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 ammonia plant is ready to receive hydrogen directly, as soon as an electrolyzer unit has been built to supply it with renewable feedstock.
The most recent meeting of the Ammonia Energy Association-Australia was held on December 6, 2018. Ciaran McDonnell-Worth, the organization’s coordinator, reported that there was “excellent discussion throughout the meeting which was bolstered by the presence of several new participants.” One of those participants, Bassam Dally, Mechanical Engineering Professor at University of Adelaide, spoke about a novel technology for ammonia combustion that may have application in high-temperature industrial processes and beyond.
8 Rivers Capital, the developer of “the Allam Cycle, the only technology that will enable the world to meet all of its climate targets without having to pay more for electricity,” unveiled plans in November 2018 for a “billion-dollar clean energy production site” in New Zealand whose outputs are slated to include low-carbon ammonia.
That is a sentence with a lot of angles, and unpacking it will take some effort. So let’s start right in with the Allam Cycle.
The Australian report Comparison of dispatchable renewable electricity options does the very useful service of quantifying the energy storage landscape in dollars and cents. It reaches many interesting conclusions, not the least of which is that hydrogen, and by explicit extension, ammonia, is the key option for long-cycle storage. And while the study’s focus is Australia, “with costs in AUD and based on Australian conditions,” its lead author says that “much of the information and many of its findings are expected to hold independent of jurisdiction.”
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.”
In the last 12 months ...
National oil companies in Europe and the Middle East are looking to satisfy East Asian demand for clean hydrogen by exporting carbon-free ammonia. One of the biggest global LNG exporters is investigating ammonia for the same market, as it considers Australia's future as a renewable energy exporter. Oil majors are assessing ammonia's role in implementing an affordable hydrogen economy, looking toward fuel markets in California and Europe. And the biggest coal producer in China is funding the development of "the world’s first practical ammonia-powered vehicle."
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.