Ammonia Energy is about the development of technology, but it is also about the mobilization of investment. To be precise, it is about how evolving technology can attract investment and how investment enables technological evolution. A dynamic of this nature is emerging in Australia, where recent citations of ammonia energy in two mainstream venues signal its arrival as a legitimate target for public- and private-sector investment.
ARENA’s Investment Plan: Innovating Energy
On May 1, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) unveiled a new investment plan, titled Innovating Energy, that it says will “guide almost [AUD] $800 million [USD $614 million] of funding over the coming years.” The agency’s mission, according to the Plan, is to “accelerate Australia’s shift to secure, affordable and reliable renewable energy. On behalf of the Australian Government, it is our job to find Australia’s best renewable energy ideas and connect them with the resources they need to help power the nation’s future.”
The Plan enumerates four “investment priorities”:
- delivering secure and reliable electricity;
- accelerating solar PV innovation;
- improving energy productivity;
- and exporting renewable energy.
Using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier for the export of Australian renewable energy was the topic of a post coming out of last year’s NH3 Fuel Conference. This concept is now front and center in the ARENA plan. One of the “areas of innovation” in the plan involves pursuit of “improved cost, efficiency and technical or commercial readiness of technologies with renewable energy export potential.” And one of the specific avenues that could be explored in this regard is “renewable production methods for transportable energy storage options (such as hydrogen or ammonia).”
The Finkel Report
On June 9, Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist and the chair of an expert panel convened for the purpose, unveiled an independent review of Australia’s electricity system. The report was prompted by a request from the Energy Council of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) for “enhancements to the National Electricity Market [NEM] to optimise security and reliability, and to do so at lowest cost.”
The document, known officially as the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market: Blueprint for the Future and unofficially as The Finkel Report, is focused primarily on near-term challenges (such as grid reliability) and opportunities (such as an efficient natural gas market). The last chapter, however, explores “high-potential technologies and projects that could be considered by government and investors, which are beyond the scope of the blueprint, but may have a place in a future NEM.” The chapter is subdivided into sections on generation technologies, energy storage technologies, electric vehicles, and system security technologies. Hydrogen is included as an energy storage technology, and is introduced in the following terms:
“While Australia’s domestic market for hydrogen in vehicles is small, the use of hydrogen is increasing in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Europe, although at a far lower rate than the uptake of battery electric vehicles. Japan has developed a roadmap for hydrogen and Japanese businesses are looking at Australian coal resources to supply that hydrogen. Projects being developed around the world for hydrogen supply to Japan include renewable-based hydrogen from solar, hydro, geothermal and wind power electrolysis of water as well as through gasification of natural gas and coal (with CCS).”
The section then goes point by point through one of ammonia energy’s fundamental arguments:
“Traditionally, transportation and storage of hydrogen has been a challenge as its low density at ambient temperature means it typically requires high-pressure storage and transport facilities. Converting hydrogen into ammonia for transportation provides one solution to the transport challenge. Ammonia can be stored and transported either as a liquid under modest pressure, or as a gas at ambient temperatures. Worldwide, the shipping and distribution of ammonia is a mature industry. However, a large amount of energy is lost during the process of converting hydrogen to ammonia for transport, and then back to hydrogen at the point of use. The conversion process reduces the overall efficiency of hydrogen as an energy source. If the original source of electricity is inexpensive or excess renewable energy, this efficiency loss becomes less of a barrier, particularly if the end-use of the hydrogen is for high value purposes, such as a zero emission transportation fuel used in either fuel cell vehicles or direct combustion.”
The section concludes with an upbeat note:
“In Australia, there are technologies under development that increase the practicality of storage, transport and conversion of hydrogen from ammonia. CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] has recently announced a new metal membrane technology that can be used to separate ammonia into hydrogen and other components at the point of use. The technology could provide an opportunity to increase the use of hydrogen in Australia and to export Australian renewable energy to the world. Associated initiatives include the direct use of ammonia as a fuel in stationary energy systems, or potentially large scale transport applications such as ships and locomotives, using ammonia fired turbines, high temperature fuel cells, or direct combustion engines.”
The notice being taken of ammonia energy did not materialize spontaneously. In an Ammonia Energy interview last week, Brett Cooper, co-founder of Renewable Hydrogen Pty Ltd., said that ammonia energy advocates have worked to inform and persuade stakeholders across a spectrum of constituencies – from companies within the motor industry to agencies at the city, state, and Federal levels of government. The campaign is bearing fruit, he said. “We have a number of members of State and Federal Parliaments who are excited by NH3 as a fuel. In addition, cities including Canberra, Sydney, and Adelaide are considering the development of hydrogen fueling stations and some of these may eventually be equipped with CSIRO’s hydrogen cracking technology.” Adelaide is the state capital of South Australia, whose government announced in March that it will consider hydrogen projects in its AUD $150 million Battery Storage and Renewable Technology Fund.