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Ammonia's role in energy transition extends far beyond hydrogen carrier

“For hydrogen infrastructure, green ammonia as a hydrogen carrier has an important economic advantage compared to pure hydrogen gas,” according to Nobuhiko Kubota, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Japanese multinational IHI. “And, the use of ammonia in the energy transition has more advantages.”

Green ammonia value chain

The company IHI, which is one hundred and seventy years old, focuses on engineering and constructing buildings for social infrastructure, including bridges, flood defenses and power stations. Based on the ambition to contribute to the transition to CO2-neutral energy and fuel, the company has been focusing on the development of a green ammonia value chain with new ammonia technology for ten years. IHI will invest 3.2 billion euros in this over the next three years. Development of the production of and infrastructure for green ammonia as a hydrogen carrier is only one part of this.

Economical hydrogen carrier

Returning to the economic advantage of green ammonia as a hydrogen carrier compared to pure hydrogen gas, Kubota mentions four factors that have a favorable effect on the costs of storage and transport of ammonia. “First of all, when storing the same amount of hydrogen, ammonia requires a much smaller tank than pure hydrogen. Secondly, ammonia is already liquid at -33 degrees Celsius, while hydrogen only turns into liquid form at -253 degrees Celsius. Thirdly, due to the larger size of the molecule, ammonia does not leak away through the pores of, for example, a storage tank, which, unlike hydrogen gas, makes ammonia extremely suitable for long-term storage.”

Safe transportation technology

As a fourth point, the CTO mentions the more than one hundred years of experience in ammonia distribution. “There is already a well-proven transport technology for ammonia for which the safety risks have been properly addressed. Consider the common transportation of ammonia as a raw material for fertilizer production and other production processes in the chemical industry. This does not require new R&D activities.”

New ammonia technology

The Japanese multinational's main focus in R&D is the development of new ammonia technology for combustion, gas turbines, generators and industrial furnaces, among other things. Here, ammonia does not play the role of hydrogen carrier but of renewable fuel. Kubota: “Releasing hydrogen molecules from ammonia requires energy. Why wouldn't you use ammonia directly as a fuel, if that is among the possibilities? Ammonia as a fuel can be a good solution for power stations, industrial furnaces and shipping. We now have the technology for this in-house.”

Gas turbines on 100% ammonia

“We recently managed to convert a small 2-megawatt gas turbine to 100% ammonia,” Kubota continues. “For example, for off-grid use in remote or port areas, when there is no connection to the electrical grid, or in the event of a failure of the electrical grid. This gas turbine will come on the market in 2027. In 2030, we will expand with a large gas turbine of 80 to 380 megawatts that is currently being developed in collaboration with General Electric.” With the versatility of IHI technologies for the use of ammonia, it becomes possible to decarbonize energy systems, even for sectors where the energy transition is a complex matter.

Diversification in renewable energy

According to IHI, not one solution but a mix of different solutions is needed to realize the energy transition worldwide. According to them, the use of ammonia creates a great opportunity for energy diversification. Kubota: “We use renewable energy, from wind turbines and solar panels, to directly produce electricity, but also to produce hydrogen. In addition, we focus on green ammonia as an energy carrier because we think we have the technology to use ammonia as a renewable energy source, especially in industry, shipping and power stations.”

International partnerships

IHI is currently building international partnerships for the production of green ammonia and the expansion of the ammonia value chain in, among others, the United States, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, India, and the Middle East. Kubota: “Asia mainly uses ammonia in power stations, while we see Australia, India and the Middle East as promising candidates for the production of green ammonia.” IHI is a newcomer in Europe. The company wants to join the team of ammonia suppliers for Europe and raise awareness of the benefits of direct use of ammonia. IHI is currently focusing on a number of countries, with particular attention to the Netherlands because our country is a leader in the field of direct use of ammonia.

Energy security

An entry point for IHI could be the recent development at the G20 summit. This shows that the EU is actively working with other countries to achieve greater energy security and independence from Russia. Kubota: “Producing green ammonia using wind and solar energy is possible anywhere in the world. Naturally, costs vary per country, but in principle every country can become energy independent and therefore achieve energy security with the help of green ammonia and IHI's ammonia technologies.”

Ammonia society

IHI's ultimate goal for Japan is also more energy independence and a CO2-neutral ammonia society by 2050. The Japanese government supports IHI's mission by compensating for the price difference between the currently still cheaper natural gas and green ammonia in its own country, thereby simultaneously scaling down dependence on nuclear energy and scaling up production of CO2-neutral electricity. For more information, watch the interview with IHI CEO Ide on YouTube, entitled “Could ammonia help tackle climate change in Europe?


This article was written by Heleen van der Maas and originally published on EuroPoort Kringen on 16 October 2023 [here].

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