The Australian state of South Australia took another step into the hydrogen future this week when it unveiled its Hydrogen Action Plan at the International Conference on Hydrogen Safety in Adelaide. The heart of the Action Plan consists of the practical measures that governments undertake in areas such as infrastructure, workforce, and regulatory framework development. Zoom out, though, and it is clear that fostering a major export position in green hydrogen is first among equals in the Action Plan's priorities. And this being the case, it is no surprise that ammonia is singled out for special attention.
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."
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."
ITM Power and Sumitomo Corporation have entered into a strategic partnership “for the development of multi-megawatt projects in Japan based exclusively on ITM Power’s electrolyser products.” The two companies will also look for collaborative opportunities outside Japan. In a July 9 press release, ITM refers to the two companies’ shared vision for “the use of hydrogen to decarbonise heat, transport and industrial processes” as the foundation for the arrangement.
Where will fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) first achieve critical mass? Japan and California spring to mind as likely jurisdictions. South Korea not so much. That situation could change, though, with recent announcements from the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy (MTIE) in Seoul. In fact, planned public and private sector investments could push South Korea to the front of the FCV pack.
But while hydrogen-related activity of this nature can create opportunities for ammonia energy, the question always looms: are the key players in the implementing jurisdiction aware of the enabling roles ammonia can play? Hyundai is unquestionably a key player in South Korea’s FCV landscape, and, courtesy of its support for the Australian ammonia-to-hydrogen fueling demonstration that will kick off in August, Hyundai is certainly aware, and could even become a champion, of ammonia-based FCV fueling.
On July 13, Science magazine, the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), published a 2,800-word “feature article" on ammonia energy. The article, headlined, “Liquid sunshine: Ammonia made from sun, air, and water could turn Australia into a renewable energy superpower,” is uniformly open-minded and upbeat. Its opening section ends with a quote from Monash University Professor of Physics and Chemistry Doug MacFarlane; “’Liquid ammonia is liquid energy,’ he says. ‘It's the sustainable technology we need.’”
MacFarlane helped launch the Australian chapter of the NH3 Fuel Association.
Japan, widely recognized as a global leader in the development and implementation of ammonia energy, is a fascinating case study for advocates seeking a template for progress. But, as Ammonia Energy has documented in numerous posts over the last two years, even in Japan the path is neither linear, smooth, nor preordained. Two recent developments, one in the public sector and one in the private, illustrate anew the complexity of the evolutionary track the country is negotiating as it strives to create a sustainable energy economy.
A number of green ammonia projects have been announced in the Netherlands since the influential Power-to-Ammonia feasibility study was published in early 2017. Perhaps the most important publication since then, however, is the roadmap published by The Northern Netherlands Innovation Board, The Green Hydrogen Economy in the Northern Netherlands. Its scope, including sections written by consultants from ING, Rabobank, and Accenture, goes well beyond the standard techno-economic analysis and presents a cogent plan for coordinated development of "production projects, markets, infrastructure and societal issues."
Green ammonia features heavily throughout the roadmap, which calls for the construction of 300,000 tons per year of renewable ammonia production in Delfzijl by 2024, as well as for large-scale imports of green ammonia, starting in 2021, which would provide low-cost delivery and storage of carbon-free fuel, cracked into hydrogen, for the Magnum power plant.
At last week’s Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Conference, Woodside Petroleum’s chief executive officer Peter Coleman spoke about the “huge” opportunity in hydrogen energy that will develop for the company over the next 10-15 years. Coleman sees the Japanese market for hydrogen as a promising destination for Woodside’s substantial reserves of natural gas, and indicated the company is evaluating alternative methods of hydrogen transport including as liquid H2, a liquid organic hydride, and ammonia.
The newest ammonia plant on the planet has opened in Freeport, Texas.
A joint venture between Yara and BASF, this world-scale ammonia plant uses no fossil fuel feedstock. Instead, it will produce 750,000 metric tons of ammonia per year using hydrogen and nitrogen delivered directly by pipeline. The plant's hydrogen contract is structured so that the primary supply is byproduct hydrogen, rather than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, and therefore the Freeport plant can claim that its ammonia has a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
This new ammonia plant demonstrates three truths. First, low-carbon merchant ammonia is available for purchase in industrial quantities today: this is not just technically feasible but also economically competitive. Second, carbon intensity is measured in shades of grey, not black and white. Ammonia is not necessarily carbon-free or carbon-full, but it has a carbon intensity that can quantified and, in a carbon-constrained economy, less carbon content equates to higher premium pricing. Third, the ammonia industry must improve its carbon footprinting before it can hope to be rewarded for producing green ammonia.