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The global quest to decarbonize ammonia production

NEWS BRIEF: The industrial process for ammonia production is increasingly being recognized as a target for decarbonization - by researchers, investors, regulators, and the producers themselves. Demonstrating this shift in awareness, Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), one of the flagship publications of the American Chemical Society (ACS), this week published an in-depth review of global research and development efforts and demonstration plants for sustainable ammonia synthesis. Its review is all-encompassing, from near-term feasible renewable Haber-Bosch plants, to long-term research areas of electrochemistry, photocatalysis, and bioengineering.

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Advances Reported for MCH and LH2

Two recent announcements show that the race is still very much on among the energy carriers that until recently were a focus of the Japanese Cabinet Office’s Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP).  During its five-year career, the SIP Energy Carriers initiative promoted the development of liquid hydrogen (LH2), liquid organic hydrides (LOH), and ammonia as technologies that could animate a hydrogen supply chain spanning continents and oceans.  The announcements regarding LH2 and methyl cyclohexane (MCH -- the main Energy Carriers focus in the LOH area) show that the conclusion of the Energy Carriers work at the end March does not mean the conclusion of work on these two rivals to ammonia energy.

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NH3 vs. MCH: Energy Efficiency of Hydrogen Carriers Compared

Volume 174 of the journal Energy, published on May 1, 2019, includes a paper by Shin’ya Obara, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Kitami Institute of Technology in Japan, that should be of interest to hydrogen advocates everywhere.  The paper, "Energy and exergy flows of a hydrogen supply chain with truck transportation of ammonia or methyl cyclohexane," concludes that a hydrogen supply chain based on ammonia has better energy efficiency than one based on methyl cyclohexane (MCH).

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New Video Summarizes SIP Energy Carriers Accomplishments

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Japanese Government’s Cabinet Office and the Japan Science and Technology Agency have released an English-language video that summarizes the accomplishments of the Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program’s Energy Carriers initiative.  The release coincides with the end-of-March conclusion of Energy Carriers’ work, and anticipates this month’s formal activation of the Green Ammonia Consortium.

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METI Releases Major Revision to Hydrogen Roadmap

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced on March 12 that it had released a “major revision” to the country’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Strategy Roadmap.  The Roadmap was first formulated in 2014 to “secure the goals set forth in the Basic Hydrogen Strategy and the 5th Basic Energy Plan for the realization of a hydrogen society.”  The Roadmap’s last revision in 2016 predates new editions of the foundation documents that were released in December 2017 and July 2018, respectively.

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Rapid Long-Term Growth Projected for Fuel Cells

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.

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Ammonia’s Role in the Hydrogen Society

Last month I had the opportunity to reflect on “Ammonia’s Role in the Hydrogen Society.”  This was the title of a speech I gave at the Ammonia Energy International Workshop in Tokyo.  The Workshop was held on January 25 by the Energy Carriers initiative of the Japanese Government’s Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP) as it moves toward its terminal date of March 31, and as the Green Ammonia Consortium, which grew out of the Energy Carriers program, prepares for its official launch in the same time frame.  The key takeaways from my speech are that ammonia is widely seen as a contributor to the viability of hydrogen energy, but the extent of its potential role is not appreciated.

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JGC Corporation demonstrates “world’s first” carbon-free ammonia energy cycle

In late 2018, JGC Corporation issued a press release to celebrate a "world's first" in ammonia energy, demonstrating at its pilot plant in Koriyama both "synthesis of ammonia with hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water by renewable energy, and generation of electricity through gas turbines fueled by synthesized ammonia."

By demonstrating the feasibility of using ammonia on both sides of the renewable energy equation -- first, producing green ammonia from intermittent renewable electricity and, second, combusting this carbon-free fuel for power generation -- the project demonstrates the role of ammonia in the "establishment of an energy chain ... that does not emit CO2 (CO2-free) from production to power generation."

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Development of Technologies to Utilize Green Ammonia in the Energy Market – Update on Japan’s SIP Energy Carriers

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.

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NH3 Energy Implementation Conference: A Brief Report

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.”

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