I've published recent updates on four greenfield nitrogen plants that hope to break ground in 2017, potentially adding 1.8 million tons of ammonia capacity in the US.
The project pipeline is long, however, and others are making progress too. This article provides updates on another four projects that, together, could add more than 4 million tons to North American ammonia capacity through 2022.
Over the last few weeks, I've written extensively about sustainable ammonia synthesis projects funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE). While these projects are important, the US has no monopoly on technology development. Indeed, given the current uncertainty regarding energy policy under the Trump administration, the US may be at risk of stepping away from its assumed role as an industry leader in this area.
This article introduces seven international projects, representing research coming out of eight countries spread across four continents. These projects span the breadth of next-generation ammonia synthesis research, from nanotechnology and electrocatalysis to plasmas and ionic liquids.
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.
Midwest Fertilizer Company continues to juggle progress and setbacks on its $3 billion greenfield nitrogen plant in Indiana, following the December 2016 termination of its EPC contract with ThyssenKrupp. In the last few weeks, we've seen updates on the EPC contract, air permits, debt financing in Pakistan, and the $1.259 billion tax-exempt bond issue in the US.
Five years after breaking ground, and almost three years behind schedule, US Nitrogen's ammonium nitrate plant in Tennessee has finally reached "full production capacity."
This project has been so fraught with problems - permitting, compliance, engineering design, construction, community acceptance, health and safety - that it wasn't always obvious whether the plant would ever be fully operational. Even now, a raft of legal challenges remain unresolved.
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."
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.
Last week, ARPA-E announced funding for eight technologies that aim to make ammonia from renewable electricity, air, and water.
The technological pathways being developed include adaptations of the Haber-Bosch process - seeking improvements in catalysts and absorbents - as well as novel electrochemical processes.
Each of these awards must produce an "end-of-project deliverable." For chemical processes, this will be a "bench scale reactor" that produces >1 kg of ammonia per day; and for electrochemical projects, it will be a "short stack prototype" capable of producing >100 g of ammonia per day.
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.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Energy (DOE) hosted a day-long meeting "to explore the scientific challenges associated with discovering alternative, sustainable processes for ammonia production."
The report that came out of this roundtable discussion presents the participants' views on "the current state-of-the-art and the potential challenges and research opportunities ... for heterogeneous catalysis and homogeneous and enzyme catalysis."
Grannus awarded two contracts for design and technology licensing in November, and it has started December with a third announcement, naming its new EPC partner.
Yesterday's announcement, which sees the previous engineering partner entirely replaced, focuses on the company's business model, which is not to be an ammonia producer, but to be a global licensor of regional-scale ammonia plant technology.
AM Agrigen has had its air permit extended for another year (unlike one other proposed greenfield) but, in its application, disclosed a completely different plan for the project.
For over a year, I've been commenting on the creativity that ammonia project developers have been forced to display, in order to demonstrate a viable business model.
The remaining pipeline of potential new ammonia plants has shifted away from brand-new, multi-billion dollar, world-scale plants producing multiple end products; these demonstrated good efficiencies of scale but became - evidently - almost unfundable.
Now the focus is on developing smaller ammonia plants, using diverse feedstocks, and avoiding as much new machinery as possible.
Over the last few weeks, Iowa Fertilizer Company and its parent, OCI NV, have been busy with the commissioning phase of their major greenfield at Wever, IA. However, they've also been restructuring bond payments, which was necessary "to ensure the successful completion of construction and first year of operations."
In the process, we've seen the bond rating downgraded, the IRS launch an examination, disclosures of project costs rising further, and hints at future mergers & acquisitions.
OCI has successfully refinanced the project. They hope to start producing ammonia soon but, if history is any guide, defining "soon" may be difficult.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has just published the 2014 edition of its Mineral Yearbook: Nitrogen, which is, in my opinion, the best source of basic statistics for the national and global ammonia industry.
I've incorporated this new data in an update to my Salient Ammonia Statistics, which is an excel spreadsheet, available to download.
In case you wondered why the CEO of ThyssenKrupp Industrial Services resigned last week in Germany, it's all because of Midwest Fertilizer Company's greenfield plant in Indiana - and the (alleged) shenanigans involved in securing the Midwest EPC contract from Fatima Fertilizer Company in Pakistan.
Now that Honeywell has spun off its Resins and Chemicals division into the standalone AdvanSix Inc, we finally have some corporate transparency about plant operations.
In its first independent announcements over the last two weeks, notably including an operational update and its Q3 2016 earnings report, AdvanSix has provided lots of details of its financial and operational performance, and specified - for the first time - the plant's ammonia capacity.
Also, we learned that the planned turnaround in the fourth quarter was extended by two weeks of unplanned maintenance, which will hit Q4 2016 earnings to the tune of $20-25 million.