Last week, Japan’s Ministry of Energy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced the formation of a council to work on the implementation of ammonia as an energy commodity. The announcement came on the same day as a speech by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in which he established 2050 as the date certain for Japan to achieve carbon-neutrality. That was Monday October 26, 2020. The council held its first meeting on Tuesday October 27.
The Council consists of four entities from the public sector and ten from the private sector. Members include companies that have previously been identified with the development of ammonia energy systems, including EPC firm JGC, capital goods manufacturer IHI, electric utility JERA, and shipping company NYK Line. The membership also reflects what appears to be the group’s central mission: positioning Japan as ammonia energy’s global leader via the dissemination of technology and the development of supply chains. On the occasion of the October 27 meeting, per a story in The Japan Times, Ryo Minami, Director General of METI’s Agency for National Resources & Energy, commented, “With Japanese companies spearheading efforts to utilize this new fuel, our country can take the initiative in the world toward expanding its use.”
All of the items on the group’s to-do list relate in some way to the global mission. An October 26 article in the Nikkei (“Strengthening overseas procurement of ammonia”) stated that under METI’s leadership, the council “will compile a medium- to long-term demand forecast, … support manufacturing and development overseas, and promote technology exports to Asian countries.”
Ammonia co-combustion in the country’s coal-fired plants appears to be a near-term focus for the council. “The ministry and the companies involved need to discuss how to ensure a stable supply of ammonia in the future, as the development of coal-fired plants mixing the gaseous compound to generate power is under way,” Minami was quoted as saying. The challenge is significant: “If all of Japan’s coal-fired plants use ammonia for 20% of their fuel source, some 20 million tons would be needed annually, equivalent to the world’s current trade volume per year.”
Ammonia energy was written into METI’s March 2020 New International Resource Strategy. In the report’s framing, ammonia is identified as a promising vector for “importing renewable energy produced in other countries.” While the council’s formation was announced in apparent synchrony with the Prime Minister’s carbon-neutrality speech, it can also be regarded as simply a step in METI’s program of ammonia implementation. And coming up next, according to The Japan Times, is an update of the Japanese Government’s “targets for the fiscal 2030 energy mix.” Presumably the council will contribute to that exercise.