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Ammonia in China: change is coming

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: In the ammonia industry, Chinese data is notoriously hard to verify. Without question, the country produces more ammonia today than any other nation, and yet it has recently closed million of tons of annual capacity. Its cities are smothered in pollution, and its coal-based ammonia plants use the dirtiest technologies available. Huge questions remain. One answer is clear: China has repeatedly proven its desire and ability to become a global leader in developing and deploying clean technologies in the explicit effort to combat climate change. Within China, therefore, the question of large-scale adoption of ammonia energy technologies is increasingly becoming simpler. When?

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Technology Advances for Blue Hydrogen and Blue Ammonia

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: Blue hydrogen – defined as the version of the element whose production involves carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – represents an alluring prospect for the energy transition.  The primary “blue” feedstocks, natural gas and coal, currently set the low-cost benchmarks for storable energy commodities.  With the addition of CCS, they are expected to set the low-cost benchmarks for low-carbon storable energy commodities.  Blue ammonia is very much included in this frame of reference since CCS could be applied to the CO2 waste stream from the Haber-Bosch process.  But neither blue hydrogen nor blue ammonia are sure things; a variety of technical, financial, regulatory, and social issues could stand in the way of their widespread adoption. But work on new technologies that have the potential to ease the way for blue products has come increasingly into view over the last twelve months.

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Ammonia in the Mix as an Industrial Energy Source

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: The generation of heat for industrial processes accounts for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – which means that finding ways to eliminate this climate footprint is among the pressing technology tasks on our societal to-do list. Developments over the last 12 months suggest that ammonia could play an important role in meeting this challenge.

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IHI Corporation pushes its ammonia combustion technologies closer to commercialization

This week, an article in Japan Chemical Daily disclosed IHI Corporation's future plans for its range of ammonia combustion technologies, each of which has been demonstrated in the last year. These include "ammonia-coal co-fired thermal power boilers, ammonia-fired gas turbines and direct ammonia solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)." Under the headline "IHI Speeds up Development of Several Ammonia-Based Technologies," the article describes the company's ambitions for scaling-up each of these technologies, and provides a schedule for its next set of demonstration projects.

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Israeli Group Develops New Electrolysis Technology

Last month a group of researchers from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology published a paper, “Decoupled hydrogen and oxygen evolution by a two-step electrochemical–chemical cycle for efficient overall water splitting,” in the journal Nature Energy.  The key word in the title is “efficient.”  In a September 15 Technion press release, the researchers state that their technology “facilitates an unprecedented energetic efficiency of 98.7% in the production of hydrogen from water.”  Applied to the appropriate use case, the technology could lead to a major improvement in green ammonia’s ability to compete with brown ammonia and other low-carbon energy carriers.

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Maritime ammonia engines in Japan; ammonia shipbuilding in South Korea

This week, Japan Engine Corporation (J-ENG) announced the launch of a new R&D program, in collaboration with the National Maritime Research Institute, that focuses on engine development for "combustion of carbon-free fuel (e.g. hydrogen and ammonia)." Five hundred miles across the Sea of Japan, DSME has completed a techno-economic feasibility study comparing three fuels: HFO (with scrubber), LNG, and ammonia. The results of this study will be presented at the Ammonia Energy Conference, in Orlando, FL, on November 13. DSME is one of the three big shipbuilders in South Korea, and its business case for ammonia is strong enough that now "DSME is planning to expand our technology and business to NH3 engineering and systems for commercial ships."

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IHI Breaks Ground on Hydrogen Research Facility

Japanese capital goods manufacturer IHI Corporation announced last month that it has started construction of a 1,000 square-meter hydrogen research facility in Fukushima Prefecture.  The facility will be an addition to IHI’s Green Energy Center in Soma City which was launched in 2018.  One of the Center’s original focuses is the production steps of the green hydrogen supply chain using solar electricity to power developmental electrolyzers.  The new facility will focus on hydrogen carriers, including ammonia and methane (via “methanation” of carbon dioxide), that can be used in the logistics steps of the supply chain.

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The Case for Giving Direct Ammonia Fuels Cells a Shot

The Center for Catalytic Science and Technology (CCST) at the University of Delaware has made new strides in the development of a direct ammonia fuel cell (DAFC) suitable for use in transportation applications.  The progress is reported in “An Efficient Direct Ammonia Fuel Cell for Affordable Carbon-Neutral Transportation,” a paper published last month by Yun Zhao and six coauthors in the journal Joule.  The paper gives an impressive account of CCST’s technical advances; and it makes a distinctly compelling case for the relevance of CCST’s work on DAFCs.  In the latter regard, the authors find that ammonia has the “lowest source-to-tank energy cost by a significant margin” relative to other fuels that can be derived from renewably generated electricity.  It is in society’s interest, they strongly imply, to give DAFC technology a chance to compete with hydrogen-based fuel cells in automotive applications.

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Electrified Methane Reforming Could Reduce Ammonia’s CO2 Footprint

A May 2019 paper published in Science reports on a technological advance that may have significant implications for ammonia production. The paper, Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production, presents a method for providing the heat required for steam methane reforming from renewable electricity instead of natural gas. The carbon intensity of ammonia production could thereby be reduced by about 30%. And, last month, Haldor Topsøe announced that it plans to build a demonstration plant in Denmark that will produce “CO2-neutral methanol from biogas using eSMR technology.” The plant is expected to be “fully operational in the beginning of 2022.”

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GenCell A5 update: hydrogen power from ammonia fuel cells (“The Next Big Thing in Energy Production”)

GenCell Energy, an Israeli technology company, recently announced a research collaboration with Fraunhofer UMSICHT, a German research institute, that will deliver a "scale-up of the catalyst synthesis process" for cracking ammonia. This will enable GenCell "to produce large quantities of a novel inexpensive catalyst for generation of hydrogen from ammonia."