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Ammonia in the Mix as an Industrial Energy Source

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: The generation of heat for industrial processes accounts for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – which means that finding ways to eliminate this climate footprint is among the pressing technology tasks on our societal to-do list. Developments over the last 12 months suggest that ammonia could play an important role in meeting this challenge.

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The maritime sector’s ammonia learning curve: moving from scenario analysis to product development

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: The maritime industry is learning about ammonia fast. It is searching for a new bunker fuel, and ammonia is one of the few options that can realistically deliver a 50% reduction in the sector's GHG emissions by 2050. The IMO declared this target in April 2018 and, in last year's Annual Review, I wrote about all the reports that were published demonstrating that ammonia could deliver this outcome. In the last 12 months, by contrast, we have moved quickly beyond analysis and into engineering design, technology testing, and product development.

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Government Investments in Hydrogen: How Does Your Country Compare?

On September 3, the British renewable-energy news portal reNEWS.BIZ ran a story with an intriguing headline: “Scotland launches £3bn green project portfolio.”  At first glance, that number (which equates to USD $3.7 billion) looks out of scale with Scotland’s relatively tiny population of 5.5 million.  Close reading reveals that the £3 billion is not the amount that will be invested by the Scottish government, but rather the value of the “investment portfolio” of green businesses the program is intended to galvanize over the next three years.  But still one wonders, how does £3 billion stack up against other national programs aimed at supporting the sustainability transition?

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IHI Corporation pushes its ammonia combustion technologies closer to commercialization

This week, an article in Japan Chemical Daily disclosed IHI Corporation's future plans for its range of ammonia combustion technologies, each of which has been demonstrated in the last year. These include "ammonia-coal co-fired thermal power boilers, ammonia-fired gas turbines and direct ammonia solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)." Under the headline "IHI Speeds up Development of Several Ammonia-Based Technologies," the article describes the company's ambitions for scaling-up each of these technologies, and provides a schedule for its next set of demonstration projects.

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Israeli Group Develops New Electrolysis Technology

Last month a group of researchers from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology published a paper, “Decoupled hydrogen and oxygen evolution by a two-step electrochemical–chemical cycle for efficient overall water splitting,” in the journal Nature Energy.  The key word in the title is “efficient.”  In a September 15 Technion press release, the researchers state that their technology “facilitates an unprecedented energetic efficiency of 98.7% in the production of hydrogen from water.”  Applied to the appropriate use case, the technology could lead to a major improvement in green ammonia’s ability to compete with brown ammonia and other low-carbon energy carriers.

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Green Ammonia Plants in Chile, Australia, New Zealand

Green ammonia plants are being announced quicker than I can report. Here is a summary of four new projects that propose to use electrolyzers, fed by renewable power, to produce hydrogen for ammonia production. These are big companies, operating in regions with excellent renewable resources, making significant investments in their future. In Chile, it is Enaex, a major ammonium nitrate manufacturer, supplying explosives to the mining industry. In Australia, it is Incitec Pivot, "the second largest supplier of explosives products and services in the world," and Wesfarmers, "the largest Australian company by revenue," according to Wikipedia. In New Zealand, it is Ballance-Agri Nutrients, a big farmers' co-operative and the country's sole fertilizer producer. Each aims to make its business "future-proof." The transition from fossil ammonia to renewable ammonia is underway.

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Maritime ammonia engines in Japan; ammonia shipbuilding in South Korea

This week, Japan Engine Corporation (J-ENG) announced the launch of a new R&D program, in collaboration with the National Maritime Research Institute, that focuses on engine development for "combustion of carbon-free fuel (e.g. hydrogen and ammonia)." Five hundred miles across the Sea of Japan, DSME has completed a techno-economic feasibility study comparing three fuels: HFO (with scrubber), LNG, and ammonia. The results of this study will be presented at the Ammonia Energy Conference, in Orlando, FL, on November 13. DSME is one of the three big shipbuilders in South Korea, and its business case for ammonia is strong enough that now "DSME is planning to expand our technology and business to NH3 engineering and systems for commercial ships."

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Ammonia Featured in South Australia’s Hydrogen Action Plan

The Australian state of South Australia took another step into the hydrogen future this week when it unveiled its Hydrogen Action Plan at the International Conference on Hydrogen Safety in Adelaide.  The heart of the Action Plan consists of the practical measures that governments undertake in areas such as infrastructure, workforce, and regulatory framework development.  Zoom out, though, and it is clear that fostering a major export position in green hydrogen is first among equals in the Action Plan's priorities.  And this being the case, it is no surprise that ammonia is singled out for special attention.

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Maritime fuel mix could be 25% ammonia by 2050

DNV GL published its annual Energy Transition Outlook last week, which includes a dedicated analysis of the shipping industry in its Maritime Forecast to 2050. According to DNV GL, the IMO's 2050 emission reduction targets can be met through innovative ship design, using ammonia as an alternative fuel. Widespread commercial adoption of ammonia fuel would begin in 2037; ammonia would the dominant fuel choice for new builds by 2042; and ammonia would represent 25% of the maritime fuel mix by 2050. This represents new demand for roughly 120 million tons per year of green ammonia by 2050. This outcome greatly depends on how maritime regulations are developed in the coming years, but it would see ammonia-fueled ships represent almost 100% of new vessels (by fuel consumption) from 2044 onwards.

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Hydrogen Prioritized in New ARENA Investment Plan

On September 11, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) issued its 2019 Investment Plan. The theme of the accompanying press release is “sharpening our focus,” and indeed the agency articulates just three investment priorities: “integrating renewables into the electricity system;” “accelerating the growth of a hydrogen industry;” and “supporting industry to reduce emissions.” The prioritization of hydrogen – and with it, ammonia as a possible hydrogen carrier – is a new development for ARENA.