The 2018 NH3 Energy Implementation Conference, the first of its kind, took place on November 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the U.S. The focus of the Conference was on steps – current and future – that will lead to implementation of ammonia energy in the global economy. At the highest level, the Conference results validated the relevance and timeliness of the theme. In the words of closing speaker Grigorii Soloveichik, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E REFUEL Program, the Conference strengthened his confidence that “ammonia is a great energy carrier … with billions of dollars of potential in prospective markets.”
Full disclosure: the author of this report is the same individual who served as the Conference’s lead organizer.
Who attended the Conference?
With an attendance of 90, the Conference sold out. Participants included citizens of 14 countries. The largest delegations were from the U.S. (37 attendees) and Japan (30 attendees). Attendees included representatives from 45 companies, 18 universities and research institutions, and six government agencies and non-governmental organizations. Within the company contingent were representatives of 11 of the 14 2018 Industry Members of the Ammonia Energy Association. Companies ranged in size from one-person start-ups to global market leaders, including four fossil energy players whose combined annual revenues exceed half a trillion dollars.
Shigeru Muraki gave the keynote address. What was his core message?
Muraki-san emphasized that Japan is committed to building a hydrogen society and that ammonia has become a core element of the concept. He was speaking in his capacity as Director of the Energy Carriers office within Japan’s Strategic Innovation Promotion (SIP) Program and Chairman of the Green Ammonia Consortium. He said that when the Government of Japan issued a strategy for hydrogen utilization last year, the guidance was that “direct use of ammonia is one of the most feasible options for the low-carbon society.” Plans and economic targets are in place to build out an ammonia supply chain by 2030. The electricity and industrial sectors will provide the first use cases. Small gas turbines (power capacity less than 300 KW) will be the earliest to reach commercial status on a timeline that is expected to come to fruition by the end of 2020.
The six Conference sessions were organized into three sets of two. The first pair addressed the potential integration of ammonia into the electricity sector. Is such integration seen to be a good idea?
At the end of the report-outs for Session 1 (“ammonia as a grid-supporting energy storage solution”) and Session 2 (“ammonia as a fuel for electricity generation”), the moderators summarized the sense that emerged from their respective break-out groups. Session 1 moderator John Bøgild Hansen (Haldor Topsoe) said that “most agreed it is a great idea” to use ammonia in an energy storage role. He pointed to the accelerating deployment of renewable generation and the strong economic case for supporting renewables with a readily scalable storage solution. Ammonia meets the scalability criterion and is advantaged relative to hydrogen in this application because its greater volumetric and gravimetric energy density makes it more easily transportable over long distances.
Session 2 moderator Eric Ingersoll (LucidCatalyst/EON) said that the prospects for ammonia as a generation fuel are less clear. “There are some really good hot spots,” he said, where specialized conditions such as relatively expensive electricity or policy regimes that mandate the greening of the electricity supply can overcome ammonia’s substantial cost disadvantage vs. incumbent generating technologies. However, “if you’re looking at the big areas where power prices are cheap, like in the U.S., it’s going to be pretty difficult” for ammonia to compete.
The second pair of break-out sessions focused on two applications in the transportation sector where ammonia seems poised for significant uptake: proton-exchange membrane fuel cell vehicles, with the hydrogen fuel extracted from ammonia at energy stations prior vehicle fueling (Session 3); and fuel for vessels used in maritime transport (Session 4). What were the conclusions from these sessions?
Session 3 moderator Bill David (Oxford University) said that the prospects for ammonia as a source of hydrogen fuel are well represented by the state of development for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s high-purity ammonia-to-hydrogen conversion technology. “It’s not here yet,” he said. “It’s something that is in transition.” Session 3 panelist Michael Dolan (CSIRO) agreed. “We’re at a TRL [‘Technology Readiness Level’] of 7, getting toward the pointy end, but we’re still a couple of years away from when we’ll have the full-scale process that we can start to disseminate.”
Session 4 moderator Agustin Valera-Medina (Cardiff University) said that the “answer from all our panelists” is that ammonia has real potential as a maritime fuel. However, the discussion made it clear that the path to ammonia adoption in the maritime sector will be long and multi-stranded – and that the first practical steps of engine development are not yet underway.
The final pair of break-out sessions considered the transition to a future state in which ammonia is a staple energy commodity with global scope. Session 5 focused on methods of green ammonia production, while Session 6 examined conditions that would be necessary for ammonia to become an internationally traded energy commodity. What were the conclusions from these sessions?
Session 5 moderator Joe Beach (Starfire Energy) said that the consensus among the panelists is that creating a market for green ammonia “is going to be very challenging. It’s desired to be sure, but the challenges will be daunting.” What will be needed, he said, are initial markets that will allow green ammonia to compete with the conventional commodity, either because of conditions that allow green ammonia to command a price premium or because conventional ammonia is priced locally at an unusually high level.
Jacco Mooijer (Proton Ventures) gave the report-out from Session 6. A theme that emerged during the session is enormity: the potential for ammonia energy as an internationally traded commodity is enormous and the challenges that must be overcome are also enormous. Panelists suggested that on the critical dimension of co-evolutionary supply and demand development, production of low-carbon ammonia from “blue” hydrogen (i.e., that derived from natural gas with capture and sequestration of carbon) could be the best way to meet rapid volume increases.
What else did Soloveichik say in his concluding remarks?
Soloveichik pointed to the many current and potential uses of ammonia, for “fertilizer, energy storage, transportation, industrial,” and highlighted ammonia’s “enormous opportunity, billions of dollars in prospective markets.” The question, he said, “is how to make entry into these markets.” For starters, cooperation will be required “across industry, research institutions, and government policy-makers.”
Will the proceedings be available to interested parties?
This is a good question since the account above is the merest summary of ten hours of dense discussion. The proceedings will be made available in due course, although it remains to be determined exactly how the discussions will be turned into content that is accessible and useful. In the meantime, all of the panelists’ presentations, including the Keynote Address, can be downloaded here.
Who deserves special thanks?
Keynote and closing speakers Muraki and Soloveichik deserve special thanks. All of our moderators and panelists also deserve special thanks. And everyone who attended the Conference deserves special thanks – because while not everyone spoke, everyone will help get the word out about the realities and possibilities of ammonia energy implementation.