Last week Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) announced the formation of a partnership that will support commercialization of CSIRO’s high-purity ammonia-to-hydrogen conversion technology. Michael Dolan, Principal Research Scientist for the ammonia-to-hydrogen project, had signaled such a development on the occasion of the technology’s first public demonstration in August 2018, saying in a contemporaneous Ammonia Energy post that the identity of “a major industrial partner” would be revealed shortly.
The partner turns out to be Fortescue Metals Group (FMG). A November 22 article in Business Insider Australia states that the company will invest “[AUD]$19.1 million [USD$13.8] in technology developed by the CSIRO to make hydrogen vehicles viable in a potential gamechanger for the transport industry.”
The 2018 NH3 Energy Implementation Conference, the first of its kind, took place on November 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the U.S. The focus of the Conference was on steps – current and future – that will lead to implementation of ammonia energy in the global economy. At the highest level, the Conference results validated the relevance and timeliness of the theme. In the words of closing speaker Grigorii Soloveichik, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E REFUEL Program, the Conference strengthened his confidence that “ammonia is a great energy carrier ... with billions of dollars of potential in prospective markets.”
Ammonia Energy has published posts covering pertinent activity in 32 different countries. In most of them, ammonia’s potential as versatile energy vector has reached the point of avowed interest from relevant institutions. In a small handful, it has become a part of national policy. But, as demonstrated in repeated instances throughout the year, nowhere is ammonia energy more robustly embraced than Australia. The central argument behind this assertion is captured in the phrase, “the complete package,” as in “package of resources, policies, players, partners, and investments.”
In the last 12 months ...
If a “meme”, in the definition of British psychology professor Susan Blackmore, “is information copied from person to person, including words, stories, technologies, fashions, and customs,” then clearly there is a meme spectrum that has “esoteric knowledge” at one end and “the common wisdom” at the other. Where does ammonia energy fall on this spectrum? “Esoteric knowledge” it may once have been, but this is no longer the case with the concept’s first incursions into mainstream reporting this year.
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.
NH3FA.Oz, the Australian chapter of the NH3 Fuel Association, held a meeting on August 30 in approximate observance of its one-year anniversary. John Mott, one of the founders of NH3FA.Oz and a member of the NH3 Fuel Association’s Advisory Board, reported that more than two dozen stakeholders from academia, industry, and the public sector participated. The meeting came on the heels of the rapid-fire release of three significant reports, and preceded by a week the announcement of an important set of research grants. The meeting, the reports, and the announcement all made clear that ammonia is fast becoming a fixture in Australian energy policy.
On August 8th Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) gave a public demonstration of its newly developed ammonia-to-hydrogen fueling technology. In an interview this week with Ammonia Energy, Principal Research Scientist Michael Dolan reported that the demonstration drew more media attention than any event in CSIRO’s history – “by a comfortable margin.” The reporting sounded a set of celebratory themes, summed up by this headline from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Hydrogen fuel breakthrough in Queensland could fire up massive new export market. The stories, in other words, focused on what the demonstration could mean for fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and the Australian economy. They did not penetrate to the heart of the matter which involved a practical development whose importance can be uniquely appreciated by the ammonia energy community.
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.
Toyota Motor Corporation announced on April 25 the launch of an effort called the Chita City and Toyota City Renewable Energy-Use Low-Carbon Hydrogen Project. According to the company’s press release, the project is intended as a step toward “the realization of a hydrogen-based society spanning the entire region through mutual coordination and all-inclusive efforts.”
For ammonia energy advocates, the announcement had two elements of particular significance. First is the clear indication that Toyota Motor Corporation is embracing ammonia as a hydrogen carrier – although not as a motor fuel. Second is the project’s stated intention to establish a “system in which Aichi Prefecture certifies low-carbon hydrogen objectively and fairly.”