November 26th, 2020 by Tina Casey
Green hydrogen is still clawing its way into the mainstream and here comes yet another powerful new decarbonization trend: green ammonia. If that’s news to you, join the club. Green ammonia was a big mystery just two years ago and now all of a sudden it’s the Next Big Thing — and not just for making the grass grow, either.
Global Shipping Industry Eyeballs Green Ammonia
For those of you new to the topic, ammonia is a main ingredient in commercial fertilizer but it also has potential as a zero emission fuel among other energy -related uses. The shipping industry, for example, is seeking ways to decarbonize, and it’s already taking a long look at ammonia fuel.
That’s not actually a good way to decarbonize right now. Practically all of the world’s ammonia comes from methane, and the main source for that is natural gas.
Look Ma, No Methane
The green hydrogen angle comes in because it can substitute for methane. The method of choice today is to “splitting” hydrogen from water with an electrical current, preferably sourced from wind or solar energy. Take that hydrogen gas and combine it with air-sourced nitrogen and there you have green ammonia.
We’ll get to the shipping industry in a sec, but first let’s take a look over at the fertilizer industry. In a sign of things to come, last month the US firm CF Industries — which happens to be the largest producer of ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen in the world — announced a new green ammonia plan.
The company will construct an electrolysis facility for green ammonia at its Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex in Louisiana. It also plans to add a suite of emissions-reducing systems to help nudge things along in the right direction.
Donaldsonville is just for starters, apparently. In a press release announcing the new facility, CF President and CEO Tony Will explained that “Today’s commitment to decarbonize the world’s largest ammonia production network positions CF Industries at the forefront of clean hydrogen supply. Due to our unparalleled manufacturing and distribution network, our competitive advantage in producing low-carbon ammonia at scale is measured in terms of years and billions of dollars.”
The sticky wicket, of course, is where to get the electricity to run the electrolysis system. Back in the olden days that meant relying on fossil energy (unless some hydro or nuclear is handy), which defeats the whole purpose. Louisiana has been slow on the renewable energy uptake, but Governor John Bel Edwards just announced a plan to tap into the state’s considerable offshore wind resources, and that could help contribute to the CF’s decarbonization plan.
Green Ammonia For Greener Shipping
Turning now to the seagoing shipping area, another green ammonia development with global implications has popped up in that sector.
Last week our friends over at Hellenic Shipping News reported a new initiative that links the leading energy and commodity pricing media organization Argus with the leading risk management firm DNV GL to launch a free, user-friendly search tool for ships seeking ammonia fuel. Under the agreement, Argus will make its extensive database available to DNV GL’s Alternative Fuel Insight platform.
Since the supply of green ammonia is currently rather small, it may be a while for the venture to have any significant impact on shipping emissions. Nevertheless, Hellenic News reports that some firms are not waiting around for the paint to dry, and some fleets are already being retrofitted to run on ammonia.
From Green Hydrogen To Green Ammonia
In yet another sign that the green ammonia trend is catching on bigly, the global wind leader Ørsted is already dipping a toe into the area.
Last month the company announced a partnership with Yara, a global leader in the fertilizer business, to replace some fossil hydrogen with green hydrogen at one of Yara’s ammonia plants in Sluiskil.
The green hydrogen will be sourced from one of Ørsted’s offshore wind farms near the ammonia facility, off the coast of Zeeland.
“The green ammonia is intended to be used in the production of carbon neutral fertilizer products, decarbonizing the food value chain, and also has potential as a future climate neutral shipping fuel,” enthused Ørsted, which is super interesting — no, super-duper interesting — because just days after Orsted announced the new green ammonia agreement, the US Department of Energy entered into a new offshore wind collaboration with The Netherlands.
Louisiana Turns Red State Green
Interesting! When the Energy Department first announced the offshore wind collaboration, CleanTechnica caught on to the green hydrogen angle but we missed the ammonia and shipping fuel angles — almost. Louisiana’s low rates for conventional electricity make it difficult for green hydrogen to compete for power generation, but it could grab a foothold in ammonia and other markets.
The fertilizer and shipping angles shine a whole new light on Louisiana’s new plans for offshore wind. The South Louisiana Seaport bills itself as the “largest tonnage port in the western hemisphere,” so if all goes according to plan the state could become a key destination for ammonia fuel, with an assist from the Argus fuel finder.
How Does This Even Make Sense?
Meanwhile, all the way over in Australia a move is afoot to leverage the nation’s vast wind and solar resources to produce green hydrogen, which can then be used to produce green ammonia for export. Upon arrival at its destination, the ammonia would be shuttled over to a facility that will split the hydrogen gas away.
How does this even make sense? Well, it costs less to transport ammonia than hydrogen. Over the weekend, our friends at Pipeline Journal noted that ammonia is liquified at -33 degrees, while liquid hydrogen requires -253 degrees.
Pipeline Journal also noted that the cost advantage works out best when longer distances are involved, which means that in some markets it would make sense to produce green ammonia from green hydrogen, ship it a long way, and then split the hydrogen off.
Australia is already eyeballing markets in Asia for its green ammonia, and Pipeline Journal suggests that African nations are in a good position to benefit from the EU connection.
If you’re thinking that’s not good news for US natural gas producers, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. The US started loosening its restrictions on liquid natural gas exports during the Obama administration, and with domestic demand shrinking industry stakeholders are depending on the export market for survival. The green ammonia trend could beat them to the punch.
US Shipping Industry Readies For Decarbonization
Oh, well. Presidents come and go, but time marches on. Earlier this month, Forbes published a long form piece on shipping industry decarbonization penned by Nishan Degnarain, who heads up something called the Blue Finance Initiative. The article zeroed in the fact that President-elect Joe Biden is tasked with nominating a new chief of MARAD.
If you don’t know what MARAD is, join the club. As Dengarain informs, it’s shorthand for Maritime Administrator, which is an office in the US Department of Transportation.
Go ahead, read the whole piece for all the juicy details on the impact that a climate-aware MARAD administrator could have on the US shipping industry.
“According to law and legal precedence, dating back to the time of Alexander Hamilton, MARAD is the fourth arm of defense and has power beyond that of the pentagon, legislative and judicial branches,” Dengarain writes.
“The MARAD administrator is not just an Under Secretary of the Department of Transportation like the Head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The administrator is Commandant of the U.S. Merchant Service and is a Four-Star Admiral,” he adds.
Interesting! CleanTechnica will follow up on this MARAD appointment, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy has been pursuing the sustainable hydrogen trend and the ammonia-to-hydrogen angle all throughout the *Trump administration, so it looks like Biden will have a head start on the whole kit and kaboodle when he takes office on January 20, 2021.
Wait, before you go — take a quick look at the hydrogen infographic above and if you spot anything different from an earlier version, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Image: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
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