Using greener feedstocks at low pressures and temperatures, with higher conversion rates and less greenhouse gases is considered a pipe dream. The technology and equipment simply wasn’t available ... until now. The case for small-scale, energy efficient ammonia production is well documented, but access to funds may not be. Now, Manufacturing USA and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership may offer a new path to success.
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.
In the UK, an expansive report was published last month that examines the role of Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy. It considers ammonia's role in depth, both as a potential low-cost hydrogen carrier and as a direct fuel.
As a hydrogen carrier, "converting hydrogen to ammonia as a means of transporting it over long distances would have lower costs than transporting it as hydrogen." And used directly, ammonia is "a hydrogen-rich liquid that could be used as an alternative or complementary fuel."
By definition, members of the ammonia energy community see ammonia as the preferred form of hydrogen in many applications. Until recently, this view was not shared by most members of the hydrogen energy community. Where there was awareness at all, ammonia was often seen as dangerous or irrelevant. However, since the middle years of this decade a transition has been occurring. Lack of awareness and wariness (let’s call this stage 1) is giving way to interest in and exploration of ammonia’s potential role in discrete applications (stage 2). At some point, we may arrive at a third stage. This will be characterized by the development of sustainable energy systems that have been cost-optimized with ammonia as a staple energy commodity. In this scenario, elemental hydrogen will be the supporting actor that appears only in discrete contexts.
Hydrogen, Enabling a Zero Emission Europe, Technology Roadmaps, a report released in September 2018 by the advocacy group Hydrogen Europe, perfectly exemplifies the stage 2 mindset. Ammonia energy is discussed in a handful of instances as a narrow-scope expedient. To be sure, the report implies, ammonia could be a part of the solution. But it also might not pan out at all.
Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago that sits far above the Arctic Circle, is being considered for the back end of an electricity-to-ammonia-to-electricity (P2A2P) scheme. As reported in Norway's Teknisk Ukeblad (TU), the state-owned utility Statkraft has surfaced ammonia as one of four possible hydrogen-oriented solutions to meet Svalbard’s energy needs – and then short-listed it for further study.
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.
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 ...
California passed a law mandating 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045; then its governor announced that the state's entire energy system - not just its electricity - would be carbon-neutral by 2045. The Hydrogen Council announced its "goal of decarbonizing 100% of hydrogen fuel used in transport by 2030." The International Maritime Organization set targets for the global shipping sector to “reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050,” and completely “phase them out, as soon as possible in this century,” and these targets were swiftly endorsed by the International Chamber of Shipping.
Regulators and self-regulating organizations around the world are enforcing systemic decarbonization and accelerating the transition to a hydrogen economy.
September 10–14 gave us five remarkable events both evidencing and advancing the rise of hydrogen in transportation and energy. Any one of them would have made it a significant week; together they make a sea change.