Last week, Forbes.com published Power-To-X In The German Experience: Another In The List Of Growing Energy Transition Strategies. The article in effect nominates ammonia as a singularly promising up-and-comer in the field of the alternative energy vectors. Such an endorsement is heartening, but the article is notable as much for who is delivering the message – and the fact of its delivery under the Forbes masthead – as for what the message is.
Fertilizers Europe published an important report in late 2018 that examines key drivers for the fertilizer industry and describes the "likely developments expected between now and 2030." These developments include producing "perhaps 10%" of European ammonia from renewable electricity by using electrolyzers to generate renewable hydrogen feedstock. This would require scaling up green ammonia production capacity to more than a million tons per year, within ten years.
The report, Feeding Life 2030, also describes the policy framework required "to sustain the Vision." In this vision, ammonia sits at "the crossroads of nutrition and energy" and is recognized as "the ‘missing link’ in the coming energy transformation."
One of the most interesting unanswered questions surrounding green ammonia is this: what about urea?
Last month, a major announcement by Stamicarbon ("the world market leader in design, licensing and development of urea plants") implies an answer: in the long-term context of climate change, urea as a fertilizer may simply need to be phased out.
Stamicarbon announced its new Innovation Agenda at the company's "Future Day" event in Utrecht in April. Its Innovation Agenda covers three areas: speciality fertilizers, digitalization, and "Renewable production of fertilizer (using wind or solar energy to produce fertilizer)."
Earlier this year the Dutch company Duiker Combustion Engineers shared a company paper with Ammonia Energy that targets ammonia energy as an application for the company’s proprietary stoichiometry-controlled oxidation (SCO) technology. The technology’s original commercial deployment in petroleum refining occurred in 2010, and now the company sees potentially broad applications for it as a sustainable energy expedient in the industrial and electricity sectors.
NEWS BRIEF: A new policy think tank was launched last month that will focus on "why and how Scotland could benefit from being an early adopter of renewable hydrogen." Its "core starting point" is CSIRO's hydrogen-purification membrane, which enables ammonia to be used and exported as an efficient hydrogen carrier; for this use, green ammonia would be produced from offshore wind. According to the founders, this could lead to "Scotland becoming one of the largest global energy exporters in the world ... it could be the country’s main source of energy and create a knowledge economy."
Haldor Topsoe has greatly improved the near-term prospects for green ammonia by announcing a demonstration of its next-generation ammonia synthesis plant. This new technology uses a solid oxide electrolysis cell to make synthesis gas (hydrogen and nitrogen), which feeds Haldor Topsoe's existing technology: the Haber-Bosch plant. The product is ammonia, made from air, water, and renewable electricity.
The "SOC4NH3" project was recently awarded funds from the Danish Energy Agency, allowing Haldor Topsoe to demonstrate the system with its academic partners, and to deliver a feasibility study for a small industrial-scale green ammonia pilot plant, which it hopes to build by 2025. There are two dimensions to this technology that make it so important: its credibility and its efficiency.
ANNOUNCEMENT: SMARTCATS, an Action within Europe’s “intergovernmental framework” for Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), has this week published the list of keynote speakers for its Ammonia for Fueling Future Energy Workshop, which will be held on April 13 and 14 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Speakers will include John Bøgild Hansen, Senior Scientist at Haldor Topsoe and member of the Ammonia Energy Association (AEA) Board of Directors; Bill David, University of Oxford Professor and member of the AEA Advisory Board; and myself in my role as AEA President.
After two successful years, the NH3 Event returns on June 6 & 7 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for the third edition. Ammonia is still an underestimated route to achieving a sustainable energy economy. At the NH3 Event, members of the energy community, including the public, NGOs, policy-makers, industries, and academics — including well-known experts, developers, and scientists — gather to present the latest research results and commercial achievements, and to discuss new application fields and business prospects for ammonia in energy solutions. And this year with very interesting names!
This week, Yara announced major progress toward producing "green ammonia" at its plant in Pilbara, Australia. Its new partner in this project is ENGIE, the global energy and services group, which last year made a major commitment to developing large-scale renewable hydrogen projects.
I first reported Yara's plans for a solar ammonia demonstration at its Pilbara plant in September 2017. This week's announcement means that the Pilbara project has moved to the next feasibility phase. However, major elements of the project have already been designed and built: during last year's scheduled turnaround for plant maintenance, the hydrogen piping tie-in was completed - meaning that the Haber-Bosch unit is ready to receive hydrogen directly, as soon as an electrolyzer has been built to supply it with renewable feedstock.
In January 2019, the UK Department for Transport published a policy paper outlining its vision for the maritime sector over the coming decades. Among the many recommendations contained in Maritime 2050: navigating the future, is a medium-term objective to place "a group of hydrogen or ammonia powered domestic vessels in operation."
The "strategic ambition" driving this recommendation is the expectation that "the UK will ... lead the way in taking action on clean maritime growth enjoying economic benefits from being an early adopter or fast mover." Moving forward, these recommendations will be developed into policy in the government's forthcoming Clean Maritime Plan, scheduled to be published in Spring 2019.