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The fertilizer industry is learning to love green ammonia

ANNUAL REVIEW 2019: Green ammonia is no longer a lonely venture for Yara, which used to appear alone among fertilizer producers in its desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ammonia plants. While dozens of green ammonia demonstration projects and prototype technologies have been demonstrated in recent years, this progress was mostly achieved by energy companies and technology start-ups - and Yara. In the last year, however, fertilizer producers on five continents have begun feasibility studies, launched pilot demonstrations, or simply gone ahead and re-engineered their ammonia plants to replace fossil fuel inputs with renewable hydrogen.

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Yara and Nel collaborate to reduce electrolyzer costs; announce green ammonia pilot in Norway by 2022

This week, two Norwegian companies, fertilizer producer Yara and electrolyzer manufacturer Nel, announced an agreement to test Nel's "next generation" alkaline electrolyzer at an ammonia production site. The parties expect to begin operating a 5 MW prototype in 2022, feeding green hydrogen directly into Yara's 500,000 ton per year ammonia plant at Porsgrunn.

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New Video Summarizes SIP Energy Carriers Accomplishments

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Japanese Government’s Cabinet Office and the Japan Science and Technology Agency have released an English-language video that summarizes the accomplishments of the Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program’s Energy Carriers initiative.  The release coincides with the end-of-March conclusion of Energy Carriers’ work, and anticipates this month’s formal activation of the Green Ammonia Consortium.

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Green ammonia: Haldor Topsoe’s solid oxide electrolyzer

Haldor Topsoe has greatly improved the near-term prospects for green ammonia by announcing a demonstration of its next-generation ammonia synthesis plant. This new technology uses a solid oxide electrolysis cell to make synthesis gas (hydrogen and nitrogen), which feeds Haldor Topsoe's existing technology: the Haber-Bosch plant. The product is ammonia, made from air, water, and renewable electricity. The "SOC4NH3" project was recently awarded funds from the Danish Energy Agency, allowing Haldor Topsoe to demonstrate the system with its academic partners, and to deliver a feasibility study for a small industrial-scale green ammonia pilot plant, which it hopes to build by 2025. There are two dimensions to this technology that make it so important: its credibility and its efficiency.

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Small-scale ammonia: where the economics work and the technology is ready

The movement toward small-scale ammonia is accelerating for two reasons. First, small ammonia plants are flexible. And, second, small ammonia plants are flexible. They are feedstock-flexible, meaning that they can use the small quantities of low-value or stranded resources that are widely available at a local scale. This includes flared natural gas, landfill gas, or wind power. And they are market-flexible, meaning that they can serve various local needs, selling products like fertilizer, energy storage, or fuel; or services like resource independence, price stability, or supply chain robustness. While the scale of these plants is small, the impact of this technology is big. As industry-insider publication Nitrogen+Syngas explained in its last issue, "as ammonia production moves toward more sustainable and renewable feedstocks the ammonia market is facing a potentially radical change."

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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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ThyssenKrupp’s “green hydrogen and renewable ammonia value chain”

In June, ThyssenKrupp announced the launch of its technology for "advanced water electrolysis," which produces carbon-free hydrogen from renewable electricity and water. This "technology enables economical industrial-scale hydrogen plants for energy storage and the production of green chemicals." Two weeks later, in early July, ThyssenKrupp announced that it was moving forward with a demonstration plant in Port Lincoln, South Australia, which had been proposed earlier this year. This will be "one of the first ever commercial plants to produce CO2-free 'green' ammonia from intermittent renewable resources." The German conglomerate is one of the four major ammonia technology licensors, so its actions in the sustainable ammonia space are globally significant.

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Science Publishes Feature Article on Ammonia Energy

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.

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Green ammonia demonstration plants now operational, in Oxford and Fukushima

Two new pilot projects for producing "green ammonia" from renewable electricity are now up and running and successfully producing ammonia. In April 2018, the Ammonia Manufacturing Pilot Plant for Renewable Energy started up at the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute - AIST (FREA) in Japan. Earlier this week, Siemens launched operations at its Green Ammonia Demonstrator, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory outside Oxford in the UK. The commercial product coming out of these plants is not ammonia, however, it is knowledge. While both the FREA and Siemens plants are of similar scale, with respective ammonia capacities of 20 and 30 kg per day, they have very different objectives. At FREA, the pilot project supports catalyst development with the goal of enabling efficient low-pressure, low-temperature ammonia synthesis. At Siemens, the pilot will provide insights into the business case for ammonia as a market-flexible energy storage vector.