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.
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.
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.
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."
Dutch start-up Battolyser BV was today declared the winner of Industrial Energy Enlightenmentz 2018. The award was announced at the annual Industry & Energy event, held at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen, which this year focused on the theme When Electrons Power Molecules.
At the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference last month, Hans Vrijenhoef of Proton Ventures gave the opening presentation, co-authored by Fokko Mulder of TU Delft, in which he described the battolyser's robust combination battery and electrolyzer. He also mapped out Battolyser BV's technology development and investment pathway, beginning with the kW-scale pilot plant that is already underway and expected to be operational by Spring 2019, and a MW-scale, modular, containerized plant which should be complete by the end of 2020. Reaching a technology readiness level of TRL8, Battolyser BV then aims to increase industrial scale swiftly, demonstrating a 100 MW unit by 2025 and a 1 GW battolyser by 2030.
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 ... 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.
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.
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."