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.
The company behind the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP) filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2017, ending any hope that it would build its proposed million-ton-per-year "clean coal" urea plant.
This means that every one of the "clean coal" ammonia synthesis projects I've been tracking since 2012 has failed: in California, in Mississippi, and now in Texas. That's three strikes; if hydrogen sources were like baseball, coal would be out.
These projects all shared jaw-dropping cost escalations and multi-year delays that forced financing partners to withdraw.
Yara released its earnings report for the second quarter yesterday, featuring a long tale of woe for nitrogen margins based around the argument that nitrogen commodity prices are depressed due to oversupply.
Still, this won't stop Yara from opening its new world-scale ammonia plant later this year, which remains on schedule at Freeport in Texas.
Agrium announced yesterday that it has "successfully commissioned" its new urea plant at Borger, TX, "with its first run of urea production." The plant had been mechanically complete at the end of 2016.
2016 was a transformative year for the North American ammonia industry but, in 2017, the bigger impact will be on the urea industry.
Here's an update on four urea expansions expected on-stream this year and next, which will add almost two million tons of new urea capacity. In the process, they'll reduce the amount of ammonia that's available for sale by more than one million tons.
And, as a bonus, I have news on an embattled "clean coal" project that, in what might be a last gasp attempt at a viable business model, could potentially add another 1.5 million tons of urea in Texas.
The US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA-E) is funding projects with a view to commercializing low- and zero-carbon ammonia synthesis technologies.
Grigorii Soloveichik, ARPA-E Program Director, described the aims and challenges of his agency's initiative and introduced the technologies currently in development in his keynote presentation at the recent NH3 Fuel Conference, in September 2016.
Pallas Nitrogen announced its intention to reassemble an old ammonia loop, built in the late 1970s and last operated in 2004. The original plant had been designed to use byproduct hydrogen feedstock, and Pallas proposed to restart it at an Air Products facility, using pipeline hydrogen. However, the project became delayed and the most recent information, from 2016, was that Pallas anticipated start-up in 2017. However, it is unlikely that construction ever began.
SUMMARY STATUS: Planning Phase
In May 2015, Agrifos and Borealis announced their agreement to develop a "world-scale" ammonia plant, for start-up in "early 2019." Work has yet to begin, so that schedule is implausible. The location was never specified, but was to be on the Gulf Coast, Texas. The plant was going to use hydrogen feedstock. Borealis intended to have a significant equity stake and a long-term off-take contract for 40% of the ammonia.
Updates came in last week from the various entities that I call Orascom, including OCI Partners, with its expansion underway at Beaumont, TX, and OCI NV, which owns the Iowa Fertilizer Company greenfield at Wever, IA.
The Beaumont plant's expansion has been pushed back to 2015: four weeks of turnaround work will now begin in January, "in order to avoid the holiday season," and other more technical reasons. The debottlenecking project's cost has also ticked up by another $20 million. Members will find an updated project summary in my Research Note.
The Wever greenfield is still on schedule for start-up at the end of 2015, but costs have risen by $100 million to a new total of $1.9 billion. Again, a full project summary is available for Members in my Research Note.
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.
SUMMARY STATUS: Abandoned
Invista cancelled this project because it saw no benefit to producing its own ammonia instead of buying it on the open market. Apparently they expect the price of ammonia to fall when the other new plants start up.
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational
OCI Partners restarted the Beaumont methanol-ammonia plant at the end of 2011, and completed a debottlenecking project in 2015 with minor delays and cost over-runs. Since then, the ammonia plant has been producing at record levels, with output slightly more than 100% capacity in 2016. In December 2016, Dutch majority owner OCI NV launched an all-stock buyout offer to acquire the remaining ~20% of OCI Partners, but this was shelved in April 2017 and the offer terminated.
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.
OWNER: Texas Clean Energy Project (Summit Power Group LLC)
PROJECT: Greenfield plant, urea
SUMMARY STATUS: Bankrupt
The Texas Clean Energy Project was going to be a major "clean coal" power plant with significant urea byproduct but DOE effectively killed the project when it suspended funding. Initiated in 2010 and originally scheduled to be completed by 2014, the project continually failed to raise financing for such a long time that the DOE finally withdrew its support in mid-2016. In December 2016, the developers announced one last idea, ditching power generation altogether to focus on urea production but soon after, in October 2017, the company went bankrupt.