Industry advocacy body Hydrogen Europe has released a new report on the potential of clean ammonia production & utilisation in Europe. The EU’s 32 ammonia production facilities have a theoretical production capacity of 17.7 million tonnes per year (about 10% of the world’s total), and account for about one-third of all hydrogen consumption in Europe (2.5 million tonnes per year between the facilities). The introduction of renewable hydrogen feedstock presents an obvious opportunity to decarbonise the industry in Europe, but the potential downstream applications of ammonia energy need more support from policymakers.
Downstream support “neglected”
With mass electrification set to roll out across the EU (especially in the building sector), the potential peak demand for electricity is set to increase: potentially more than double today’s record peak load in Germany by 2045, for example. Coupled with its use as a fuel in gas turbines, the report authors suggest the use of ammonia as seasonal energy storage (and note developments in Asia around ammonia-fired gas turbines). Fuel costs dominate the LCOE, but are relatively promising compared to gas-fired turbines combined with CCS.
In the maritime space, ammonia fuel is the likely option for larger, high-fuel storage vessels. The authors conclude that ammonia represents a good balance between energy density and relatively low fuel costs compared to other e-fuels, especially because its production is not influenced by CO2 supply costs. Its uptake will benefit from stronger e-fuels targets, plus an incentive multiplier for its use over-and-above the EU-set target.
Development of favourable policies for the value chain segments that will consume renewable ammonia, such as the maritime, the power sector and fertilisers segments, would go a long way in accelerating the energy transition of the sector. An example of such supporting measures would be a sub-target for use of a minimum percentage of e-fuels by 2030 in the maritime sector, coupled with a multiplier for use of e-fuels above the sub-target. The development of ammonia (and RFNBO in general) certification schemes, differentiating renewable and low-carbon ammonia from unabated fossil ammonia, must also be accelerated to create trust in product labelling.Executive Summary, from Clean Ammonia in the future energy system (Hydrogen Europe, Mar 2023)
Decarbonise existing production, use “excess” renewables
The report also lays out potential technology pathways for decarbonisation of the existing ammonia production industry in Europe. For gas-based production, autothermal reforming combined with CCS would bring the emissions footprint of produced ammonia below the EU taxonomy threshold (especially if produced with gas from Norway or the Netherlands). Although ATR lacks the steam production step favored for integration with the Haber Bosch process, its use in newer-build, CCS-based ammonia plants is likely.
On the electrolytic hydrogen front, the use of grid electricity to power electrolysers is only favorable in certain locations. Only grid electricity from Norway, Sweden or Iceland currently has a low enough carbon intensity to meet the EU taxonomy for low-carbon hydrogen. The exclusive use of renewable energy is ideal but practically difficult, with buffering & storage systems required. Nevertheless, the region-specific presence of large excesses of renewable energy (see right) could and should be capitalised on for hydrogen production, particularly in central Spain and northern Sweden.
The report’s key findings & recommendations were discussed at a recent webinar: you can watch the recording and access the presentations here.