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.
One of the many encouraging announcements at the recent Power-to-Ammonia conference in Rotterdam was the news that the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) has extended funding for its electrochemical ammonia synthesis research program by another three years, pushing the project forward through 2019.
KIER's research target for 2019 is significant: to demonstrate an ammonia production rate of 1x10-7 mol/s·cm2.
If the KIER team can hit this target, not only would it be ten thousand times better than their 2012 results but, according to the numbers I'll provide below, it would be the closest an electrochemical ammonia synthesis technology has come to being commercially competitive.
In Australia this week, CSIRO announced funding for the "final stages of development" of its metal membrane technology to produce high-purity hydrogen from ammonia. The two year research project aims to get the technology "ready for commercial deployment," with industrial partners including Toyota and Hyundai.
Over the last few weeks, I've written extensively about sustainable ammonia synthesis projects funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE). While these projects are important, the US has no monopoly on technology development. Indeed, given the current uncertainty regarding energy policy under the Trump administration, the US may be at risk of stepping away from its assumed role as an industry leader in this area.
This article introduces seven international projects, representing research coming out of eight countries spread across four continents. These projects span the breadth of next-generation ammonia synthesis research, from nanotechnology and electrocatalysis to plasmas and ionic liquids.
An interesting article this week went behind the scenes at CSIRO to show how the Australian R&D lab is developing energy management systems to link renewable generation with storage technologies - including ammonia, as a chemical energy storage medium, for export to Asia.
The goal is to test the export potential for Australian renewable fuel energy. Dr Badwal cites the example of solar energy in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, "where there is plenty of sun," to produce renewable energy into transportable fuel, such as ammonia, which can be shipped to Asia in containers similar to LPG containers. "We're looking at the potential of exporting."
'Solar ammonia' could be the key to the sustainable energy economies of two nations. During his talk at the 2016 NH3 Fuel Conference, Keith Lovegrove, Head of Solar Thermal at IT Power Group in Australia, said that Japan and Australia have the opportunity to move their trade in energy onto a climate-friendly foundation. This would involve development of Australia's solar resources in a way that helps Japan ramp up its Strategy for Hydrogen & Fuel Cells in the coming decades.