A recent Ammonia Energy post mentioned that in December 2017 “the Japanese government . . . approved an updated hydrogen strategy which appears to give ammonia the inside track in the race against liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid organic hydride (LOH) energy carrier systems.” While this news is positive, the hydrogen strategy remains the essential context for economic implementation of ammonia energy technologies in Japan; ammonia’s prospects are only as bright as those of hydrogen. This is why Ammonia Energy asks from time to time, how is hydrogen faring in Japan?
On December 8, the Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun ran a story about the future of coal-fired electricity generation in Japan. The story touched on topics ranging from the plumbing in a Chugoku Electric generating station to the Trump administration’s idiosyncratic approach to environmental diplomacy. And it contained this sentence: “Ammonia can become a ‘savior’ of coal-fired power.”
Clearly an explanation is in order.
In the last 12 months ...
Groups in Australia, Japan, Denmark, the U.K., and the U.S. all made progress with technologies that can be used to convert ammonia to hydrogen at fueling stations. This means that hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles can be handled as ammonia from the point of production to the point of dispensing.
In the last 12 months ...
In July 2017, 19 companies and three research institutions came together to form the Green Ammonia Consortium. Before this development, it was unclear whether ammonia would find a significant role in Japan’s hydrogen economy. In the wake of this announcement, however, ammonia seems to have claimed the leading position in the race among potential energy carriers.
On July 25, the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) announced that a collection of companies and research institutions had come together to form a Green Ammonia Consortium. The 22-member group will take over responsibility for the ammonia aspect of the Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Program (SIP) Energy Carriers agenda when the SIP is discontinued at the end of fiscal 2018. A JST press release states that the Consortium intends to develop a strategy for “forming [an] ammonia value chain,” promote demonstration projects that can further commercialization, and enable “Japanese industry to lead the world market.”
Earlier this month the Eguchi Laboratory at Kyoto University announced advances in ammonia-fueled solid oxide fuel cell technology. The lab was able to produce a functioning fuel cell with a power output of one kilowatt. The device attained “direct current power generation efficiency” in excess of 50% and reached 1,000 hours of continuous operation.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has published the program for its 2017 National Meeting, which takes place next month in Washington DC and includes a session dedicated to the "Ammonia Economy."
The first day of the week-long meeting, Sunday August 20th, will feature a full morning of technical papers from the US, UK, and Japan, covering ammonia energy topics across three general areas: producing hydrogen from ammonia, developing new catalysts for ammonia synthesis and oxidation, and storing ammonia in solid chemical form.
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.”
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.
I wrote last week about ARPA-E's "transformative" ammonia synthesis technologies, describing three technology pathways under development: low pressure Haber-Bosch, electrochemical processes, and advanced electrolysis.
ARPA-E's ambitious R&D program might imply that a meaningful, commercial market for sustainable ammonia is still decades away. It represents, however, only the slow American tip of a fast-moving global iceberg.
In Japan, where there's no debate about climate science, the national effort is already well underway, with three programs to develop low-carbon ammonia synthesis under the Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), 'Energy Carriers.'