The second annual Power to Ammonia conference, which took place earlier this month in Rotterdam, was a tremendous success. It was again hosted by Proton Ventures, the Dutch engineering firm and mini-ammonia-plant pioneer, and had roughly twice as many attendees as last year with the same extremely high quality of presentations (it is always an honor for me to speak alongside the technical wizards and economic innovators who represent the world of ammonia energy).
However, for me, the most exciting part of this year's event was the fact that, for the first time at an ammonia energy conference, all four of the major ammonia technology licensors were represented. With Casale, Haldor Topsoe, ThyssenKrupp, and KBR all developing designs for integration of their ammonia synthesis technologies with renewable powered electrolyzers, green ammonia is now clearly established as a commercial prospect.
The newest ammonia plant on the planet has opened in Freeport, Texas.
A joint venture between Yara and BASF, this world-scale ammonia plant uses no fossil fuel feedstock. Instead, it will produce 750,000 metric tons of ammonia per year using hydrogen and nitrogen delivered directly by pipeline. The plant's hydrogen contract is structured so that the primary supply is byproduct hydrogen, rather than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, and therefore the Freeport plant can claim that its ammonia has a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
This new ammonia plant demonstrates three truths. First, low-carbon merchant ammonia is available for purchase in industrial quantities today: this is not just technically feasible but also economically competitive. Second, carbon intensity is measured in shades of grey, not black and white. Ammonia is not necessarily carbon-free or carbon-full, but it has a carbon intensity that can quantified and, in a carbon-constrained economy, less carbon content equates to higher premium pricing. Third, the ammonia industry must improve its carbon footprinting before it can hope to be rewarded for producing green ammonia.
Dyno Nobel's new plant at Waggaman, LA, is producing ammonia above its daily rated capacity. Conversely, total production in 2017 is expected to be closer to 80% of annual capacity, because it is likely to be taken offstream regularly this year while it ramps up.
This article discusses the early performance of the Waggaman ammonia plant, and the cost overruns it saw during construction.
The Louisiana governor joined Incitec Pivot and Dyno Nobel last week for a "dedication event" for the new ammonia plant at Waggaman, LA. The festivities included a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a ceremonial plaque, despite the fact that the plant is not quite finished with its commissioning process.
SUMMARY STATUS: Cancelled
In July 2015, the Louisiana governor's office announced that Lithuanian investors intended to build an ammonia plant in Pollock, by retrofitting an idled biodiesel plant. The air permit was issued in December 2016, disclosing project details. Construction was going to begin in 2017 for start-up in 2019 but, in April 2017, the project was "put on hold indefinitely."
If you want to know whether - or when - the US will become a nitrogen exporter, read what the fertilizer company CEOs say during the latest round of quarterly earnings calls.
These guys should have formed pretty solid opinions by now about how the capacity expansions will affect long-term supply and demand, and how they're going to gain/keep market share and competitive advantage. But it can be a challenge to infer what those opinions might be.
I've summarized the pertinent parts of the debate here, with quotes from Agrium, CF Industries, KBR, LSB Industries, OCI, Potash Corp, and Yara.
OWNER: AM Agrigen Industries
PROJECT: Greenfield ammonia-urea plant
SUMMARY STATUS: Planning Phase
Greenfield ammonia plant: in development since 2012, permits approved in 2015, delayed, then completely redesigned in 2016. Now awaiting EPC announcement and revised budget and schedule. AM Agrigen has made no public announcements but permit documents reveal changing scale and technology licensors.
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational
In April 2018, Yara announced that the Freeport ammonia plant was operational. Start-up was delayed from the original 2017 target, in part by Hurricane Harvey. Yara and BASF held a groundbreaking ceremony in July 2015, five months after the companies confirmed their investment decision and announced details of their joint venture relationship, the EPC contract award, and a 20-year feedstock supply contract.
OWNER: Mississippi Power Company (Southern Company)
PROJECT: Greenfield power plant, ammonia byproduct
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational / Abandoned
The Kemper County Energy Facility, a 582 MW power plant, was one of the US DOE's flagship "clean coal" projects. It would have produced ammonia as a byproduct of its coal-to-syngas process. The plant has been producing power from natural gas since August 2014, but experienced profound delays and budget overruns with the coal portion, which now appears to have been abandoned, with layoffs at the adjacent coal mine.
In September 2016, local news reports implied that Magnida was winding down. The project was first announced in 2013, as a revitalized fertilizer version of a power plant initially proposed in 2005. Magnida's equity was originally committed in full, but became uncertain when costs escalated and the project met with resistance, finally the sponsor pulled out and new equity partners could not be found.
A flurry of press releases regarding Midwest Fertilizer / Fatima Group’s Mt Vernon greenfield. Contracts to KBR for a 2,200 ton per day ammonia plant, and Jacobs Engineering Group for project management. New details released: confirming my original guess of project scale, at 800,000 tons per year; construction to begin Nov ’14, take three years. I assume delays, so start-up 2018. I still think this project is “possible” – but I won’t call it “likely” until they break ground. KBR booked the contract value (undisclosed) into its backlog for 4Q2013.
SUMMARY STATUS: Planning
In December 2017, this proposed ammonia-urea plant was relaunched as Projet Bécancour: a methanol-urea production facility. IFFCO Canada is still the primary project sponsor, making good on its promise, when it put the plant on hold in October 2016, that "Le projet n'est pas mort." The brownfield plant was originally announced in 2012 for a 2017 start-up, but was put on hold repeatedly when construction costs ballooned from $1.2 to more than $2.0 billion, natural gas feedstock supply could not be secured, and the urea market tanked.
OWNER: Dakota Gasification Company (Basin Electric Power Cooperative)
PROJECT: Existing plant, urea brownfield
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational
Dakota Gasification Company's new urea plant started up early in 2018, when granular urea became the 11th product made at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant (DEF became the 12th). Fertilizers now represent more than 50% of the entire plant's expected revenues. Construction on the new urea plant began in Summer 2014, and would have been completed by mid-2017 but destructive storms flattened the new urea storage building in 2016, which had to be demolished and the foundations ripped out before construction could restart. A small ammonia expansion was completed during the project.
SUMMARY STATUS: Ammonia expansion Cancelled, Urea brownfield Operational
In April 2017, Agrium "successfully commissioned" its brownfield urea plant at Borger, which had been under construction since March 2014, more than a year behind schedule and 10% over budget. An expected debottleneck of the ammonia line was cancelled in 2015. In January 2018, Nutrien was formed through a "merger of equals" between Agrium and PotashCorp that was originally announced in September 2016.
SUMMARY STATUS: Financing phase
In October 2018, Cronus announced that it had awarded an EPC contract, with revised project scope. Awaiting financial close, before construction can begin; no groundbreaking yet. In August 2017, Cronus had also announced a reconfigured project, with a reduced capacity, lower capex, and a more realistic schedule. Also in 2017, its original air permit expired, after many extensions, and Cronus must now apply for and receive a new air permit before construction can begin. This project has been repeatedly postponed over the years.
OWNER: The Mosaic Company
PROJECT: Ammonia plantdebottleneck and brownfield ammonia plant
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational
Faustina has been producing ammonia since 1968. Mosaic chose to implement an emissions reduction project in 2017 instead of a debottleneck at Faustina. In October 2013, Mosaic abandoned plans for a $1.1 billion ammonia brownfield plant, because it became "unnecessary" after Mosaic acquired CF Industries' phosphate operations. In early 2018, Mosaic derated the capacity at Faustina.
PROJECT: Nitrogen plant, restart, expansion and urea brownfield
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational, Planning Phase
The Geismar ammonia plant started up in 1967 but was idled in 2003, due to the high cost of natural gas feedstock. PotashCorp restarted the plant in February 2013 at a cost of $260 million. Air permit documents reveal plans for significant future expansions. In January 2018, Nutrien was formed through a "merger of equals" between Agrium and PotashCorp that was originally announced in September 2016.
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational
Announced in 2013, PotashCorp's latest ammonia expansion came online in October 2015 after a 7-week turnaround. The urea expansion came online in 2014. The Lima site has been producing ammonia since 1955. In January 2018, Nutrien was formed through a "merger of equals" between Agrium and PotashCorp that was originally announced in September 2016.
SUMMARY STATUS: Planning phase
Major setbacks in 2016, when the EPC contract was awarded and then fell apart following a corruption scandal and a failure to secure equity financing. Major setbacks predicted in 2017 and confirmed in 2018, related to debt financing. Air permits were extended in 2017 but any progress now depends on winning a legal argument with the IRS.
OWNER: Ohio Valley Resources
PROJECT: Greenfield nitrogen fertilizer plant
SUMMARY STATUS: Financing Phase
Air permit was granted in September 2013; extended in March 2015 and extended again in September 2016. Two major companies awarded FEED and EPC in December 2013; agreements now presumed expired. Financing MOUs in place with foreign investors, February 2014; expired. "Finalization of project financing has delayed project construction." Any announcement of a new project sponsor - or project abandonment - is unlikely until the status of other, nearby greenfields is confirmed.