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Japan’s Road Map for Fuel Ammonia

This month, the Japanese Ministry for Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) began promoting an updated Road Map for Fuel Ammonia, focused on the use of ammonia in thermal power plants and as a shipping fuel. By 2030, Japan expects to import 3 million tons of clean ammonia, with demand rising to 30 million tons by 2050. To secure these volumes, Japanese companies are now making investments up and down the supply chain. These are ambitious numbers, matching Japan’s recent commitment to reach net-zero emissions, but still they miss the big picture. The broader economic opportunity arrives when Japanese companies export their fuel ammonia technologies, decarbonizing coal-fired power plants across Asia, and then supply the fuel to these newly sustainable shipping and electricity sectors. By 2050, the METI Road Map expects Japanese trading companies to supply the wider region with 100 million tons per year of clean ammonia.

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Yara’s green ammonia project YURI gets further boosts

There were two new funding announcements last week concerning Yara’s YURI renewable ammonia project, to be built next to their Pilbara fertiliser plant in Western Australia. The Pilbara ammonia plant is an ideal demonstration site for green hydrogen and green ammonia at an industrial scale. This export-oriented plant has an annual capacity of 850,000 tons per year of ammonia, representing about 5% of the world’s merchant ammonia supply, and while the current site uses natural gas as fuel and feedstock it is situated adjacent to rich solar and wind energy resources. These announcements show that interest in YURI is strong from Australian local, state, and federal governments, with more funding opportunities in the pipeline.

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Low-carbon ammonia in Nebraska and the Netherlands

Last week, two new low-carbon ammonia production projects were announced, both of them large-scale and largely CO2-free. Monolith Materials announced a 275,000 ton per year “clean ammonia” plant in Nebraska, in the heart of the US cornbelt. The plant will begin construction in 2021, expanding the existing demonstration plant, using Monolith’s methane pyrolysis process powered by 100% renewable electricity. Ørsted and Yara announced their plan to produce 75,000 tons per year of “green ammonia” at Yara’s existing Sluiskil plant in the Netherlands. They intend to install a 100 MW electrolyzer, using Ørsted’s offshore wind energy, with a final investment decision expected in 2021-2022, and production beginning in 2024-2025.

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Saudi Arabia ships low-carbon ammonia to Japan

Last week, Saudi Aramco and the IEEJ attracted significant media attention when they announced that the first “blue” ammonia has been shipped to Japan. Aramco’s celebration of this shipment of 40 tons of ammonia (not 40 thousand or 40 million, just 40 tons) raises many questions, but makes three things clear. First, projects to demonstrate the carbon footprint of specific batches of low-carbon ammonia are now underway, and these case studies will inform the design of an international low-carbon ammonia certification scheme. Second, there is an urgent need to establish definitions across the industry, or risk losing credibility. Third, Aramco (absolutely the most profitable company in the world, with over a hundred oil and gas fields and almost 300 trillion scf of natural gas reserves) has sent a clear signal that it intends to make and sell ammonia as a decarbonized energy commodity.

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Japan’s NYK and partners to develop ammonia fueled and fueling vessels

In recent weeks, the Japanese shipping company NYK Line has announced a series of high-profile research and development collaborations that aim to establish ammonia fueled vessels and fuel supply. Its partners in these projects include classification society Class NK, engine manufacturer IHI Power Systems, and shipbuilder Japan Marine United Corporation. Three vessel types have been announced, so far, including an ammonia-fueled ammonia gas carrier, an ammonia barge for offshore bunkering, and an ammonia-fueled tugboat (for navigating the barge). Pushing beyond the initial research phase, these collaborations aim for commercialization and to put these vessels “into practical use.”

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Hyundai joins Fortescue and CSIRO to “fast track” ammonia to high-purity hydrogen system

Fortescue recently announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Hyundai Motor Company and CSIRO for the “development and future commercialisation” of its metal membrane technology. This technology, which produces high-purity compressed hydrogen from liquid ammonia, was demonstrated in 2018. It enables PEM fuel cell vehicles to refuel using hydrogen that is generated on demand from ammonia. At scale, this technology could enable an ammonia-based hydrogen production, storage, and distribution infrastructure, lowering the barriers to implementation of a national network of hydrogen filling stations. Now, “Hyundai will seek to demonstrate the viability of the technology for renewable hydrogen production and vehicle fuelling in Korea.”

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New Twists for Japanese Ene Farms

Over the last two months, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has selected at least four natural gas utilities to participate in “verification projects” under its Building Virtual Power Plant Using Customer-Side Energy Resources program. Participating utilities so far include Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas, Seibu Gas, and J Power. The program is intended to facilitate the development of renewable electricity in Japan and is shining a new light on the deployment of fuel cells in the country's built environment.

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Wärtsilä, Repsol, and Knutsen to test ammonia four-stroke engine

This week, engine manufacturer Wärtsilä announced “the world’s first long term, full-scale, testing of ammonia as a fuel in a marine four-stroke combustion engine.” The project will begin in the first quarter of 2021, at the Sustainable Energy Catapult Centre’s testing facilities at Stord, Norway. It is supported by a NOK 20 million (USD 2 million) grant from the Norwegian Research Council.

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Engie, Siemens, Ecuity, and STFC publish Feasibility of Ammonia-to-Hydrogen

The UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently published the feasibility study for its Ammonia to Green Hydrogen Project. This studies the techno-economic feasibility of importing green ammonia in order to supply large volumes of high-purity low-carbon hydrogen in the UK. The project has been designed and delivered by a heavyweight consortium of ENGIE, Siemens, Ecuity Consulting, and the UK’s STFC. The feasibility study, which is publicly available, represents the conclusion of Phase One of this project. Phase Two is demonstration: “to raise the TRL of a lithium imide based ammonia cracker from 4 to 6/7,” meaning that the technology is ready for deployment.

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Hydrogen in Australia: investments and jobs

There is so much hydrogen news coming out of Australia that it is hard to keep up. At the state level, Tasmania has released its draft plan to increase renewables to 200% of its electricity use by 2040. This marks a serious start to establishing a renewable energy export economy, and includes funding and policy support to ramp up green hydrogen and ammonia production and begin exports by 2027. At the federal level, ARENA announced that its AU$ 70 million funding round for large-scale, “shovel-ready,” renewable hydrogen projects received applications representing over $3 billion of commercial investments. Australia’s renewable hydrogen industry has appetite and momentum, “and we’re seeing a lot of projects ready to be built.” As if to prove the point, two developers in two weeks have each announced hydrogen projects that could produce a million tons per year of ammonia. These are at opposite ends of the low-carbon spectrum: Leigh Creek Energy's in-situ gasification (ISG) coal-to-ammonia plant; and Austom Hydrogen's 3.6 GW green hydrogen export project.