H2@Scale in California: A Role for Ammonia?

H2@Scale, the United States’ program for creating a national hydrogen energy economy, held a workshop in Long Beach, California on November 7, 2018.  According to H2@Scale’s Web site, the themes of the day included “opportunities to align hydrogen technologies with evolution in power generation, transmission, and transportation sectors; and [assessment of] hydrogen infrastructure needs [for the] growth of diverse industries.”  According to individuals who were present, ammonia was mentioned as a factor that could contribute to viable hydrogen solutions.

H2@Scale was launched in 2016 by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and several of the United States’ national laboratories.  Previous workshops were held in Colorado and Texas.  California was a notable choice for the third workshop because the state, whose economy would be sixth largest in the world if it were a country, has made a serious commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: a 40% decrease from 1990 levels in 2030, 80% in 2050.  With leadership from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC), the climate program includes a comprehensive and complementary set of measures including a cap-and-trade regime and sectoral initiatives in electricity generation, the built environment, industry, “natural and working lands,” and transportation.

With such an energetic approach, it is perhaps no surprise that California is surpassed only by Japan, the world’s third largest economy, in its zealous support for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).  As in Japan, government agencies are leading the FCV charge in collaboration with an industry cadre that is dominated by automotive manufacturers and industrial gas companies.  And since the auto companies have held up their part of the bargain by bringing FCVs to California on a commercial basis, all eyes are on the development of a hydrogen fueling station network.

Presentation from CARB

Andrew Martinez, an Air Resources Engineer in the Emissions Compliance, Automotive Regulations and Science / Advanced Clean Cars Branch of CARB, reviewed the state’s hydrogen fueling station progress in one of the H2@Scale workshop’s three programmed presentations.  He reported that 62 hydrogen fueling stations will be operational by the end of 2018.  A joint agency report referenced by Martinez showed that the first 60 of these stations involved a capital expenditure of $180 million.  The California Energy Commission provided 69% of that investment.  Private companies provided 31%.

The state’s assumption of so much financial risk is inevitably accompanied by an awareness that success is anything but assured.  In the words of the joint agency report, “The Energy Commission funds the stations and technologies that, together, have the greatest success in achieving self-sufficiency, which is important to ensure that the state’s investment enables the successful launch of this new market and to prevent it failing after state funding ends.”

Presentation from Argonne National Laboratory

Amgad Elgowainy and Krishna Reddi from Argonne National Laboratory delivered another presentation at the workshop. This one included an analysis of the current levelized cost of natural-gas-derived hydrogen fuel in California. It shows that total cost ranges across fueling stations from $13 to $16 per kilogram. Elgowainy and Reddi showed that production comprises approximately $2 of the total; transport $4-$6; and fueling station costs $6-$8. The focus of their presentation was a new compression technology developed at Argonne that promises to reduce fueling station costs by as much as $1 per kilogram. A kilogram of hydrogen has approximately the same energy content as one gallon (3.8 liters) of petrol. When the price of petrol in California and the superior fuel efficiency of FCVs are taken into account, a hydrogen price of $6.50/kg is needed to achieve economic parity with petrol.

None of the workshop presentations addressed the $4-$6 per kilogram cost of transport.  Nor does reducing this cost appear to be on the state’s agenda. In the joint agency report, cost-reduction mechanisms are mentioned in only general terms: “alternative funding mechanisms that would attract larger-scale investment;” state support for “station O&M during this early market phase to reduce the out-of-pocket costs to station operators as they work to build efficiencies in their operational staffing and supply chains;” an “intent of lowering the cost for the hydrogen molecule and greening the fuel production.”

Industrial Gas Company Panel

The state may have the understanding that the industrial gas industry is working to reduce the cost of hydrogen transport.  The topic came up during one of the workshop’s panel discussions, “Alignment of H2@Scale with National Scale Hydrogen Infrastructure Growth.” This session featured representatives from “energy and industrial gas companies such as Air Products, Praxair, Air Liquide, and Linde,” and focused on “expected evolutions of hydrogen infrastructure, including growth of liquefaction, recovery of hydrogen from industrial process streams, and/or growth in gaseous terminals.”  It was in the course of this discussion that ammonia was acknowledged as a potentially advantaged method for moving large quantities of hydrogen over long distances.  Most of the transport discussion, however, focused on liquid hydrogen.

California illustrates a conundrum for countries and states on the cutting edge of hydrogen energy development.  The automotive manufacturers developed FCVs on the strength of promises made by these jurisdictions to develop hydrogen fueling infrastructure.  As the “go-to” developers of such an infrastructure, the industrial gas companies naturally focus on their core competencies in elemental hydrogen production and logistics.  This leaves government actors to identify and qualify potentially superior technological alternatives.  In a recent interview with Ammonia Energy, CARB’s Martinez emphasized that relevant California agencies are constantly performing “due diligence on developing technologies.”  And he confirmed that the agencies are aware of ammonia energy concepts.  Yet, that public-sector awareness, by itself, is unlikely to galvanize serious consideration of the advantages of an ammonia-enabled hydrogen economy.  Without such consideration, there is a very real risk California will end up with a hydrogen economy that is high-cost and/or subject to early obsolescence.

While ammonia energy proponents take steps to become a force for advocacy, the gap in California may be best filled in the near-term by the auto manufacturers.  Toyota in particular is a common denominator across several relevant groups and efforts.  In California it is a top-tier member of both the California Fuel Cell Partnership and the California Hydrogen Business Council.  In Japan, Toyota Motor Company’s parent Toyota Industries and sibling Toyota Central Research Institute are members of the Green Ammonia Consortium. Toyota Industries is also a partner in a Hiroshima University effort to develop ammonia-to-hydrogen purification technology that can be deployed at hydrogen fueling stations.  In Australia, Toyota Motor Corporation is a partner, along with Hyundai and Linde, in demonstration of a hydrogen fueling station based on a different ammonia-to-hydrogen purification technology.

Toyota’s standing in California is likely at an all-time high in the wake of its November 2017 announcement that it will spearhead construction of a renewable hydrogen production facility at the Port of Long Beach.  According to the company’s press release, the project “will build the world’s first megawatt-scale carbonate fuel cell power generation plant with a hydrogen fueling station.”  The plant “will generate approximately 2.35 megawatts of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen per day, enough to power the equivalent of about 2,350 average-sized homes and meet the daily driving needs of nearly 1,500 vehicles.”  The plant will be developed and operated by Fuel Cell Energy, Inc.  As it happens, Fuel Cell Energy is currently working under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) REFUEL Program on a project entitled “Protonic Ceramics for Energy Storage and Electricity Generation with Ammonia.”

The Toyota’s plant’s feedstock?  “Bio-waste sourced from California agricultural waste,” or more precisely, manure from dairy cows.  To an outsider who has not been privy to the myriad incremental decisions undoubtedly made in the development of Toyota’s plan, this choice of raw material may seem almost willfully perverse.  For one thing, the plant will require something like 40 tonnes per day of manure, most or all of which will need to be trucked in from dairy farms that are at least 80 miles (130 km) to the east and north.  For another thing, while manure may be referred to as “biowaste,” its prevalent use is as an organic fertilizer that helps maintain the health of agricultural soils.

But the most compelling consideration relates to a missed opportunity. It happens that the dairy farms closest to the Port of Long Beach are on the edge of the Mojave Desert.  The Mojave is considered to have the best solar resource in the United States and is also home to one of the country’s leading wind resources.  It is one of the special places on the planet where renewable electricity is generated throughout a majority of each 24-hour period.  A profile of this nature was identified by International Energy Agency analyst Cedric Philibert (and reported by Ammonia Energy) as a key to producing renewable hydrogen at cost parity with the conventional steam methane reforming process, with subsequent conversion to ammonia for economic transport to market.

Presentation from CAISO

In this light, one could imagine a different project – one that moves truckloads of green ammonia to hydrogen fueling stations throughout Southern California instead truckloads of cow manure to Long Beach.  Such a project would fit into the vision of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the operator of most of the state’s electric grid.  The vision was articulated by Angelina Galiteva, a member of the CAISO Board of Governors, during her workshop presentation.  Galiteva highlighted the grid management challenges the state is encountering as it moves toward its goal of 50% renewable electricity by 2030: variable and unpredictable output from renewable generating assets in short-term (minute-by-minute), mid-term (diurnal) and long-term (seasonal) contexts, including such a surfeit of output from solar installations during mid-day hours that baseload generating plants can not be turned down far enough to compensate.  In response, CAISO has taken steps to “enable transmission-connected storage and distribution-connected resources to participate in ISO market” and is awaiting results from the California Energy Commission’s long-term program of research into energy storage technologies.

The alternative hydrogen production project could be the world’s first at-scale demonstration of distributed ammonia production as a grid-balancing energy storage asset.  In combination with deployment of ammonia-based hydrogen fueling stations, it would simultaneously serve at least three of the state’s sustainable energy goals: production of cost-competitive renewable hydrogen, reduction of station-dispensed hydrogen fuel, and balancing of the state’s grid as it becomes majority-renewable.  And ultimately, it would be a form of technology development diversification that would lessen the risk of the state’s bold march down the hydrogen energy path ending in a technological dead end.


  1. Guy J Swanson says:

    A portion of the article
    H2@Scale in California: A Role for Ammonia?

    H2@Scale in California: A Role for Ammonia?
    By Stephen Crolius on Jan 25, 2018 02:19 pm

    The Toyota’s plant’s feedstock?

    “Bio-waste sourced from California agricultural waste,” or more precisely, manure from dairy cows.

    To an outsider who has not been privy to the myriad incremental decisions undoubtedly made in the development of Toyota’s plan, this choice of raw material may seem almost willfully perverse.

    For one thing, the plant will require something like 40 tonnes per day of manure, most or all of which will need to be trucked in from dairy farms that are at least 80 miles (130 km) to the east and north.

    For another thing, while manure may be referred to as “biowaste,” its prevalent use is as an organic fertilizer that helps maintain the health of agricultural soils.

    Stephen Crolius

    Just a short review from GJS.
    Note: So you think 40 tons per day is a lot, 1 truck load per day is 80,000 lbs. of payload.. or less than a load with Rocky Mountain Doubles and 1.5 loads with a semi. It is reasonable at $4.00 per loaded mile for 2 hours of less of driving. $320 per load and an opportunity for a backhaul.

    Being knowledgeable on how to raise North American crops with commercial nutrients (NH3, APP, ATS, KTS, AZn) and manure I will help you and Stephen understand the use of manure.

    You know, Cow Manure is not what you think it is.

    All animal manure is responsible for about 50% of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia.

    The other 50% in the Gulf of Mexico comes from over application and poor timing of application of commercial fertilizer, N, P, S which is driven by the Commercial Fertilizer Industry to improve workload and storage. Farmers tend to accept the domineering Fertilizer Industry agenda which has very poor storage.

    Your John Deere Salesman will not stand behind the manure spreader. You probably remember the manure spreader…it has changed a little but still in the dark ages.

    Manure application requires tillage to work the manure into the soil….It creates and additional cost of $40 per acre just in diesel fuel and tillage costs to incorporate on the land around the giant dairies of Texas and California….and now pristine Idaho.

    The pollution of Lake Erie has very little manure constituent in this last floral bloom of Algae. It is mostly top dressed fertilizer misapplied and ammoniated with NH3 that causes the problem.

    Manure is responsible for more than 50% of the pollution of the Rhine River.

    The problem of application of Manure on the land is simple. It is low analysis and has a very high coefficient of variation (50% ty 75%CV) as applied and thus not crop available and very expensive to use if you do not own the cows.

    Manure cannot be applied Variable Rate Site Specific since the analysis or elemental values are not well understood. The lack of uniformity means it will not compete with commercial fertilizer applications. You will note that this is a very big deal.

    The promotion of manure comes only from a small Dairy and Feed Lot segment of Agriculture that is dealing with the problem of what to do with the byproduct of producing milk….since their own soils are way over loaded with nitrate and phosphate from years of manure application.

    We now have 105 million cattle on the continent…we had about 40 to 60 million buffalo (2,000 to 2,200 lb. largest mammal) in the original ecosystem of North America. No count is available of Elk, Deer, Bear, Moose, Antelope and smaller critters of the North American Continent.

    Confined Feeding, The hamburger at lunch or the pot roast at dinner that you enjoy comes from 9 to 12 million cattle on feed from 450 lbs. to 1,000 lbs. on the hoof in the feedlot. They are called Fat Cattle when ready for market…this is at any one time depending on markets and drought. There are about 5,000 cows killed per day at a single packing plant on the Ogallala aquifer. Everything is reused and goes back into the economic system including the blood.

    The white tanks that provide the plant stimulation actually result in about 2/3 of the planets population to grow to 12 billion people in about 30 years. The chances for a Malthusian meltdown of the population has now been reduced to nil with the great technical achievements of industrial scale production of food by less than 1% of the US population operating on 435 million tillable acres in the US.

    In the state of Washington some soils of dairies are in the 250 ppm of stored nitrate in the top 2 feet. 1 to 5 ppm in the top 1 foot would be good. They cannot raise a competitive crop nor can they continue to apply manure. The soil is now out of balance.

    You can discover similar stories. Same story is true in Nebraska when Phosphate ppm reaches 300 ppm and a good high quality soil would have about 25 to 50 ppm. In fact the soils have also become acidic (5.5 to 6 pH)and thus outliers of the ideal pH of 7.4 pH. The pH of your bloodstream and a coral reef.

    Yes….there is an end to the economic use of manure.

    Thus the manure problem is out of control…since most of the soils have such a high test value for P that the phosphate is now in the water.

    Negative valence Nitrate or NO3- in the water is bad….but phosphate P205+ (normally positive valence and thus non-mobile) in the water is really bad. The tillage increment creates a lot of the movement of nutrients and lowers crop availability of placed commercial nutrients and manure.

    One solution is try to sell the manure to a long distance neighbor…thus Iowa, Illinois and Indiana are states that are out of control with manure running over the side boards. Presently the sale of the animal manure is actually made to the fishermen and recreational group in the Gulf of Mexico and everybody loses in this deal.

    The term “willfully perverse” is a long ways from “ Finding the need and filling it” as per Henry J Kaiser the great California industrialist.

    My college business writing professor, Mrs. Boaz, would mark down my paper for selecting trite terminology and not backing up my comments with genuine facts.

    These are the facts…

    We must find a more economical solution to the manure….and building NH3 in the American Dairyland and in the Hugoton Natural Gas Field is ideal. The manure digester NH3 plant is next to the Ammonia Pipelines, the consumer and the source of the 12 million head of cattle on feed.

    The Hugoton Gas Field is an unprecedented source of wind energy as well as manure and natural gas.

    My educated strong feeling about NH3, that storage remains the problem….and not the technology to build NH3 economically.

    You can envision a big 24 inch or 36 pipe line running up to the a stable storage cavern (volcanic pipe) at 10,000 feet in depth somewhere in the Rocky Mountains….So it is all downhill to the market from there. You can convert to hydrogen at the terminals.

    The service history of ammonia pipelines safety is very high quality….and the best way to move heavily concentrated hydrogen at uninterrupted speed.

    You know that NH3 is multipurpose in the markets. We could in fact look forward to much lower NH3 cost with diverse markets and a little more free enterprise.

    How to scrub the digester gas is going to be the challenge as it leaves the digester. And How to managed the digester byproducts will produce another environmental problem that needs solving.

    Worm beds can be considered as another means to solve the manure problem.

    Entrepreneurs are making the manure digester work in varying degrees of success in Kansas and Alberta…to certain levels of limitation as initially discovered…

    These local engineers take out the transportation factor in Kansas and Alberta very quickly and keep the nutrients and methane where it does the most good in the ethanol plants and or application to the land potentially as NH3 and byproducts.

    Fortigen may have the solution in small 75 ton per day NH3 plants located next to Ethanol plants, Gas fields, Feed Lots, Dairies and Grain fields, from Lubbock to Lincoln.

    Basically the hydrogen needs to be built at the source of the methane. Presently manure is easier to move than hydrogen.

    The science of transportation and storage would be a good investment in NH3 equivalency for energy storage and use.

    Guy Swanson
    NH3 Efficiency Experts
    Exactrix Global Systems.

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