Using greener feedstocks at low pressures and temperatures, with higher conversion rates and less greenhouse gases is considered a pipe dream. The technology and equipment simply wasn’t available ... until now. The case for small-scale, energy efficient ammonia production is well documented, but access to funds may not be. Now, Manufacturing USA and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership may offer a new path to success.
Last month the Fuji-Keizai Group released its latest biennial review of the global market for fuel cells, “Future Outlook for Fuel Cell-Related Technology and Market in 2018.” This is at least the third iteration of the report, and comparison across the different editions shows how expectations have evolved. The report features both polymer electrolyte and solid oxide fuel cells. Although not mentioned in the report, a number of groups are working on direct ammonia versions of both technologies.
Last year, Yara Sluiskil, in the Netherlands, upgraded its existing ammonia plant by introducing a hydrogen pipeline connection, thereby reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. The pipeline was commissioned in October 2018 and now "ensures the efficient and safe transport of hydrogen," which was previously a waste-product at Dow's nearby ethylene cracker. Already, the project "delivers a CO2 saving of 10,000 tons" and a decrease in energy consumption of "0.15 petajoules (PJ) per year."
This is, perhaps, the first ammonia plant decarbonization revamp, and it shows that it is both possible and affordable to reduce emissions from existing ammonia plants today.
In June 2018, MAN Diesel & Turbo rebranded itself MAN Energy Solutions, reflecting the maritime engine market leader's "strategic and technological transformation" towards sustainability. The company was "taking a stand for the Paris Climate Agreement and the global pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy." According to Uwe Lauber, Chairman of the Board, "our activities have a significant impact on the global economy. In shipping, for example, we move more than half of the global stream of goods ... [and] the path to decarbonising the maritime economy starts with fuel decarbonisation, especially in container shipping."
This week, the company took a significant step towards realizing its vision, disclosing that it is "pressing ahead with developing ... an ammonia-fuelled engine." This builds on the technology development pathway that MAN ES presented at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference at Pittsburgh in October 2018. The budget and timeline are set: the €5 million (USD$5.7 million) project will last two to three years and, if the shipowners decide to deploy the finished product, "the first ammonia engine could then be in operation by early 2022."
At the recent NH3 Energy Implementation Conference in Pittsburgh, USA, the keynote speech was given by Shigeru Muraki, Program Director of Japanese government's SIP Energy Carriers project. Muraki is also Chairman of the Green Ammonia Consortium, which will assume responsibility for coordinating the development and deployment of ammonia energy technologies in Japan when the SIP concludes in April 2019.
Given both these roles, Muraki was well placed to address not only the recent years of intense research and development in Japan, but also the near-term roadmap for commercial deployment of ammonia energy technologies.
In the last 12 months ...
The International Maritime Organization issued its Initial GHG Strategy, committing the global shipping industry to emission reductions that cannot be achieved with carbon-based fuels. This single action is the regulatory trigger that unleashes a three-decade transition to carbon-free liquid fuels like ammonia. The target date for this 50% reduction in emissions is 2050 but, given the long economic life of ocean vessels, the transition must begin immediately.
In the last 12 months ...
IHI Corporation tested its 1 kW ammonia-fueled solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) in Japan; Project Alkammonia concluded its work on cracked-ammonia-fed alkaline fuel cells (AFC) in the EU; the University of Delaware's project for low-temperature direct ammonia fuel cells (DAFC) continues with funding from the US Department of Energy's ARPA-E; and, in Israel, GenCell launched its commercial 4 kW ammonia-fed AFC with field demonstrations at up to 800 locations across Kenya.
In the last 12 months ...
Green ammonia pilot plants began operations in the UK and Japan, and new demonstration plants were announced in Australia, Denmark, Morocco, and the Netherlands (more, yet to be announced, are in development). Fertilizer company CEOs spoke about how green ammonia fits their corporate strategy. And all four of the global licensors of ammonia technology made it abundantly clear that they are ready and willing to build your green ammonia plant, today.
September 10–14 gave us five remarkable events both evidencing and advancing the rise of hydrogen in transportation and energy. Any one of them would have made it a significant week; together they make a sea change.
The movement toward small-scale ammonia is accelerating for two reasons. First, small ammonia plants are flexible. And, second, small ammonia plants are flexible.
They are feedstock-flexible, meaning that they can use the small quantities of low-value or stranded resources that are widely available at a local scale. This includes flared natural gas, landfill gas, or wind power.
And they are market-flexible, meaning that they can serve various local needs, selling products like fertilizer, energy storage, or fuel; or services like resource independence, price stability, or supply chain robustness.
While the scale of these plants is small, the impact of this technology is big. As industry-insider publication Nitrogen+Syngas explained in its last issue, "as ammonia production moves toward more sustainable and renewable feedstocks the ammonia market is facing a potentially radical change."