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CSIRO Membrane: Ammonia to High-Purity Hydrogen

In Australia this week, CSIRO announced funding for the "final stages of development" of its metal membrane technology to produce high-purity hydrogen from ammonia. The two year research project aims to get the technology "ready for commercial deployment," with industrial partners including Toyota and Hyundai.

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Power to Ammonia: the Eemshaven case

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.

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The Hydrogen Consensus

Let’s say there is such a thing as the “hydrogen consensus.” Most fundamentally, the consensus holds that hydrogen will be at the center of the sustainable energy economy of the future. By definition, hydrogen from fossil fuels will be off the table. Hydrogen from biomass will be on the table but the amount that can be derived sustainably will be limited by finite resources like land and water. This will leave a yawning gap (in the U.S., 60-70% of total energy consumption) that will be filled with the major renewables -- wind, solar, and geothermal -- and nuclear energy. This may be as far as the consensus goes today, but more detail is now emerging on the global system of production and use that could animate a hydrogen economy.

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IEA calls for renewable hydrogen and carbon-free ammonia

This week, an important new voice joined the chorus of support for renewable ammonia and its potential use as an energy vector - the International Energy Agency (IEA). In his article, Producing industrial hydrogen from renewable energy, Cédric Philibert, Senior Energy Analyst at the IEA, identifies a major problem with the hydrogen economy: hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels. But his argument for producing hydrogen from renewable energy leads almost inevitably to ammonia: "In some not-too-distant future, ammonia could be used on its own as a carbon-free fuel or as an energy carrier to store and transport energy conveniently."

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Power to Ammonia feasibility study

The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology has just published a feasibility study that represents a major step toward commercializing renewable ammonia. It examines the "value chains and business cases to produce CO2-free ammonia," analysing the potential for commercial deployment at three companies with existing sites in The Netherlands: Nuon at Eemshaven, Stedin at Goeree-Overflakkee, and OCI Nitrogen at Geleen. The project is called Power to Ammonia.

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Ammonia for energy storage: economic and technical analysis

Developers around the world are looking at using ammonia as a form of energy storage, essentially turning an ammonia storage tank into a very large chemical battery. In the UK, Siemens is building an "all electric ammonia synthesis and energy storage system." In the Netherlands, Nuon is studying the feasibility of using Power-to-Ammonia "to convert high amounts of excess renewable power into ammonia, store it and burn it when renewable power supply is insufficient." While results from Siemens could be available in 2018, it might be 2021 before we see results from Nuon, whose "demonstration facility is planned to be completed in five years." But, while we wait for these real-world industrial data, the academic literature has just been updated with a significant new study on the design and performance of a grid-scale ammonia energy storage system.

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On the Ground in Germany

Yet another national laboratory is developing technology for renewable ammonia, this time in Germany at the DLR, the German Aerospace Center. At the Institute of Thermodynamic Engineering, the DLR is developing a method for electrochemical ammonia synthesis at ambient conditions.

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Comparative studies of ammonia production, combining renewable hydrogen with Haber-Bosch

In recent months, research teams from both Canada and Italy have published comparative analyses of sustainable ammonia production pathways. These projects aim to quantify the costs and benefits of combining Haber-Bosch with a renewable hydrogen feedstock. Both projects examine the carbon intensity of ammonia production but, while the Canadian study broadens its remit to a full life cycle analysis, including global warming potential, human toxicity, and abiotic depletion, the Italian study focuses primarily on energy efficiency.

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US DOE funding research into sustainable ammonia synthesis

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is currently supporting six fundamental research projects that will develop "novel catalysts and mechanisms for nitrogen activation," which it hopes will lead to future sustainable ammonia synthesis technologies. These projects, announced in August 2016 and administered by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, aim "to investigate some of the outstanding scientific questions in the synthesis of ammonia (NH3) from nitrogen (N2) using processes that do not generate greenhouse gases."