On September 11, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) issued its 2019 Investment Plan. The theme of the accompanying press release is “sharpening our focus,” and indeed the agency articulates just three investment priorities: “integrating renewables into the electricity system;” “accelerating the growth of a hydrogen industry;” and “supporting industry to reduce emissions.” The prioritization of hydrogen – and with it, ammonia as a possible hydrogen carrier – is a new development for ARENA.
Last week, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced a "£390 million government investment to reduce emissions from industry," with a focus on low-carbon hydrogen supply and clean steel production. As part of this investment, a consortium led by Ecuity Consulting that includes Siemens, Engie, and the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), has been awarded £249,000 to perform "valuable research on the role of ammonia in the delivery of low cost bulk hydrogen for use in the UK energy system."
Last week IEA Consultant Julien Armijo and IEA Senior Analyst Cédric Philibert submitted their study Flexible Production of Green Hydrogen and Ammonia from Variable Solar and Wind Energy: Case Study of Chile and Argentina to the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy and concurrently posted it on ResearchGate. The study addresses one of the key questions of the energy transition: what are the economics of producing hydrogen, or a hydrogen carrier such as ammonia, at sites with excellent renewable energy resources? The answer, framed in terms of the cost-competitiveness in local markets of green ammonia vs. conventionally produced brown ammonia, casts an encouraging light on the eventual prospects for international trade in green ammonia as an energy commodity.
NEWS BRIEF: Ammonia energy has entered the federal election campaign discourse in Australia. This is thanks to a grassroots movement that calls itself Fair Dinkum Power, which "aims to make climate change a battleground issue in the election campaign," and whose manifesto calls for using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier to export clean energy.
Mission Possible, a recent report published by the Energy Transitions Commission, presents an extremely detailed roadmap for "Reaching net-zero carbon emissions from harder-to-abate sectors by mid-century." The report is designed to support the targets of the Paris Agreement by sending "a clear signal to policymakers, investors and businesses: full decarbonization is possible, making ambitious climate objectives achievable."
Ammonia is one of the crucial solutions that make Mission Possible possible. In its 172-pages, the report details the technologies and the economics behind decarbonizing ammonia, the "likely" adoption of ammonia as the carbon-free fuel of choice for long-distance shipping, and the "key role" ammonia will play in enabling international trade in renewable power.
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.
This week, the government of South Australia announced a "globally-significant demonstrator project," to be built by the hydrogen infrastructure company Hydrogen Utility (H2U). The renewable hydrogen power plant will cost AUD$117.5 million ($95 million USD), and will be built by ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions with construction beginning in 2019.
The plant will comprise a 15 MW electrolyzer system, to produce the hydrogen, and two technologies for converting the hydrogen back into electricity: a 10MW gas turbine and 5MW fuel cell. The plant will also include a small but significant ammonia plant, making it "among the first ever commercial facilities to produce distributed ammonia from intermittent renewable resources."
The University of Western Australia has entered the increasingly competitive field of ammonia energy research in Australia, announcing a collaborative agreement to develop "the world's first practical ammonia-powered vehicle" as well as an "ammonia-based hydrogen production plant."
These goals are supported by funding from the R&D arm of Shenhua Group, formerly a coal company but now "China's largest hydrogen producer with a production capacity to power 40 million fuel cell passenger cars."
Ammonia energy is about the development of technology, but it is also about the mobilization of investment. To be precise, it is about how evolving technology can attract investment and how investment enables technological evolution. A dynamic of this nature is emerging in Australia, where recent citations of ammonia energy in two mainstream venues signal its arrival as a legitimate target for public- and private-sector investment.
The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology recently published a feasibility study, Power to Ammonia, looking at the possibility of producing and using ammonia in the renewable power sector. This project is based in The Netherlands and is led by a powerful industrial consortium.
I wrote about the feasibility study last month, but it deserves closer attention because it examines three entirely separate business cases for integrating ammonia into a renewable energy economy, centered on three site-specific participants in the study: Nuon at Eemshaven, Stedin at Goeree-Overflakkee, and OCI Nitrogen at Geleen.
Over the next few years, the group intends to build pilot projects to develop and demonstrate the necessary technologies. Next month, however, these projects will be an important part of the Power-to-Ammonia Conference, in Rotterdam on May 18-19.
This article is the first in a series of three that aims to introduce each business case.