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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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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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Hydrogen Council – new global initiative launched at Davos

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.

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Breakthrough Energy Coalition targets carbon-free ammonia

A multi-billion dollar clean energy innovation fund was launched last year, at the Paris climate conference. Led by Bill Gates, the private funding enterprise aimed to develop "groundbreaking new carbon-neutral technologies," without specifying details. Now, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is starting work, and one of its initial Technical Quests is to make "Zero-GHG Ammonia Production" a reality.

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Low-carbon ammonia synthesis: Japan’s ‘Energy Carriers’

In 2018, a pilot plant in Japan will demonstrate a new way to produce ammonia at industrial-scale, with a low carbon footprint. This is part of Japan's 'Energy Carriers' R&D initiative, which aims to develop technologies to enable the nation's transition to a carbon-free hydrogen economy. The scope of the program covers ten subjects that encompass the full "CO2-free hydrogen value chain." Three of these ten programs describe a technology pathway for making low-carbon ammonia.

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How to create a market for low-carbon ammonia: product labeling

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.'

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H2 @ Scale: US DOE’s Request for Information

The ammonia energy community has an opportunity to provide input to the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) as it defines priority areas for its new "H2 @ Scale" initiative. The USDOE posted a Request for Information (RFI) on September 9. Interested parties are invited to comment on all aspects of the H2 @ Scale concept. The deadline for comments is November 4. A link to the RFI is provided below.