To demonstrate the progress of the SIP "Energy Carriers" program, the Japan Science and Technology Agency last week released a video, embedded below, that shows three of its ammonia fuel research and development projects in operation.
R&D is often an abstract idea: this video shows what it looks like to generate power from ammonia.
As it turns out, fuel cells aren't hugely photogenic. Nonetheless, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this will be a long article.
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.
In the last 12 months ...
Ammonia energy has gained recognition from the United States Department of Energy, in both bottom-up and top-down programs. This establishes ammonia energy in the world’s largest economy as a legitimate target for both public- and private-sector investment.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KWI) is moving ahead with plans for a “liquefied hydrogen carrier ship,” as reported by at least two Japanese news outlets since July. This means that the groups backing each of the energy carriers included within Japan’s Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP) have all made significant moves ahead of the program’s termination at the end of 2018. On July 25, 2017 the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) announced that a collection of companies and research institutions had come together to form the Green Ammonia Consortium. On July 27, 2017, Chiyoda Corporation announced that work was starting on a demonstration project that will transport hydrogen from Brunei to Japan using liquid organic hydride carrier technology.
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.
Recent “On the Ground in Japan” posts have considered the path forward for Japan’s “Hydrogen Society.” Two weeks ago, a post entitled “FCV Uptake and Hydrogen Fueling Stations,” pointed to a lack of marketplace momentum for the products that are supposed to drive the hydrogen society forward in the near term. The uptake of fuel-cell vehicles is off to a very slow start and the construction of hydrogen fueling stations is “not proceeding.”
The same day the post appeared, the Japanese market research firm Fuji Keizai announced the release of a report projecting robust growth for the country’s hydrogen economy. As reported by the on-line news service Smart Japan, the market for selected hydrogen-related goods will start to hit its stride with the arrival of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. At that time, Fuji Keizai projects the market will have a value of approximately ¥700 billion ($6.4 billion). By 2030, the report says, the market will have a value of ¥5,903 billion ($54 billion). This is good news for hydrogen proponents but its import for ammonia energy is not clear.
The maritime industry is beginning to show significant interest in using ammonia as a "bunker fuel," a sustainable alternative to the highly polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) currently used in ships across the world.
In recent months, a firm of naval architects and a new maritime think tank have both been evaluating ammonia as a fuel. This includes a road map for future research, and collaborations for a demonstration project that will allow them to design and build a freight ship "Powered by NH3."
“Carbon-free ammonia needs to be a significant contributor to the H2@Scale initiative.” This was one of the “key takeaways” offered by Steve Szymanski, Director of Business Development at the hydrogen generator company Proton On-Site, during his presentation at the H2@Scale Workshop that was held on May 23-24 at the University of Houston in the U.S. By the time Szymanski left the podium, ammonia energy had moved a good distance from the periphery of the H2@Scale conceptual map toward its center.
Module four of the ten-module research and development agenda for Japan’s Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program -- Energy Carriers is entitled “Basic Technology for Hydrogen Station Utilizing Ammonia.” The rationale for including this technology is that “high purity H2 supply system with low cost hydrogen transportation is a key issue to spread fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).”
A story published last week in the Tokyo Shimbun says that to date FCVs have not spread very far. Among the factors seen as constraints is the cost of hydrogen fueling stations (HFS). The Tokyo Shimbun story states that “according to industry officials, each station that supplies hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles runs about ¥400 million ($3.6 million) in construction costs. In order to achieve profitability, about 1,000 fuel cell vehicles are required as customers per location. Construction is not proceeding.”
So far, the players focused on FCVs do not seem to be looking to ammonia as an expedient that will help reduce the cost of HFS and thereby encourage their construction and by extension the uptake of FCVs. This appears to be a missed opportunity whose benefits may become too compelling to ignore.
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.