Fertilizers Europe published an important report in late 2018 that examines key drivers for the fertilizer industry and describes the "likely developments expected between now and 2030." These developments include producing "perhaps 10%" of European ammonia from renewable electricity by using electrolyzers to generate renewable hydrogen feedstock. This would require scaling up green ammonia production capacity to more than a million tons per year, within ten years.
The report, Feeding Life 2030, also describes the policy framework required "to sustain the Vision." In this vision, ammonia sits at "the crossroads of nutrition and energy" and is recognized as "the ‘missing link’ in the coming energy transformation."
One of the most interesting unanswered questions surrounding green ammonia is this: what about urea?
Last month, a major announcement by Stamicarbon ("the world market leader in design, licensing and development of urea plants") implies an answer: in the long-term context of climate change, urea as a fertilizer may simply need to be phased out.
Stamicarbon announced its new Innovation Agenda at the company's "Future Day" event in Utrecht in April. Its Innovation Agenda covers three areas: speciality fertilizers, digitalization, and "Renewable production of fertilizer (using wind or solar energy to produce fertilizer)."
Haldor Topsoe has greatly improved the near-term prospects for green ammonia by announcing a demonstration of its next-generation ammonia synthesis plant. This technology uses a solid oxide electrolysis cell to make synthesis gas (hydrogen and nitrogen), which feeds Haldor Topsoe's existing technology: the Haber-Bosch plant. The product is ammonia, made from air, water, and renewable electricity.
The "SOC4NH3" project was recently awarded funds from the Danish Energy Agency, allowing Haldor Topsoe to demonstrate the system with its academic partners, and to deliver a feasibility study for a small industrial-scale green ammonia pilot plant, which it hopes to build by 2025. There are two dimensions to this technology that make it so important: its credibility and its efficiency.
In late 2018, JGC Corporation issued a press release to celebrate a "world's first" in ammonia energy, demonstrating at its pilot plant in Koriyama both "synthesis of ammonia with hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water by renewable energy, and generation of electricity through gas turbines fueled by synthesized ammonia."
By demonstrating the feasibility of using ammonia on both sides of the renewable energy equation -- first, producing green ammonia from intermittent renewable electricity and, second, combusting this carbon-free fuel for power generation -- the project demonstrates the role of ammonia in the "establishment of an energy chain ... that does not emit CO2 (CO2-free) from production to power generation."
Siemens Gamesa, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer (by installed capacity), has announced a partnership with local climate innovation fund Energifonden Skive to investigate the production of ammonia from wind power at an eco-industrial hub in Denmark's "Green Tech Valley." The announcement describes "an agreement to jointly explore eco-friendly ammonia production as a way to store surplus electricity from wind turbines. The goal: a pilot plant at GreenLab Skive."
Last week, OCP Group announced plans to develop green hydrogen and green ammonia as sustainable raw materials for use in fertilizer production. This includes building pilot plants in both Germany, already under construction, and Morocco, yet to begin construction, as well as "the possible establishment of an African Institute for Solar Ammonia."
Two new pilot projects for producing "green ammonia" from renewable electricity are now up and running and successfully producing ammonia.
In April 2018, the Ammonia Manufacturing Pilot Plant for Renewable Energy started up at the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute - AIST (FREA) in Japan. Earlier this week, Siemens launched operations at its Green Ammonia Demonstrator, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory outside Oxford in the UK.
The commercial product coming out of these plants is not ammonia, however, it is knowledge.
While both the FREA and Siemens plants are of similar scale, with respective ammonia capacities of 20 and 30 kg per day, they have very different objectives. At FREA, the pilot project supports catalyst development with the goal of enabling efficient low-pressure ammonia synthesis. At Siemens, the pilot will provide insights into the business case for ammonia as a market-flexible energy storage vector.