Can ammonia help tackle climate change in Europe? – POLITICS | Popgen Tech
There are many obstacles in the transition to sustainable energy, including funding, policy support and technology readiness. Moving forward, phased transitions, available technologies and processes are key, allowing for steps that can be taken today towards a sustainable future.
Hiroshi Ide is president and chief executive officer of IHI Corporation, a Japan-headquartered comprehensive heavy industry manufacturer founded in 1853, just as Japan was opening itself to the world. IHI played a key role in Japan’s modernization, first in shipbuilding, and then by using its shipbuilding technology to enter new sectors such as heavy machinery manufacturing, bridge building, plant construction, and air motor production. Now IHI’s Ammonia Value Chain Project is on a mission to provide solutions for carbon neutrality through the global application of “green ammonia” in sectors such as energy and transportation.
“We believe ammonia is one of the top solutions for many sectors working towards climate mitigation,” says Ide, “especially given that ammonia can be immediately applied to existing power generation capacity in the energy sector.”
POLITICO Studio sat down with Ide to learn more about the Ammonia Value Chain Project and ammonia’s place in Europe’s green transition.
POLITICO Studio: How does ammonia fit in with other approaches to tackling climate change?
Hiroshi Ide: Building what we call the ‘ammonia society’ is possible because of the massive amount of renewable energy sources that will be added to the global power supply in the coming years. Renewable energy and ammonia are complementary and will work in tandem for the energy transition. In fact, ‘green ammonia’ can drive additional renewable energy into the grid where it could not otherwise be managed. This is achieved by producing ammonia through electrolysis and electrosynthesis in countries and regions with surplus renewable energy potential, such as Australia, the Middle East and Africa. This then enables the “shipping of sunshine” to renewable poor regions, including Japan and some areas of the EU.
It is no surprise that such a solution comes from Japan. Its island position and developed economy require renewable energy sources, but there is limited potential, including even offshore wind sources. The power generation sector is extremely interested in co-firing and pure ammonia combustion (mono-fire) technology and is already running large-scale pilot projects.
What is key about the potential of ammonia is its relationship with hydrogen as a fuel source. In many circumstances, ammonia can be considered a more efficient and economical use of hydrogen than using hydrogen in its pure form. In an ideal world, transporting and storing hydrogen would be technically easy and affordable. However, storage and transport of pure hydrogen remains expensive, technologically challenging and geographically limited, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Ammonia, on the other hand, can be considered a ‘carbon-free hydrogen carrier’ that partially solves the problem of pure hydrogen storage and transport. This is because ammonia’s form is much cheaper and easier to store than pure hydrogen, and it is easily synthesized by reacting hydrogen with the nitrogen that is naturally abundant in the air we breathe. This solution is already being promoted as a policy initiative in markets such as Germany.
PS: Considering the current European context, what are the challenges you identify, and perhaps the opportunities for your sector?
HI: Ammonia presents a great opportunity for shippers in the European maritime sector as a hydrogen carrier and bunker fuel, and it is readily applicable via existing technologies. Ammonia also has an essential role as a fertilizer precursor, which is particularly relevant in a European economy facing massive disruption of its traditional supply of natural gas for ammonia synthesis due to the current energy crisis.
Maritime application of ammonia creates great opportunity to build energy clusters at ports. Investing in multi-solutions is beneficial for transportation, industrial and power generation applications.
We are currently pioneering the co-firing of ammonia with coal in a step-by-step manner and will achieve a 20 percent ammonia mix in a 1,000kw utility scale unit. In the longer term, our goal is to achieve 100 percent ammonia mono-combustion, without fossil fuels. Co-combustion of ammonia with coal is therefore an intermediate step, not a permanent condition. This is a current and realistic solution given the ammonia supply infrastructure, which helps meet the demand for ammonia in the power sector.
PS: Why do you think ammonia is a critical part of the Japanese government’s strategy for a carbon-neutral future, but has not featured as much in global discussions?
HI: The transition phase of co-firing ammonia with existing fuels will enable more energy independence in Europe, especially given the current EU discussions on the transition of nuclear and gas. The potential of renewable sources, including hydrogen and ammonia, is recognized by the European Commission and G7 leaders, so globally we seem to be in line with the application of “green ammonia” in the energy sector.
Historically, the application of ammonia in the energy sector has not been very popular in Europe, but it seems that the status is changing and that businesses are focusing more attention on clean ammonia.
Ammonia is very safe if handled correctly according to well-established and regulated procedures – it is actually much less dangerous than many combustible energy sources due to its low flammability. We have launched a dedicated Ammonia Society website to answer the most popular myths as well as explore and explain how ammonia can be adopted in the global economy.
Japan’s demand for ammonia will grow as we work to increase the ammonia percentage in co-firing with coal from 20 percent. The demand will also grow along with growth in the renewable ammonia market, which can then be used for the increased demand for fertilizers and other chemical raw materials. It is therefore crucial to understand ammonia more globally.
PS: What is IHI’s vision for tackling climate change?
HI: I became CEO during the pandemic and since then our operations have continued under changing circumstances. We operate in a rapidly changing environment and our key focus is on transforming ourselves to meet the challenges of today. International sustainability has become increasingly important amid the expansion of ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing; digital transformation initiatives have reshaped business models and work practices; and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many social changes. We work towards a sustainable economy by balancing environmental protection and economic development.
IHI’s vision is to create the ‘ammonia society’ in the next decade and work towards full decarbonisation by 2050. We believe that solutions coming from Japan can serve growing economies and other developed markets.