By definition, members of the ammonia energy community see ammonia as the preferred form of hydrogen in many applications. Until recently, this view was not shared by most members of the hydrogen energy community. Where there was awareness at all, ammonia was often seen as dangerous or irrelevant. However, since the middle years of this decade a transition has been occurring. Lack of awareness and wariness (let’s call this stage 1) is giving way to interest in and exploration of ammonia’s potential role in discrete applications (stage 2). At some point, we may arrive at a third stage. This will be characterized by the development of sustainable energy systems that have been cost-optimized with ammonia as a staple energy commodity. In this scenario, elemental hydrogen will be the supporting actor that appears only in discrete contexts.
Hydrogen, Enabling a Zero Emission Europe, Technology Roadmaps, a report released in September 2018 by the advocacy group Hydrogen Europe, perfectly exemplifies the stage 2 mindset. Ammonia energy is discussed in a handful of instances as a narrow-scope expedient. To be sure, the report implies, ammonia could be a part of the solution. But it also might not pan out at all.
Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago that sits far above the Arctic Circle, is being considered for the back end of an electricity-to-ammonia-to-electricity (P2A2P) scheme. As reported in Norway's Teknisk Ukeblad (TU), the state-owned utility Statkraft has surfaced ammonia as one of four possible hydrogen-oriented solutions to meet Svalbard’s energy needs – and then short-listed it for further study.
Last week Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) announced the formation of a partnership that will support commercialization of CSIRO’s high-purity ammonia-to-hydrogen conversion technology. Michael Dolan, Principal Research Scientist for the ammonia-to-hydrogen project, had signaled such a development on the occasion of the technology’s first public demonstration in August 2018, saying in a contemporaneous Ammonia Energy post that the identity of “a major industrial partner” would be revealed shortly.
The partner turns out to be Fortescue Metals Group (FMG). A November 22 article in Business Insider Australia states that the company will invest “[AUD]$19.1 million [USD$13.8] in technology developed by the CSIRO to make hydrogen vehicles viable in a potential gamechanger for the transport industry.”
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.”
The vision of a worldwide network of affiliated ammonia energy advocacy groups drew closer to reality. This a step toward fulfillment of a goal that was conceived in 2016 when the NH3 Fuel Association convened a Global Advisory Board. The idea was to launch a body that “could help ammonia energy proponents in different countries organize nationally or regionally focused ammonia energy advocacy bodies.” Over the last year, all four of the Advisory Board’s 'Ambassadors' played leadership roles on behalf of ammonia energy in their respective countries.
Ammonia Energy has published posts covering pertinent activity in 32 different countries. In most of them, ammonia’s potential as versatile energy vector has reached the point of avowed interest from relevant institutions. In a small handful, it has become a part of national policy. But, as demonstrated in repeated instances throughout the year, nowhere is ammonia energy more robustly embraced than Australia. The central argument behind this assertion is captured in the phrase, “the complete package,” as in “package of resources, policies, players, partners, and investments.”
In the last 12 months ...
If a “meme”, in the definition of British psychology professor Susan Blackmore, “is information copied from person to person, including words, stories, technologies, fashions, and customs,” then clearly there is a meme spectrum that has “esoteric knowledge” at one end and “the common wisdom” at the other. Where does ammonia energy fall on this spectrum? “Esoteric knowledge” it may once have been, but this is no longer the case with the concept’s first incursions into mainstream reporting this year.
In the last 12 months ...
Consider the attributes that characterize a good hydrogen carrier: liquid state at ambient conditions; high volumetric and gravimetric energy density; low propensity to create lethal hazards when transported, stored, and used. Now consider that ammonia is superior to hydrogen itself in every one of these areas. Given this, it stands to reason that proponents of hydrogen fuel cells should embrace ammonia as a valuable enabling technology that can elevate the feasibility and improve the economics of fuel-cell-based systems. And indeed this embrace became evident over the last year.
In the last 12 months ...
We have seen repeated enunciations of a compelling logic chain: electricity generated by wind-based and photovoltaic systems is manifesting ever-more competitive economics; the greater the share of electricity generated by intermittently active resources, the greater will be the need for complementary energy storage systems; chemical forms of “X” in the power-to-X (P2X) stored-electricity construct will surely have a role to play in long-term, large-scale energy storage; ammonia may be the most advantageous chemical for such storage.
ITM Power and Sumitomo Corporation have entered into a strategic partnership “for the development of multi-megawatt projects in Japan based exclusively on ITM Power’s electrolyser products.” The two companies will also look for collaborative opportunities outside Japan. In a July 9 press release, ITM refers to the two companies’ shared vision for “the use of hydrogen to decarbonise heat, transport and industrial processes” as the foundation for the arrangement.