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Tri-State announces clean energy plan, retires coal assets

Yesterday, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association launched its "transformative" Responsible Energy Plan, which will "dramatically and rapidly advance the wholesale power supply cooperative’s clean energy portfolio." Last week, the utility announced the retirement of its last coal-fired power plants in New Mexico and Colorado. These two announcements provide context for a presentation at the Ammonia Energy Conference in November 2019, entitled Market Integrated Ammonia. Its conclusion — highly relevant for a utility that is closing its coal plants and increasing renewables to 50% by 2024 — is that in a wholesale electricity market with increased volatility, renewable ammonia could be produced at the extremely low cost of $96 per tonne.

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Ammonia energy is now a talking point for CEOs

Chief executives of major corporations are now talking about ammonia energy. This represents another crucial step up the learning curve for clean industry: knowledge about ammonia's potential has successfully spread from the R&D department to the executive suite. This is the difference between development and deployment. The fertilizer industry saw this in 2018, when the CEOs of first movers like Yara and OCP announced green ammonia pilot plants. These latest announcements come, however, from the shipping and power sectors — far bigger industries, with no existing ammonia business — and they focus on the use of green ammonia: for fuel and for profit.

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Updating the literature: Ammonia consumes 43% of global hydrogen

For years, many people — myself included — have been saying that ammonia consumes 55% of the hydrogen produced around the world. Although there are many authoritative sources for this figure, I knew that it was likely out of date. Until now, I had overlooked the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2019 report, The Future of Hydrogen, which provides up-to-date (and publicly downloadable) data for global hydrogen demand since 1975. According to the IEA, ammonia represented almost 43% of global hydrogen demand in 2018; refining represented almost 52%, and "other" demands accounted for 6%.

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The cost of hydrogen: Platts launches Hydrogen Price Assessment

What does hydrogen really cost? Apparently, there's now a good answer to this question. $0.7955 per kg. This is according to the new daily hydrogen price assessment launched yesterday by Platts. Price assessments like this are invaluable for thriving markets, supporting transparency and developing into the benchmarks and indexes that underpin investments, trade, and regulations. This is a welcome innovation from the universe of financial product development. It will be interesting to see how Platts's hydrogen prices evolve, in terms of the cost structure of hydrogen production, of course, but also from the perspective of ammonia energy. If the purpose is to support commodity trading, these price assessments must eventually expand to include hydrogen carriers — molecules, like ammonia, that can be stored and transported more economically than hydrogen itself — in other words, commoditized hydrogen.

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Ammonia-fueled ships: entering the design phase

Three separate projects to design a range of ammonia-fueled vessels were announced last week at a shipping industry conference in China. Lloyd's Register has granted Approval in Principle (AiP) for the design of a 180,000 ton bulk carrier. ABS announced a project to "produce designs for an ammonia-fueled Chittagongmax container carrier of 2700 TEU capacity." And Lloyd's Register also announced a project for "an ammonia-fuelled 23,000 TEU Ultra-Large Container Ship (ULCS) concept design." All three projects are working with the two-stroke ammonia engine developed by MAN Energy Solutions, and all are led by major shipbuilders in China.

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Gigawatt-scale electrolyzer manufacturing and deployment

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: Electrolyzers have featured heavily at this year's Ammonia Energy Conference, which ended today. How much can innovation increase efficiency? How far can volume manufacturing drive down capex? How much could process integration with Haber-Bosch deliver improved ammonia production? How realistically can new, sophisticated strategies optimize variable and baseload power inputs? These technical questions are all important, but none defines profitability. While progress is being made on all these fronts of research and development, major industrial projects are still moving forward.

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Ammonia in China: change is coming

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: In the ammonia industry, Chinese data is notoriously hard to verify. Without question, the country produces more ammonia today than any other nation, and yet it has recently closed million of tons of annual capacity. Its cities are smothered in pollution, and its coal-based ammonia plants use the dirtiest technologies available. Huge questions remain. One answer is clear: China has repeatedly proven its desire and ability to become a global leader in developing and deploying clean technologies in the explicit effort to combat climate change. Within China, therefore, the question of large-scale adoption of ammonia energy technologies is increasingly becoming simpler. When?

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The mining industry: a driving force behind green ammonia

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: Ammonia is too often assumed to be only a fertilizer. This assumption overlooks other important uses for the chemical, large and small, in every corner of our economy. Some of the recent green ammonia announcements suggest that these other industries might, in fact, present better economic fundamentals for green ammonia investments than the fertilizer industry. Alternatively, these companies might have set their sights on becoming first movers in developing the commodities of the future. Time will tell but, if the last 12 months is any guide, the mining industry could be a force for change in the ammonia industry.