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The Ammonia Wrap: Haldor Topsøe and Aquamarine to deploy solid oxide electrolysis, green ammonia to carry hydrogen for South Korean steel, and Namibia’s national green ammonia strategy

Welcome to the Ammonia Wrap: a summary of all the latest announcements, news items and publications about ammonia energy. This week: green ammonia from Haldor Topsøe and Aquamarine, "Transhydrogen Alliance", Origin Energy signs deal with Korean steel maker POSCO, Japanese electric utilities move towards ammonia, new funding for CF Industries low-carbon fertiliser in the UK, Japanese partners to study Indonesian blue ammonia output and Namibia's national hydrogen & ammonia strategy.

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The Ammonia Transition: panel wrap-up from the Ammonia Energy Conference

What key challenges lie ahead as ammonia producers embark on the transition to low and zero-carbon ammonia? What are the big producers already doing to smooth and later accelerate this transition? On November 19, 2020, the Ammonia Energy Association (AEA) hosted a panel discussion moderated by Steve Crolius from Carbon Neutral Consulting, as well as panel members Sammy van den Broeck from Yara, Ashraf Malik from CF Industries, and Trevor Williams from Nutrien as part of the recent Ammonia Energy Conference.

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Carbon intensity of fossil ammonia in a net-zero world

In discussions of carbon capture technology for low-carbon ammonia production, there are two informal rule-of-thumb numbers: 60% and 90%. We know we can capture, at very little additional cost, over 60% of the CO2 from a natural gas-based ammonia plant because this is the process gas (the byproduct of hydrogen production). Many ammonia plants already utilize this pure CO2 stream to produce urea or to sell as food grade CO2. The remaining CO2 emissions are in the much more dilute flue gas (the product of fuel combustion to power the process). For some decades we have assumed we could capture most of this but the lingering question has always been: how much of that flue gas is economically feasible to capture? A team of researchers at Imperial College London has just published a fascinating study into this question, entitled “Beyond 90% capture: Possible, but at what cost?” The paper quantifies the tipping point — ranging from 90% to 99%, depending on flow rates and concentration — beyond which it is easier to capture CO2 directly from the air than it is to capture more flue gas emissions.

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Saudi Arabia ships low-carbon ammonia to Japan

Last week, Saudi Aramco and the IEEJ attracted significant media attention when they announced that the first “blue” ammonia has been shipped to Japan. Aramco’s celebration of this shipment of 40 tons of ammonia (not 40 thousand or 40 million, just 40 tons) raises many questions, but makes three things clear. First, projects to demonstrate the carbon footprint of specific batches of low-carbon ammonia are now underway, and these case studies will inform the design of an international low-carbon ammonia certification scheme. Second, there is an urgent need to establish definitions across the industry, or risk losing credibility. Third, Aramco (absolutely the most profitable company in the world, with over a hundred oil and gas fields and almost 300 trillion scf of natural gas reserves) has sent a clear signal that it intends to make and sell ammonia as a decarbonized energy commodity.

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NH3 vs. MCH: Energy Efficiency of Hydrogen Carriers Compared

Volume 174 of the journal Energy, published on May 1, 2019, includes a paper by Shin’ya Obara, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Kitami Institute of Technology in Japan, that should be of interest to hydrogen advocates everywhere.  The paper, "Energy and exergy flows of a hydrogen supply chain with truck transportation of ammonia or methyl cyclohexane," concludes that a hydrogen supply chain based on ammonia has better energy efficiency than one based on methyl cyclohexane (MCH).

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Mission Possible: decarbonizing ammonia

Mission Possible, a major report published at the end of 2018, concludes that decarbonizing ammonia production by 2050 is both technically and economically feasible. Among its 172 pages of assumptions, analysis, and explanation, Mission Possible examines production pathways and markets for green ammonia and its derivative green nitrogen fertilizers. It addresses the relatively straightforward issue of how to replace fossil feedstocks with renewable hydrogen for ammonia synthesis, as well as the more complex question of how to source or supplant the carbon dioxide molecules contained in urea, the most common nitrogen fertilizer. The report's economic conclusions will not surprise anyone involved in ammonia production or politics. Yes, green ammonia is currently more expensive than fossil ammonia, although it won't be for long. And no, "none of the increases in end-consumer prices are sufficiently large to be an argument against forceful policies to drive decarbonization."

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McKinsey report on industrial decarbonization examines pathways to green ammonia

McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm, recently published a report that analyzes the "Decarbonization of industrial sectors," with a focus on the four heaviest emitters: cement, steel, ammonia, and ethylene production. "We conclude that decarbonizing industry is technically possible ... We also identify the drivers of costs associated with decarbonization and the impact it will have on the broader energy system." Of course, "technical and economical hurdles arise," but the report provides valuable analysis of the economic levers that will be required.

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Australia’s Woodside Petroleum Considers Ammonia as a Hydrogen Carrier

At last week’s Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Conference, Woodside Petroleum’s chief executive officer Peter Coleman spoke about the “huge” opportunity in hydrogen energy that will develop for the company over the next 10-15 years.  Coleman sees the Japanese market for hydrogen as a promising destination for Woodside’s substantial reserves of natural gas, and indicated the company is evaluating alternative methods of hydrogen transport including as liquid H2, a liquid organic hydride, and ammonia.

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Carbon Capture Set to Advance in the U.S.

The United States Congress passed a measure on February 9 that could galvanize the production of low-carbon ammonia in the U.S.  The measure, included within the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, amends Section 45Q of the Internal Revenue Code, titled “Credit for Carbon Dioxide Sequestration”.  That section, originally adopted in 2008, created a framework of tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration.  45Q’s impact in the intervening years has been minimal, an outcome attributed by experts to the relatively low prices assigned to CO2 sequestration and the fact that tax credits would be allowed only for the first 75 million tonnes of sequestered CO2.  The new legislation increases the tax credit per tonne of CO2 placed in secure geological storage from $20 to $50, and for CO2 used for enhanced oil recovery from $10 to $35.  It eliminates the credits cap altogether.  With these changes, it now seems possible that low-carbon ammonia could find itself on an equal economic footing with “fossil” ammonia – and this could have consequences well beyond American agricultural markets.

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Royal Society Releases Low-Carbon Hydrogen Briefing

On February 8, the Royal Society released a policy briefing entitled “Options for producing low-carbon hydrogen at scale.”  The briefing evaluates the technical and economic aspects of hydrogen production methods and concludes that it is indeed feasible to produce low-carbon hydrogen at scale.  Part of that feasibility, the briefing says, could be based on the use of ammonia as an expedient for hydrogen transport and storage.