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Bunker Ammonia: carbon-free liquid fuel for ships

The shipping industry is beginning to evaluate ammonia as a potential "bunker fuel," a carbon-free alternative to the heavy fuel oil (HFO) used in maritime transport. International trade associations are leading the effort to decarbonize the sector, in alignment with targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Their immediate challenge is simple to state but hard to solve: "ambitious CO2 reduction objectives will only be achievable with alternative marine fuels which do not yet exist." In the long-term, however researchers recognize that "fuel cell-powered ships are likely to dominate, drawing their energy from fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia."

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Progress in Ammonia Combustion Catalysts

On February 14 the Journal of Physical Chemistry published a paper entitled “Local Structures and Catalytic Ammonia Combustion Properties of Copper Oxides and Silver Supported on Aluminum Oxides.” The paper, by Satoshi Hinokuma of Kumamoto University in Kumamoto, Japan and four co-authors, reports on a catalyst system that is well adapted for use in ammonia energy applications.

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Industrial demonstrations of ammonia fuel in Japan

Most of the ammonia energy projects I write about are in the research and development phase but, as I've said before, technology transfer from the academic lab to commercial deployment is moving swiftly - especially in Japan. Last week, Nikkei Asian Review published two articles outlining plans by major engineering and power firms to build utility-scale demonstrations using ammonia as a fuel for electricity generation. Both projects aim to reduce the carbon intensity of the Japanese electrical grid, incrementally but significantly, by displacing a portion of the fossil fuels with ammonia. The first project will generate power using an ammonia-coal mix, while the second will combine ammonia with natural gas.

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Ammonia-Fueled Gas Turbine Power Generation

Hideaki Kobayashi, professor at the Institute of Fluid Science at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, has developed the world’s first technology for direct combustion of ammonia in a gas turbine. The advance was made in cooperation with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) under a program led by Norihiko Iki.

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On the Ground in Japan

Two talks delivered in December show the tiny steps that allow a country to transition to a sustainable energy economy. The country is Japan. The events hosting the talks were short-format symposia whose evident objective was to draw in business and technical people who might become practically involved in the new energy economy. Both talks highlighted the role to be played by ammonia while also describing competing and complementary technologies.

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International R&D on sustainable ammonia synthesis technologies

Over the last few weeks, I've written extensively about sustainable ammonia synthesis projects funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE). While these projects are important, the US has no monopoly on technology development. Indeed, given the current uncertainty regarding energy policy under the Trump administration, the US may be at risk of stepping away from its assumed role as an industry leader in this area. This article introduces seven international projects, representing research coming out of eight countries spread across four continents. These projects span the breadth of next-generation ammonia synthesis research, from nanotechnology and electrocatalysis to plasmas and ionic liquids.

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Hydrogen Fueling Station Development in Japan

Two announcements – focused on very different approaches for supplying hydrogen as a transportation fuel – shine a light on Japan’s approach to creating a national hydrogen energy economy. On January 24, the American company Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. issued a press release about the launch of the Shikaoi Hydrogen Farm fueling station in Hokkaido, Japan. The station will be supplied by hydrogen derived from agricultural wastes via anaerobic digestion and Air Products’ biogas purification and steam methane reforming (SMR) technologies. The project was undertaken by a consortium that includes the Japanese companies Nippon Steel and Sumikin Pipeline & Engineering, Air Water, Inc., and Kajima Corporation. Six months earlier, on July 19, 2016, the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) announced that another consortium – this one led by Hiroshima University and including Showa Denko, Taiyo Nichi Company, and Toyota Industries – had succeeded in developing “viable technology to produce high-purity hydrogen [from an] ammonia hydrogen station.”

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Hydrogen Council – new global initiative launched at Davos

This week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the leaders of 13 global companies, representing more than EUR 1 trillion in annual revenues, announced the launch of the Hydrogen Council. This new global initiative is important for obvious reasons: it presents a compelling "united vision and long-term ambition" for hydrogen, it promises global engagement with "key stakeholders such as policy makers, business and hydrogen players, international agencies and civil society," and it pledges financial commitments to RD&D totaling EUR 10 billion over the next five years. It is important for a subtler reason too: it is the first hydrogen industry promotion I've seen that includes ammonia. It includes ammonia both implicitly, encompassing "hydrogen and its compounds," and explicitly, listing ammonia as a "renewable fuel" in its own right.

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Low-carbon ammonia synthesis: Japan’s ‘Energy Carriers’

In 2018, a pilot plant in Japan will demonstrate a new way to produce ammonia at industrial-scale, with a low carbon footprint. This is part of Japan's 'Energy Carriers' R&D initiative, which aims to develop technologies to enable the nation's transition to a carbon-free hydrogen economy. The scope of the program covers ten subjects that encompass the full "CO2-free hydrogen value chain." Three of these ten programs describe a technology pathway for making low-carbon ammonia.