Green hydrogen and Ammonia, huh? Let’s talk about it. The drive towards environmental sustainability has long become a global topic and is now the leading focus of most oil and gas companies.
This drive has led to the development of new projects on carbon-free energy sources amongst which Ammonia is gaining attention now! With the newly introduced concept of carbon-free ammonia production, environmental sustainability just took a step forward.
Ammonia, a chemical compound composed of nitrogen and hydrogen has long been a source of fertilizers and is now gaining weight in the energy-mix. Ammonia has an energy density of 12.7MJ/L almost twice that of liquid hydrogen at 8.5 MJ/L, and is easier to transport and distribute compared to hydrogen. “You can store it, ship it, burn it, and convert it back into hydrogen and nitrogen” says Tim Hughes, an energy storage researcher with Giant Siemens in Oxford, U.K.
“In many ways, it is ideal”. In 1909, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed a method to react Hydrogen and atmospheric Nitrogen under high pressure for Ammonia production known as the Haber-Bosch process, but this collection of Hydrogen emits huge amounts of carbon to the environment. Currently Ammonia production, although still based on the Haber-Bosch process, and Hydrogen collection is now centered on environmental sustainability and has a carbon-free origin. Click here to learn more about the Haber-Bosch process.
How is Hydrogen for Ammonia gotten?
Primarily, hydrogen has been collected for decades from Methane through a process known as steam reforming. This process emits CO2 in large amounts to the atmosphere and this has brought about a concern. The term gray ammonia is used to describe ammonia gotten through this conventional Haber-Bosch process. Examples are
Through the drive towards environmental sustainability, Blue Ammonia was introduced. Blue ammonia consists of hydrogen whose CO2 emitted from the steam reforming of methane has been captured and stored for use/reuse. For example in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) projects, collected CO2 can be employed efficiently in secondary injection schemes and Enhanced oil recovery and can also be stored permanently underground. Examples are
Another method of hydrogen collection involves the electrolysis of water powered by alternative/ renewable energy. The electrolysis process emits no CO2 and is by far the most sustainable form of hydrogen collection. Ammonia formed with this hydrogen is termed Green Ammonia. Hydrogen gotten here is also combined with atmospheric nitrogen through the Haber-Bosch process.
The last form of hydrogen is gotten from pyrolysis. A method where methane is broken down into pure carbon and hydrogen. This form of Ammonia gotten from pyrolysis is termed turquoise ammonia. It is termed as being somewhat between blue and green ammonia. Examples are
General Applications of Ammonia
For generations, atmospheric nitrogen was used as fertilizers for cultivation of crops, but with the rapid increase in population and food demand, nitrogen wasn’t sufficient enough to come through. Ammonia quickly came to the rescue. Combining nitrogen and hydrogen made way for rapid food production and demand was fulfilled. The lifesaving compound is still being produced in mass for this purpose till date.
Ammonia is a zero-carbon fuel and can be used to power fuel cells and can be burnt in an engine to produce electricity. This process is 100% carbon free and its byproducts are nitrogen and water (containing hydrogen). These elements can be recombined to form Ammonia again. In other words, renewable.
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Research and current projects have come to discover that Ammonia, when refrigerated to a temperature of -33°C or subjected to pressures of 10-15 bar, can easily be stored as liquid in large refrigerated tanks and transported all over the world by pipelines, road tankers or even ships. Currently a distribution network already exists.
Hydrogen can be used as a source of fuel in electric cars, although it is difficult to transport or store. That’s where Ammonia comes in. Ammonia can be easily cracked at any time to recover hydrogen gas for fuel.
Challenges Facing Green Ammonia as a Source of Energy
- It has been estimated that producing Green ammonia through electrolysis of water, a 100% carbon-free process, would while increasing environmental sustainability, cost twice or four times as much as the conventional process for ammonia production costs.
- The technologies needed to consume this energy such as the fuel cells and engines are still experimental and would not be in use till 2025 according to some reputable companies.
- Although Nitrogen oxide is not hazardous at ambient concentrations, however, it is an irritant gas that causes inflammation of the airways in high concentrations. This threat has brought about questions to the process.
Current projects on Green hydrogen and Ammonia
Until the recent years, most projects on Green hydrogen and Ammonia were small, much like, yielding tens of thousands of metric tons rather than the half million metric tons per year that a conventional Gray Ammonia plant produces.
Currently, advances in Australia and Saudi Arabia and recently Queensland are giving green hydrogen and Ammonia a chance.
Three months ago, April 2022, the Queensland government granted a $4.7bn project on development of a green hydrogen and ammonia plant in Gladstone. It is expected that the fuel sources, green hydrogen and ammonia, would be sold out to mining explosives manufacturer Orica, and an ammonia export terminal would be established in Gladstone.
In the Queensland approved project, there are plans to raise ammonia production up to 5,000 tonnes per day. The production process would be powered solely by renewable energy sources, solar and wind energy. Also the government nominated “clean hydrogen” as a priority low-emissions technology that could, in due time, replace fossil fuels used in energy generation for transportation, electricity generation and other industrial processes. This is in line also with the net-zero target that is expected to be achieved sooner than later.
Ever heard of CIP, yes, the Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. She is currently developing the first phase of Progect Catalina in partnership with Enagas, Naturgy, Fertiberia and Vestas. You may be wondering what project Catalina is. Project Catalina is a massive green hydrogen and ammonia project that aims at introducing the renewable energy sources to Spain. As soon as the project is completed, it should be able to supply 30% of Spain’s hydrogen demand as of current. The project will cut down emissions by up to 1 million tons of CO2 yearly in its first phase and up to 2.5 million tons when it is fully implemented.
India is another country showing promising interests in green hydrogen and ammonia. One of the leading renewables company in India, ACME Group, has shown interest in establishing a green hydrogen and green ammonia production plant in no later than 5 years. The company has established a partnership with Karnataka and soon the company hopes to be a formidable player in the world of green fuel.
Australia’s Yara recently announced its plans to increase its green ammonia yearly production from 3,500 t to 500,000 t per year in Porsgrunn, Norway, with its new electrolyzers. The energy required to run these electrolyzers would come from Norway’s energy grid powered by hydroelectric resources. Yara intends on selling produced green ammonia to ships and hopes to gain incentives from the Norwegian government before it moves forward.
Dyno Nobel, the ammonium nitrate makers, and Queensland Nitrates are also studying 9,000 t and 20,000 t of green ammonia output respectively.
SAUDI ARABIA/ US
The Saudi Arabian project on Green Ammonia turns out to be a big one, the $6.5 billion project on Green Ammonia. This project is a partnership between NEOM, a developer building a carbon city in Saudi Arabia, a US based company, Air products and Chemicals, and the local firm ACWA power.
This project is to sit on the red coast and will be completed in 2025 100% powered by about 4GW of renewable energy. Solar energy during the day and wind energy with turbines at night are expected to generate enough energy to power the electrolyzers. Hydrogen gotten would be combined with nitrogen using the Haber-Bosch process to produce 1.2 million t per year of ammonia.
After production, the US Air products aims at installing network schemes to transport produced green ammonia by ships to specialized plants installed at various depots. These plants would disassociate Ammonia to collect hydrogen for the fueling of about 15,000 buses and trucks.
The CF industries in the US are aiming, in 3 years’ time, to convert 20,000 t of conventional ammonia to green ammonia using electrolyzers and renewable energy from the grid. Costing an estimated sum of $100 million, CF hopes to gain $2,200 per metric ton of green ammonia in the market, almost eight times the price of conventional ammonia.
Researchers all over the globe are chasing the same vision of an “Ammonia Economy” and advances are being made. In Australia’s states, politicians see renewable ammonia as a potential source of local jobs and tax revenues, says Brett Cooper of Renewable Hydrogen, Sidney. The green ammonia project has been as well inclined to create employment opportunities in their hundreds. The state of South Australia also awarded AU$12 million in grants to aid a renewable energy project.
These are just a few of the projects on Green Ammonia and lots more are being set up as we speak. Please leave your comments and questions in the comment section of this article.