Australian solar-ammonia exports to Germany

I recently wrote about a vast future market for merchant ammonia: transporting carbon-free energy from Australia’s deserts to Japan’s electricity grid.

Now, however, it is clear that Japan could face international competition for Australia’s solar-ammonia resources. Jeff Connolly, CEO of Siemens Pacific, wrote last month about his ambitions for ammonia as an energy export commodity.

“Germany is phasing out nuclear and coal as it heads towards strong CO2 targets. Security of gas supply is critical – measures adopted by the government include the diversification of supply sources and transmission routes, stable relationships with supplier countries and long term gas supply contracts.

Australia has abundant resources in LNG and will rival Qatar in LNG exports by 2020. And Australia has abundant potential resources in solar and wind with suitable areas multiple times the entire land mass of Germany …

We have more potential resources than we could possibly use … but how do you export renewables?

It currently takes about 12 MWh of electricity to produce 1 tonne of renewable ammonia (containing 176 kg of H2). Cost trends are very favourable for RNH3 (renewable ammonia) following large declines in the cost of solar energy and emerging efficiencies in electrolysis.”
Jeff Connolly, CEO at Siemens Pacific, Can Australia export renewable energy to support geopolitical stability?, 12/21/2016

As Connolly points out, climate change and the need for low-carbon energy is no environmental hoax. “The solutions won’t come from extreme and uncompromising views. It will come from intelligent and open dialogue which includes an understanding of the technology already available to help solve the challenges.”

The technology he describes is a 21st Century improvement on a hundred-year-old process: electrolytic hydrogen fed into a Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis loop.

The challenges for Germany are simple: how to meet its climate targets? Germany aims to phase out nuclear power generation by 2022, generate 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050, and also achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (relative to a 1990 baseline). I might point out that other countries face the same challenges, more or less, although they may have less developed plans to meet them.

At Siemens, however, every challenge is another opportunity.

Siemens “has had continuous operations in Australia since 1872 … ~30 % of Australia’s energy generation capacity is manufactured by Siemens – from wind to coal to solar, LNG and many more. I really want Australia to solve this challenge – put simply, I need Australian industry to be successful so that Siemens can continue to be successful in this region.”

Click to enlarge. Siemens UK website, “Green” ammonia is the key to meeting the twin challenges of the 21st century.
This Siemens-Australia project builds on work that Siemens-UK is already undertaking: a wind-to-ammonia demonstration project, about which we reported in September at

Ian Wilkinson, from Siemens Corporate Technology, UK, presented detailed information about the project at the NH3 Fuel Conference in September 2016, in a talk entitled Ammonia for Green Energy Storage and Beyond. That project is building “an all electric ammonia synthesis and energy storage system demonstration programme at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory,” near Oxford University, which will be producing ammonia until December 2017. After that, Siemens will evaluate its performance and be able to identify future steps.

As Connolly concludes his recent article about Australian solar-ammonia:

“Firstly, for Australia to take advantage of its enormous renewable potential, it needs to export the renewable energy. Is this a long term and stable solution for Germany?

[Secondly,] is there a role for German industry in building the renewable capacity through technology and expertise in Australia? …

“I was recently in Berlin as part of my role on the Australia Germany Advisory Group discussing ideas about increasing bilateral relations in the area of energy. And what I had to say was well received. The opportunities for both countries could be immense.”
Jeff Connolly, CEO at Siemens Pacific, Can Australia export renewable energy to support geopolitical stability?, 12/21/2016

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