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.
Yara International, one of the world’s largest ammonia producers, is making strides in its development of green ammonia as a fertilizer, chemical intermediate, and energy carrier. The progress is documented in the company’s 2017 annual report, released last week, and in more detail in a presentation delivered in late February at the 2018 Nitrogen + Syngas Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.
In the last 12 months ...
The extensive Power-to-Ammonia feasibility study demonstrated that ammonia energy could be economically viable in different business cases. The report was a collaborative effort by large European corporations - power companies, electricity distributors, chemical producers, engineering firms - and it has already resulted in plans for one 440 MW power plant to be converted to carbon-free fuel by 2023.
The NH3 Fuel Association (NH3FA) has released the names of the organization’s charter group of sponsors. The common thread that unites the six companies? A conviction that ammonia energy represents a significant opportunity for their businesses. The sponsors are Yara, Nel Hydrogen, Airgas, Haldor Topsoe, Casale, and Terrestrial Energy.
A new collaboration was announced last week, between Dutch power company Nuon, European natural gas pipeline operator Gasunie, and Norwegian oil major Statoil. The joint venture will look at converting one of the Magnum power plant's three 440 MW gasifiers, with hopes to have it running on hydrogen fuel by 2023.
This is the continuation of the Power to Ammonia project and, although ammonia is not expected to be used in this particular stage of the project, converting Magnum to hydrogen fuel represents the "intermediate step" to demonstrate that "where hydrogen could be produced using natural gas by 2023, from the year 2030 it could be possible to produce it with sustainably produced ammonia ... Ammonia then effectively serves as a storage medium for hydrogen, making Magnum a super battery."
The viability of producing ammonia using renewable energy was one of the recurring themes of the recent Power to Ammonia conference in Rotterdam. Specifically, what cost reductions or market mechanisms would be necessary so that renewable ammonia - produced using electrolytic hydrogen in a Haber-Bosch plant - would be competitive with normal, "brown" ammonia, made from fossil fuels.
A number of major industry participants addressed this theme at the conference, including Yara and OCI Nitrogen, but it was the closing speech, from the International Energy Agency (IEA), that provided the key data to demonstrate that, because costs have already come down so far, renewable ammonia is cost-competitive in certain regions today.