power to cell phone masts, will begin in Kenya by the end of this year, and "product roll-out" is expected in the second half of 2019.
Two new pilot projects for producing "green ammonia" from renewable electricity are now up and running and successfully producing ammonia.
In April 2018, the Ammonia Manufacturing Pilot Plant for Renewable Energy started up at the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute - AIST (FREA) in Japan. Earlier this week, Siemens launched operations at its Green Ammonia Demonstrator, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory outside Oxford in the UK.
The commercial product coming out of these plants is not ammonia, however, it is knowledge.
While both the FREA and Siemens plants are of similar scale, with respective ammonia capacities of 20 and 30 kg per day, they have very different objectives. At FREA, the pilot project supports catalyst development with the goal of enabling efficient low-pressure, low-temperature ammonia synthesis. At Siemens, the pilot will provide insights into the business case for ammonia as a market-flexible energy storage vector.
A number of green ammonia projects have been announced in the Netherlands since the influential Power-to-Ammonia feasibility study was published in early 2017. Perhaps the most important publication since then, however, is the roadmap published by The Northern Netherlands Innovation Board, The Green Hydrogen Economy in the Northern Netherlands. Its scope, including sections written by consultants from ING, Rabobank, and Accenture, goes well beyond the standard techno-economic analysis and presents a cogent plan for coordinated development of "production projects, markets, infrastructure and societal issues."
Green ammonia features heavily throughout the roadmap, which calls for the construction of 300,000 tons per year of renewable ammonia production in Delfzijl by 2024, as well as for large-scale imports of green ammonia, starting in 2021, which would provide low-cost delivery and storage of carbon-free fuel, cracked into hydrogen, for the Magnum power plant.
New data from a number of ammonia energy safety studies will be published later this year. In the meantime, two excellent reports already exist that provide comparative, quantitative risk analyses. Each compares the risks of using ammonia as a fuel in passenger vehicles against the risks of other fuels, including gasoline, LPG, CNG, methanol, and hydrogen. Both conclude that the risks associated with using ammonia as a fuel are "similar, if not lower than for the other fuels."
The second annual Power to Ammonia conference, which took place earlier this month in Rotterdam, was a tremendous success. It was again hosted by Proton Ventures, the Dutch engineering firm and mini-ammonia-plant pioneer, and had roughly twice as many attendees as last year with the same extremely high quality of presentations (it is always an honor for me to speak alongside the technical wizards and economic innovators who represent the world of ammonia energy).
However, for me, the most exciting part of this year's event was the fact that, for the first time at an ammonia energy conference, all four of the major ammonia technology licensors were represented. With Casale, Haldor Topsoe, ThyssenKrupp, and KBR all developing designs for integration of their ammonia synthesis technologies with renewable powered electrolyzers, green ammonia is now clearly established as a commercial prospect.
Over the last few years, world-scale ammonia plants have been built, restarted, and relocated across the US. The last of these mega-projects began operations at Freeport in Texas last month. No more new ammonia plants are currently under construction in the US, and the received industry wisdom is that no more will begin construction.
However, project developers and ammonia start-ups did not get this memo. With low natural gas prices persisting, they have not stopped announcing plans to build new plants. The difference is that the next tranche of new ammonia plants breaking ground will not be world-scale but regional-scale, with production capacities of perhaps only one tenth the industry standard. Despite using fossil feedstocks, these plants will set new efficiency and emissions standards for small-scale ammonia plants, and demonstrate novel business models that will profoundly alter the future industry landscape for sustainable ammonia technologies.
The newest ammonia plant on the planet has opened in Freeport, Texas.
A joint venture between Yara and BASF, this world-scale ammonia plant uses no fossil fuel feedstock. Instead, it will produce 750,000 metric tons of ammonia per year using hydrogen and nitrogen delivered directly by pipeline. The plant's hydrogen contract is structured so that the primary supply is byproduct hydrogen, rather than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, and therefore the Freeport plant can claim that its ammonia has a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
This new ammonia plant demonstrates three truths. First, low-carbon merchant ammonia is available for purchase in industrial quantities today: this is not just technically feasible but also economically competitive. Second, carbon intensity is measured in shades of grey, not black and white. Ammonia is not necessarily carbon-free or carbon-full, but it has a carbon intensity that can quantified and, in a carbon-constrained economy, less carbon content equates to higher premium pricing. Third, the ammonia industry must improve its carbon footprinting before it can hope to be rewarded for producing green ammonia.
Last week, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) formally adopted its Initial GHG Strategy. This means that the shipping industry has committed to "reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050," and completely "phase them out, as soon as possible in this century."
This also means that a global industry is searching for a very large quantity of carbon-free liquid fuel, with a production and distribution infrastructure that can be scaled up within decades. The most viable option is ammonia. How much would be required? Roughly one million tons of ammonia per day.
Six months ago, in September 2017, I reported a $100 million joint venture announcement between Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks that aimed to engineer nitrogen-fixing microbes, which could be put into seed coatings and provide nutrients to non-legume crops. Now, the joint venture has been named, and Joyn Bio is staffing up. For the ammonia industry, this represents potential demand destruction at a significant scale in the coming decades.