Zero Emission Ammonia Production from Green Hydrogen

Could the future of renewable energy lie in a basic household chemical under your kitchen sink?  Ammonia might power your household cleaning and fertilize your plants, but it could become an important zero emission energy carrier for moving clean energy around the world economically. Oil & gas, which make up most of our current energy supply, can easily be shipped & stored, but renewable energy that travels through the power grid as electricity cannot.  This prevents renewables from becoming a bigger player in the world market of produced & distributed energy.  It’s also why researchers are working to streamline current processes to convert solar & wind energy into liquid ammonia which would allow it to be shipped around the world & stored as easily as petroleum products for those hot evenings & cloudy days when the wind isn’t blowing & the sun isn’t shining.

We need to master our ability to create cheap green hydrogen for essential ammonia production even if we leave the BEV-vs-FCEV passenger car debate completely out of the picture. The conventional manufacture of ammonia (NH3) is a dirty process.  But without ammonia, we would not be able to produce food for nearly 60% of the world’s population1.  Ammonia is made from nitrogen & hydrogen. Nitrogen molecules are separated from the air we breathe and hydrogen is generally derived from either natural gas or coal in a process which creates greenhouse gasses or about 1.8% of CO2 emissions worldwide2.  Once you have the nitrogen & hydrogen segregated, the Haber-Bosch process is employed to make ammonia.

Fritz Haber was a German chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process used to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen.

Projects are underway around the world that will change how ammonia is manufactured by using renewable solar & wind energy to create the hydrogen from water instead of steam reformed natural gas.  The implications of making “green ammonia” are bigger than just fertilizer too.   Liquid ammonia is also an energy carrier with a higher energy density (11.5 MJ/liter) than liquid hydrogen (8.5 MJ/liter)3.  Ammonia is easier and much cheaper to store & transport than liquid hydrogen because infrastructure & equipment can be used that already exists (e.g. propane infrastructure).  While there are many places around the world working on green ammonia pilot plants (Oxford, United KingdomFukashima, Japan –  Iberdola, Spain& more)  RMP thinks Australia is the world leader in the large scale pilot manufacture of green ammonia.  Australia has abundant renewable energy resources & potential resources available to boost their economy through the manufacture of green ammonia.

Practical Manufacturing of Green Ammonia & Its Energy Storage Potential

There are a number of reasons why Australia is the primary focus of RMP’s first report on green ammonia.  Australia is in the spotlight because of its massive resources and investment in renewable solar & wind energy.  Australia currently has 95 large renewable energy infrastructure projects that are in construction (or due to start construction soon).  These projects will deliver over $19 billion in capital costs, 11,007 MW of new renewable energy capacity and create 13,567 direct jobs4.  Each year terawatt hours of electricity are curtailed5 or go to waste because the electricity cannot be used at the time of generation.  It’s a problem that has and will continue get worse as more renewable electricity generation capacity comes online.

Battery storage solutions that only last for 24 hours or as peakers are great and serve very important purposes.  Battery storage projects also have great payback as short term energy solutions.  However, short burst solutions are part of the problem with massive demand for energy as they only satisfy a fraction of what is needed for base-load power over extended durations.  We need solutions like ammonia that will have costs scale down as usage scales up because of solar, wind, & hydrogen abundance.  Short term battery solutions become too expensive as they scale larger than the peaker size.  Batteries also are not the right solution if we need energy for days, weeks, months, and seasons.  It is one of the toughest problems to solve with renewable energy that has its highest output during hours when humans don’t need electricity and vice versa.  We need a way to store massive amounts of wasted electrical energy so we can have it back when we need it.  As more and more renewable energy comes online, cumulative curtailed electricity numbers will continue to climb without the means to store excess generation.

When in liquid form at ambient temperature, ammonia has an energy density of about 3 kWh/liter and if chilled to negative 35 celsius, ammonia’s energy density approaches 4 kWh/liter6.  Australia can use their vast renewable resources to achieve economical manufacture, production, and storage of green ammonia by simply buying electrolyzers that turn water into H2 & O2.  Australia can be on their way to making more green ammonia with proven technology that is easy to deploy.  While ammonia is an absolute societal necessity for agricultural fertilizer in an established world market, it also has even bigger economic potential as a carrier of energy.  Energy is a new market for ammonia that will displace oil & gas market share.

The Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study is for a demonstration-scale renewable hydrogen and renewable ammonia production and export facility on the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.  Yara’s Burrup Peninsula facility currently produces ammonia by using natural gas as a feedstock for its steam methane reforming process, which produces fossil-fuel based hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used to feed an ammonia synthesis process to produce ammonia. Yara is investigating producing renewable hydrogen to feed its ammonia production process, which will reduce emissions produced by the facility.

yara pilbara
The Yara Pilbara pilot plant will make 30,000 tons of green ammonia that would otherwise be made with fossil fuels. This initial amount of green ammonia replaces 3% of the plant’s fossil fuel capacity. The plant could eventually scale up to 1,000,000 tons of solar PV green ammonia that would otherwise be made with fossil fuels. This is ammonia that already has demand predominantly for fertilizer. (Click image to enlarge).

In collaboration with global energy company ENGIE, the Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study will investigate the feasibility of producing renewable hydrogen via electrolysis powered by onsite solar PV. Yara’s objective is that for the demonstration plant, up to three per cent of the hydrogen consumed on site will be renewable hydrogen. The blended hydrogen will subsequently be converted to ammonia and sold for further processing into domestic and international markets. The feasibility study will also investigate using seawater for the electrolyzer.

The feasibility study will help manufacture 30,000 tons of green ammonia that Yara currently would make using fossil fuels. The study will be the first step on the path to achieving commercial scale production of renewable hydrogen and ammonia for export7. In the long term, Yara is aiming to produce hydrogen and ammonia entirely through renewable energy. This approach will allow Yara to avoid any major augmentation to the existing plant and therefore minimise the cost and time needed to produce renewable ammonia.

This project has the potential to ‘unlock’ the value of vast areas of vacant Pilbara land by supporting the development of a new industry that captures solar energy for conversion to hydrogen and other valuable products.  Because project’s like Yara Pilbara are likely to surpass feasibility expectations similar to most renewable hydrogen projects, its $3.76m price tag is being funded in part by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) with a $995k investment.  The Australian government recognizes how making green ammonia for export can literally transform the continent into an economic powerhouse as renewable generation scales up.

Source: Yara (click to enlarge)

Australia’s government and scientific community want to make green ammonia a significant part of their future economic plans.  Australia has renewable resource potential to produce so much more energy than Australians alone can consume which means ammonia has huge export potential which can quickly increase sovereign wealth.  A challenge associated with using ammonia as a zero carbon energy carrier is “cracking” the ammonia back into its constituent elements nitrogen & hydrogen.  In order to make green ammonia more attractive as an export product, the Aussie’s are attacking this challenge with their top scientific researchers.  Enter Australia’s CSIRO.

Cracking Green Ammonia

CSIRO is Australia’s national science research agency.  The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), says their mission is to shape the future. CSIRO says it does this by using science to solve real issues to unlock a better future for Australia’s community, economy, & planet.  You may remember it was about two years ago to the month (8/08/2018) that CSIRO published a blog post about the successful refueling of a Toyota Mirai & Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel vehicle with ultra pure hydrogen “cracked” from ammonia using a brand new membrane technology created by CSIRO scientists.  The news humbly/quietly signaled a paradigm change in zero carbon energy for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like busses, trucks, trains, airplanes, and passenger vehicles.  If  you have abundant renewable energy to produce green ammonia and a method to crack that ammonia back into hydrogen on demand, you literally have a game changer for green energy.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall was one of the first to ride in the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo vehicles powered by ultra-high purity hydrogen, produced in Queensland using CSIRO’s membrane technology.  The membrane separates ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, while blocking all other gases.  It links hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refueling station.  This means that the transportation and storage of hydrogen – currently a complex and relatively expensive process – is simplified, allowing bulk hydrogen to be transported economically and efficiently in the form of liquid ammonia.

Demonstration of a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle refueled by hydrogen from ammonia “cracked” at CSIRO in Queensland, Australia.  CSIRO’s new membrane technology decomposes ammonia into its constituent elements nitrogen & hydrogen.  The hydrogen is ultra pure 99.999% (aka five nines) hydrogen which means it can refuel a Mirai like this one in about the same amount of time it takes to refuel a gasoline vehicle with similar range. Photo courtesy of CSIRO (click to enlarge)

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” Dr Marshall said.  BOC Sales and Marketing Director Bruce Currie congratulated CSIRO on the successful refueling of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which proved the effectiveness of CSIRO’s membrane technology from generation, right through to point of use.  With this successful demonstration under CSIRO’s belt, the technology will be increased in scale and deployed in several larger-scale demonstrations, in Australia and abroad.  CSIRO’s membrane technology will make green ammonia more attractive to foreign consumers who want to import the zero carbon energy carrier into their smog & CO2 belching countries.  This is particularly relevant for enormous nearby markets like China, Japan, and South Korea who have committed to hydrogen economies to decarbonize and de-smog their cities.

Worldwide Green Ammonia Distribution Logistics

Green ammonia will be competing with many other forms of energy that are fighting for investment dollars.  Ammonia has a couple tricks up its sleeves with regard to affordability & return on investment.  One of the key fuels that ammonia will compete with out on the open oceans is Liquified Natural Gas which has a very high volumetric energy content at 6 kWh/liter compared to ammonia’s 3 kWh/liter at ambient temperature or almost 4 kWh/liter if chilled to -35C.  RMP created our map of all LNG facilities in the world when Cheniere was granted the USA’s first permit to export LNG in 2011.  Green ammonia will have to compete with LNG that has grown significantly since RMP first wrote about Cheniere in August of 2015 just over five years ago.  America now has 5 LNG liquefaction facilities permitted for export & built since 2015.  These are huge investment decisions on plants that take years to build.  Even the F.I.D’s on a new LNG plant can take years because of the risk of investing so much money over such a long horizon.

While LNG liquefaction has received significant investment in the past five years on assets that are expected to deliver for 25 plus year useful lives, LNG is at a severe disadvantage to ammonia for both maritime use & for maritime bunkering.  While ammonia has big advantage over all other 100% green energy carriers with energy density, its real secret weapon against grey and potentially “blue” fuels, like LNG, is its ability to use existing infrastructure like that used for LPGs (e.g. propane).   Financial investments with the strongest bang for their buck always win.  Green ammonia will be a fierce competitor with regard to economic return on investment.

green ammonia
Figure 4 from The Royal Society, Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020.  This infographic shows the energy densities for various green & dirty fuels.  Where ammonia lacks in volumetric energy density versus hydrocarbons like LNG, it more than makes up for it in ease of use & cost effective bunkering for maritime use.

Because ammonia can be liquified at 7.5 bar at ambient temperatures similar to propane & butane, it has a huge advantage over LNG and should really hurt LNG investments as shipbuilders want 100% zero emission vessels.  Ammonia easily fits this role of clean energy ambassador to enormous cargo ships with much cheaper bunkering costs.  Ammonia bunkering costs will be orders of magnitude cheaper than LNG because of the liquefaction trains & cryogenic storage required for LNG.  There is great irony here in that for 10 years we have heard that hydrogen suffers from a “chicken or egg” problem but the truth is the chicken or egg problem befalls LNG to a much more significant degree than ammonia which means hydrogen’s chicken or egg problem also could rapidly become yesterday’s story.

For LNG, the dilemma has been that shipowners have been reluctant to make the switch to LNG as bunker fuel in the absence of ports around the world able to supply it. Yet, the development of the required infrastructure is dependent on such demand. As ammonia is already produced and transported in large quantities around the world by ship, bunker supplies could be readily accommodated, though of course it will have to be expanded once the first ammonia powered vessels are realized, says Niels de Vries, a Naval Architect with C-Job Naval Architects in the Netherlands.

“Nowadays the main consumer of ammonia is the fertilizer industry,” he says. “This industry is supplied by ships which carry ammonia in bulk loads of up to 60,000 dwt. The industry’s existing infrastructure could be used to realize bunker locations for ships in the future, and current production offers the possibility of a smooth transition. There are ports available already that could supply the first ships.”

Vigor, the Pacific Northwest’s biggest shipbuilder, has launched the Harvest, the first liquefied ammonia barge built in the US since 1982. It was built for the Mosaic Co. of Minnesota, a leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash fertilizers, and will be operated in the Gulf by a subsidiary of the Savage Company. The 508-foot hull was constructed at Vigor’s HQ and base facility, the Swan Island Shipyard in Portland, with the assistance of other Vigor divisions in the region. Photo courtesy of Vigor. (Click to enlarge)

Shipbuilders are/were already ready to make an economic case for using ammonia as low emission fuel by combusting it and scrubbing NOx.  But, with ammonia cracking technology like that mentioned by CSIRO that can turn ammonia to hydrogen on demand, you don’t need to combust it because you can use it in a fuel cell which has more than 2x the efficiency of a combustion engine with zero harmful emissions.  All of the sudden, the economics you could use to justify ammonia as fuel have just gotten twice as good & your emissions drop to zero.  It really bodes well for ammonia as a green energy carrier.  Speaking of CSIRO’s technology to crack ammonia into N2 & H2, phys.org just published a recent article August 19, 2020 regarding a new low-cost membrane technology developed by the Korea Institute of Science & Technology (KIST) to decompose ammonia into high purity hydrogen & nitrogen.  More evidence top research authorities like CSIRO & KIST are demonstrating scientists around the world are working fast to unlock the potential of green ammonia.  You can bet there are some labs in the USA & UK that will be touting some similar breakthroughs soon.

RMP had to squeeze in two photos of the new liquified ammonia barge Harvest because life is short and boats are cool.  Look at the size of this massive vessel.  The enormous self-climbing gantry crane was used to lift and position the 680-ton bow and the 470-ton stern modules.  Harvest contains four 1,100 ton ammonia tanks each having a capacity of 5,500 tons of ammonia.  This American made ship created over a million labor hours of good American jobs in Portland Oregon.  We can build more of these and make a significant amount of our energy domestically with green ammonia. Photo courtesy of Vigor. (Click to enlarge)

Recent advances in renewable energy technology have set up the new 2020 decade for continued scaling in the manufacture of zero emission ammonia for sustainable energy.  Because hydrogen is inexhaustible, abundant, and in every local community, it could mean economies of scale could make hydrogen very cheap as old petroleum infrastructure could be retrofitted for ammonia storage & distribution.  Ammonia is already transported by ocean freight by big ships like Vigor’s 508 foot hull Harvest recently built supporting millions of labor hours in America’s pacific northwest Portland area8.  The Harvest was built by American workers using over 9,000 tons of American steel & 4,400 tons of equipment.  The Harvest has four cargo tanks, each capable of holding 5,500 tons of liquid anhydrous ammonia at very low pressure.  This was the first ammonia vessel built in America since 1982!   Think about all the jobs & labor hours America could generate to make even more ships like this that transport ammonia safely across our oceans.  Speaking of safety, we need to talk about safety & toxicity in more detail.

Ammonia’s risk profile is similar in magnitude to methane or methanol.  For ammonia, the main risks are related to health, as ammonia is toxic.  Ammonia’s fire risk profile on the other hand is lower. Ammonia can be stored as a liquid either at -34 degrees Celsius at atmospheric pressure (usually applied for large scale applications) or at room temperature at 10 bar (usually applied for small scale applications).  RMP’s stated mission as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization is to protect our fresh water resources.   Toxic & water are two words that need to always be separate to protect drinking water.  How does RMP recommend a toxic substance, ammonia, and reconcile that position with our mission statement of protecting Michigan’s and the world’s fresh water resources?

Reconciling ammonia’s toxicity with RMP’s mission of protecting freshwater

Ammonia is a product necessary for humans to survive.  Ammonia is a naturally occurring compound being created in your body’s cells right now as you read this sentence.  Ammonia will continue to be manufactured, stored, and transported in the future the same way it is now and has been used in industry for over 100 years.  Like all energy carriers & fuels, ammonia is dangerous and must be handled with appropriate safeguards.  RMP was founded on protecting fresh water and eliminating the use of fossil fuels.  RMP specifically wants to eliminate crude oil from our energy mix first as it causes great harm to our fresh water resources.  Crude oil, gasoline, diesel, and other fuel oils contaminate water wherever they are produced, stored, & distributed.  Crude oil has environmental remediation costs that drain public budgets & and ruin our environment irreversibly no matter how much we spend to try to clean it up. Famous spills like the Exxon Valdez that happened in April of 1989 are still costing money to clean up today9.  That’s just one example of literally thousands of major instances.  Right here in our backyards of Michigan, we remember the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline disaster just over ten years ago that RMP wrote about on its 5 year anniversary.   Ammonia is different in relation to environmental disasters; it’s not like fossil fuels.  While ammonia can cause fish kills on release and can be deadly, its toxicity to the environment is temporary.

As soon as ammonia is released into the environment, it begins neutralizing.  Spilled ammonia, while toxic, will quickly dissipate reacting with moisture to form ammonium. Ammonium then quickly binds to negatively charged soil, organic matter, and clays. Ammonium rarely accumulates in soil because bacteria will rapidly convert the ammonium that is not taken up by plant roots into nitrates (nitrification)9.  Yes ammonia is toxic & can cause accidents that could turn deadly if they’re not handled safely; this is the same with all fuels.  The difference with ammonia is that spill or release events will always be isolated and short term clean ups.  When I think of a serious ammonia accident, I’m reminded of when I was young and I would share my scientific theories with my dad.  My dad would remind me of La Chatlier’s principle of chemical equilibrium.  Ammonia is a good example of something toxic that quickly finds an equilibrium with the environment to form something non-toxic.  I’m glad my dad taught me about La Chatlier’s principle because there is going to be FUD surrounding ammonia just like any other fuel we use.  RMP knows, no matter what form of energy we use, there will be people who oppose it [viciously].

RMP supports green ammonia as part of the solution of clean renewable energy that is safe for the environment.  While dangers exist with ammonia like any other high energy density medium, imagine the flip side:  without ammonia nearly 60% of the world’s population would perish from starvation.   The possibility of an accident is the risk to pay to avoid certain calamity if there was no ammonia.   When the ammonia FUD comes and people say the sky is falling, remember this paragraph.  Ammonia has been in use around the world for a century.  No one has any reason to panic, but ammonia certainly needs to be handled safely similar to any other fuel we use today.

Here are three bullet points from the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions page regarding ammonia when it enters the environment:

  • Ammonia is found throughout the environment in air, water, soil, animals, and plants.
  • Ammonia does not last very long in the environment. It is rapidly taken up by plants, bacteria, and animals.
  • Ammonia does not build up in the food chain, but serves as a nutrient for plants and bacteria.

Again, the points listed above are not to diminish the serious toxic & safety hazards associated with ammonia and the importance of following strict safety protocols to prevent injury, death, or fish kills in an accidental release.   Ammonia, like all other forms of substantial energy carriers comes with strict safety protocols for manufacture, handling, storage, and distribution.

RMP hopes to have made clear in this article why the  leaders and the scientific community in Australia are all in on green hydrogen & piloting green ammonia plants & commercializing technology to crack ammonia into N2 & H2.  In less than one week, on August 27 & 28, 2020, the Australian Chapter of the Ammonia Energy Association will host their 2ND Ammonia = Hydrogen 2.0 Conference (virtual this year due to COVID-19).  The conference will be hosted from Monash University based in Melbourne Australia on the south coast. 

Australia currently has 95 large renewable energy infrastructure projects that are in construction (or due to start construction soon).  These projects will deliver over $19 billion in capital costs, 11,007 MW of new renewable energy capacity and create 13,567 direct jobs.  Source: Australia’s Clean Energy Council (click to enlarge)

China, Korea, & Japan are all in on green hydrogen and will leverage Australia as a regional trading partner.  Australia can provide clean hydrogen energy in a format with a similar economics & logistics to petroleum without the nasty BTEX environmental traits that are silent killers of sovereign wealth. Europe is also expected to be a dominant green ammonia producer according to this article.

Currently, China must invest in all sorts of remote places places in Brazil, Africa, Canada, the USA, and the Middle east to get the coal, crude oil, natural gas, & NGLs  it so desperately needs to provide energy & industrial feedstocks for its over 1.3 billion power hungry consumers.  What if China could do away with crude oil boondoggles & all those far away countries and get clean green energy from domestic production supplemented by a nearby trading partner like Australia?  This is why RMP writes about China’s extensive economic investments into the manufacture of green hydrogen & fuel cells all across China.  The exact same goes for Japan & Korea.  For those who find interest in the study of chemistry & economics, it’s not difficult to see why so many people around the world are investing sovereign wealth into green ammonia and the hydrogen economy.  Green ammonia is a stepping stone on the critical path to a decarbonized society.

Final Conclusion

There are different battery chemistries (NiCd, NiMH, Lead Acid, Li-ion, low cobalt li-ion, lithium polymer) that compete with each other for practical real world applications.  There are many different types of fuel cells (PEM, SOFC, PAFC, Alkaline) that also compete with each other for practical applications.  All will have roles to play with some more dominant than others just like a sports team made up of great athletes.  Similar to the way an artist needs all of the colors in the spectrum on their palette to paint a masterpiece, getting to 100% carbon free energy will need every battery chemistry & fuel cell type to compete with each other on the same canvass of human needs.  Because different types of energy are competitors, it does not mean they must be enemies.  This is true for humans too.

A lot of human energy goes into arguing about batteries vs hydrogen but clenched fists cannot reach for olive branches.  All the battery chemistries & types of fuel cells can compete & coexist in an inclusive arena that understands we will need batteries for some green energy storage & hydrogen for other green stuff.   For example, we will need green hydrogen to make green ammonia because ammonia is essential for life.  And, as long as we invest in green ammonia to make it cheap & abundant, we should also use it as an energy storage medium with a high energy density that replaces the oil & natural gas we use now.  Imagine blue skies & pure drinking water for everyone around the world.  Think about so many people here in America and those around the world who should not have to breathe NOx & SOx pollution because they live near a power plant.  We have hundreds if not thousands of people now living next to SOx & NOx fumes right here in Detroit near Zug Island & DTE’s River Rouge plant.  I know Detroit needs big energy to forge metal & make the cars and trucks that keep America moving, but yuck.  Just yuck.  We gotta just stop with dirty energy.  Ammonia can provide the energy needed to make clean steel in a very cost effective manner here in Detroit, the same way as it can in Australia or Asia.

RMP is a Michigan registered & federal 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  RMP writes about and advocates for clean energy that helps protect our freshwater resources here in Michigan and around the world. RMP also makes maps of clean & dirty energy infrastructure using the Google Maps API.  Follow us on Twitter and like us on  Facebook.  Please click here to make a tax deductible donation to RMP to help us keep publishing free content with no ads & energy infrastructure maps.

The featured infographic image for this post comes from the Iberdola Spain green ammonia pilot plant.  The Iberdola green ammonia plant will be a $177M investment, create 700 jobs, and eliminate 40,000 tons of CO2 each year.


Footnotes:

Footnote #1“Yara Green Ammonia” YouTube, uploaded by Yara International November 2019 @ 17 second mark of 1:54 video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVwDeMPcJio

Footnote #2–  The Royal Society, “Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020 – pp4. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/green-ammonia/green-ammonia-policy-briefing.pdf

Footnote #3 – Frontiers In Energy Research, “Ammonia as a suitable fuel for fuel cells” last modified August 2014 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenrg.2014.00035/full

Footnote #4 – Clean Energy Council “Project Tracker” last updated June 2020 https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/resources/project-tracker

Footnote #5 – ScienceDirect “Sunny with a Chance of Curtailment: Operating the US Grid with Very High Levels of Solar Photovoltaics” November 2019 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004219303967

Footnote #6–  The Royal Society, “Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020 – pp7. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/green-ammonia/green-ammonia-policy-briefing.pdf

Footnote #7–  Australian Government – Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), “Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study” Published February 2020 https://arena.gov.au/projects/yara-pilbara-renewable-ammonia-feasibility-study/

Footnote #8–  Pacific Maritime Magazine, “New Liquefied Ammonia ATB tank barge” Published November 2017 https://www.pacmar.com/story/2017/11/01/features/new-liquefied-ammonia-atb-tank-barge/557.html

Footnote #9–  Anchorage Daily News, “Don’t let government give up on Exxon Valdez restoration” Published June 2020 https://www.adn.com/opinions/2020/06/18/dont-let-government-give-up-on-exxon-valdez-restoration/

Footnote #10–  Minnesota Department of Agriculture, “Ecological Effects of Ammonia Published on the Nitrification Cycle information page. https://www.mda.state.mn.us/ecological-effects-ammonia#:~:text=Ammonia%20in%20Air%20and%20Soil&text=Ammonium%20then%20quickly%20binds%20to,roots%20into%20nitrates%20(nitrification).

Solving the Climate Crisis – Document Review

The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis recently published (June 2020) a massive (547 page) & comprehensive report called “Solving the Climate Crisis”.   The report was prepared by the Majority Committee Staff of the 116th US Congress pursuant to H.RES.6.

RMP is a non-partisan organization and wanted to give a review of this report as it relates to sustainable energy & put partisan politics aside.  Specifically, RMP wanted to sift through some of the important parts of the report that relate to sustainable hydrogen production & storage.  There is a lot of good news on the hydrogen front in this report that RMP wants to highlight as well as some themes I picked up when reading the report.  First, let’s start with an overview of the whole document and then go back to themes & hydrogen specific news because there’s a lot in this mammoth report.

First the Link.  The 547 page document reviewed in this post is called SOLVING THE CLIMATE CRISIS – The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.

Overview:

The Executive Summary starts with the urgency of the climate crisis and how America’s ingenuity & leadership are central to solving it.  In January 2019, House Resolution 6 created the bipartisan Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to “develop recommendations on policies, strategies, and innovations to achieve substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis.” The resolution directed the Select Committee to deliver policy recommendations to the standing legislative committees of jurisdiction for their consideration and action. Over the last 17 months, the Select Committee has consulted with hundreds of stakeholders and scientists, solicited written input, and held hearings to develop a robust set of legislative policy recommendations for ambitious climate action.

The report’s goal is to lay out congressional actions to satisfy the scientific imperative to reduce carbon pollution as quickly and aggressively as possible, make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change, and build a durable and equitable clean energy economy.  In practical terms, this means building and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, the foundation of the American economy and communities; reinvigorating American manufacturing to create a new generation of secure, good-paying, high-quality jobs; prioritizing investment where it is needed the most, including rural and de-industrialized areas, low-income communities, and communities of color; and beginning to repair the legacy of economic and racial inequality that has left low-income workers and communities of color disproportionately exposed to pollution and more vulnerable to the costs and impacts of climate change.

The document is broad & comprehensive and it is not specific to hydrogen only.  Because RMP focuses primarily on hydrogen infrastructure, this post will examine the hydrogen production & storage portions of the document.  Hydrogen was mentioned heavily from pages 1 to 276 along with other technologies.

Infrastructure Initiatives Related to Hydrogen Production & Storage

I recently stumbled on the terms gray hydrogen, blue hydrogen, & green hydrogen.  I’m embarrassed to say I had to look up the difference between gray & blue hydrogen.  As much as I follow this vector of the energy industry, I only confidently knew what green hydrogen is.  Let’s go over the three basic types of produced hydrogen because they’re well differentiated through this big document and it’s very important to distinguish between them.

Gray Hydrogen = hydrogen made from natural gas

Blue Hydrogen = hydrogen made from natural gas with CO2 capture & sequestration

Green Hydrogen = hydrogen made with renewable or surplus renewable energy like solar & wind.  Also, hydrogen made from renewable natural gas.

 

It’s important to distinguish between gray, blue, and green hydrogen for a couple reasons when reading this document as there are certain themes that develop in the first 247 pages.  One of those themes is that our US Department of Energy has become “siloed” and is no longer fit to capitalize on synergies given its outdated structure with new technologies on the rise.  For example, here’s a quote from page 215 & 216 discussing this key bit of information:

The applied energy offices are largely organized by fuel and focus mostly on distinct technologies rather than energy systems. This has caused potentially cross-cutting technologies to be siloed into single applications—such as carbon capture for power generation and hydrogen for transportation, despite both having potential to reduce industrial emissions—and has led to fragmented approaches for or complete disregard of other key platform technologies. Separating basic energy sciences from applied energy also prevents coordination that can help technologies move from the research stage to development and demonstration. There are multiple possible ways to restructure DOE, and many experts disagree on the best method. Some proposals include keeping basic and applied energy research under one Under Secretary to maintain their coordination and organizing applied energy offices by end-use sector rather than fuel.  The reorganization should seek to create a structure that is best suited for accomplishing the updated DOE mission of decarbonization and climate mitigation, as recommended above.

That’s one of the key take aways from the document with regard to reorganizing our energy department to coordinate efforts with CO2 capture & hydrogen production as outlined on page 215-216 above.  This is an important thing to note before we look at several key passages of the document as they relate to “blue hydrogen“.   Blue hydrogen plays a key role in the first 247 pages especially as it relates to industrialized sectors of the economy and the people that live near industrialized urban areas.   Ports are a great example of places that produce tons of noxious fumes that could benefit from blue hydrogen now as green hydrogen sources are developed.  Another example of where blue hydrogen can play a key role is in steel making.  We have the hydrogen technology now to strip CO2 from CH4 & sequester it in geologic formations (as RMP wrote about #CCS in Michigan here).   This “blue hydrogen” can be used to make steel with 90% less CO2 emissions and almost negligible SOx, NOx, & Hg.

Another key thread through the first 247 pages is how hydrogen is not taking a back-seat to any other technology.  The myth of hydrogen versus battery is starting to fade and be replaced by the more common sense approach of hydrogen & batteries working together.   Hydrogen is mentioned in tandem with other technologies throughout the report with dignitas.   In fact, in the urban industrial energy section of the document, hydrogen seems to be the only technology that gets talked about for decarbonized energy (e.g steel making & ammonia).   Hydrogen & batteries are cousins and work together, not against one another.

Let’s look at some key “clips” from this big document to highlight the major points.  The number one point, the only point that can truly move the needle for clean energy, is money money money.   The “ITC” or investment tax credit has always been the #1 most important thing where the rubber hits the road.   Let’s look at this first & most important clip talking about the ITC for hydrogen production & storage technology.

Clip from page 57:

Currently, storage is not independently eligible for an ITC. Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act of 2019 (H.R. 2096/S. 1142), which would create an energy storage ITC for batteries, compressed air, pumped hydropower, hydrogen, thermal energy storage, regenerative fuel cells, flywheels, capacitors, and superconducting magnets. Section 102 of the GREEN Act of 2020 (H.R. 7330) would expand the ITC to include energy storage technology and extend the ITC so that energy storage technologies are eligible for a 30% ITC through 2025. The bill would phase down the ITC to 26% in 2026 and to 22% in 2027. Section 104 of the bill would allow taxpayers to choose a lower tax credit value in exchange for the option to be refunded for any resulting overpayment (“direct pay”).

As you can see above, hydrogen for storage investments is included in the proposed ITC language.  There can be no more important passage regarding hydrogen technology in the document than hydrogen storage qualifying for the ITC.  30% ITC until 2026 should give hydrogen a strong advantage to scale given large scale storage with hydrogen has better economics than any other technology even without an ITC.   With a 30% ITC, large purchase orders for salt cavern geologic hydrogen storage, multiple tank pressurized hydrogen storage, and ammonia (NH3) storage will be written quickly.   Hydrogen storage is up to an order of magnitude cheaper than lithium ion batteries in extended duration megawatt hour storage.  Manufacturers of hydrogen production equipment should be able to use this ITC to highly leverage their scaling advantage as part of the storage process for green hydrogen.  This would allow for rapid reduction of greenhouse gasses.

Graphic above shows clearly how the only week & seasonal class storage that comes close to hydrogen is pumped hydro which is only available in very specific geographies. Hydrogen is not bound by geography so it has a huge advantage in mWh class storage.  By including hydrogen for investment tax credit, growth will accelerate & meaningful reductions in carbon emitting energy will occur.  This has been something RMP has been writing about for years now.  (graphic above comes from IEA, not congressional report)

Clip from page 73:

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the American Energy Opportunity Act of 2019 (H.R. 5335), which would establish a process to standardize permitting for distributed energy systems, including distributed renewable energy generation from solar, wind, hydrogen electrolysis and fuel cell systems, energy storage, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, and hydrogen fuel cell refueling.

This clip is highlighted because it was one of many similar passages:  mentioning hydrogen in the same sentence as other distributed energy systems without hesitation and in the same regard as other solutions.  It demonstrates a paradigm shift away from over ten years of FUD & stonewalling against hydrogen.  Hydrogen has now performed a decade of demonstrations on the longevity & durability of fuel cell stacks in all temperatures & environments.  The successful demonstrations in all forms of transportation & stationary performance for over ten years has silenced the hydrogen myths & critics.  Hydrogen has been safely deployed in busses, trains, cars, airplanes, buildings and maritime vessels for years now.  It’s legitimacy is accepted and 2020 starts the decade of hydrogen scaling.

Clip from page 90:

In May 2019, Reps. Mike Levin (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced H.R. 2764, the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act of 2019. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Senate companion (S. 1487). The bill requires that 50% of sales for new passenger vehicles be ZEVs by 2030. The sales requirement ramps up 5% each year to achieve 100% of new vehicle sales by 2040. The bill is technology-neutral, allowing for electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and other potential zero-emission technologies to qualify.

Theme developing that I like about the document is just about everywhere there was talk about helping zero emission transportation develop, electricity & hydrogen were mentioned in tandem without debate and with equanimity.  It’s working that people are starting to understand that electricity & hydrogen  work together, not against each other.  They’re truly cousins that share an anode & a cathode in their fundamental DNA.  The only difference is one keeps its energy “inside the house” and the other keeps its energy “in the barn out back”.  Batteries & hydrogen are darn near the same thing, so it’s good to see them starting to be recognized as cousins working together to replace fossil fuels with camaraderie.

Clip from page 126:

The public and private sectors are unlikely to adopt zero-emission trucks at scale until the supporting fueling infrastructure is convenient and widespread. CALSTART estimates that converting the nation’s trucking infrastructure to support zero- or near-zero-emission fuels will require $50 billion to $100 billion in public and private investment.329

The Clean Corridors Act of 2019, introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) as S. 674 in the Senate and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) as H.R. 2616 in the House, provides grant funding to state, local, and tribal governmental entities to facilitate installation of electric charging stations and hydrogen fueling infrastructure along designated corridors in the National Highway System. The bill envisions that this infrastructure would have to accommodate large vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks.

The passage above was a gem of a find for RMP.  Actually the bit that was so cool to find was footnote #329 which explains a $137 million dollar investment in electric charging & hydrogen refueling infrastructure throughout key cross country corridors for heavy duty trucking.   Not only is this fantastic news on its face, the link also had GIS mapping of these hydrogen corridors which is the first time I’ve ever seen that.  This will allow RMP to lift those latitudes & longitudes to add these future “hydrogen corridors” to our Google Map of all hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the USA.   RMP’s map of hydrogen refueling infrastructure can be found here & is constantly being updated:  https://www.respectmyplanet.org/public_html/united_states

Clip from page 257:

To achieve wide use of hydrogen at a reasonable cost, industry will need infrastructure to generate and transport hydrogen to facilities and to store hydrogen before and after transport. One option is to generate hydrogen at a small number of large-scale facilities and then distribute it through a pipeline network to individual industrial facilities. Another option is to generate it at a larger number of more dispersed, small-scale facilities, which would require less distribution infrastructure. Instead of transporting hydrogen directly, hydrogen producers could also transform the hydrogen into ammonia or methane for transport or storage.

This important passage mentions supporting technology to transform hydrogen into methane & ammonia.  The word being used throughout the document is “building block” and there’s a heavy focus on industrial applications.  One of the things I have always thought people failed to realize is the connection between industrial applications and transportation.  When industry starts creating more & more hydrogen, it becomes more ubiquitous for refueling.  When it becomes more ubiquitous for refueling, people will look around to each other and realize the chicken/egg problem they’ve been talking about for over a decade has miraculously solved itself.  The next chicken/egg joke will be that people will ask: which came first the hydrogen vehicle or the hydrogen refueling station?

After about page 276, the document shifts to political wrangling of who is going to finance this massive overhaul of our energy sector.  The document goes into other areas after page 276 like carbon removal, taxing people who produce carbon intensive energy, and carbon taxes in general.  Basically, this is the part when you ask “Who’s going to pay for all this?” and the current companies that are dying are going to be asked to pay for the initiatives.  This is the part where I really think we need to work together to train our workers in current industries to do new jobs in new industries.  We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.  We must let fabricators, production managers, warehouse personnel, engineers, and the like find pathways to jobs in a zero emission future from their current jobs to produce fossil based energy.  We cannot give all subsidies to startups with no track record while tax paying workers lose their jobs through this transition.  We must make sure we create good jobs & a tax paying base with people from industries that will be phasing out.

Please read document yourself as I only picked a couple selected passages out for review.  There’s a ton more information in there at 547 pages.  Thanks for reading RMP’s little review of this big document as it relates to hydrogen production & storage infrastructure.

USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2020-Q1

Welcome new readers of RMP’s quarterly H2 infrastructure report.  Each quarter we look back on the major stories related to hydrogen infrastructure advancements and we compare the current AFDC database to the AFDC database in the prior quarter to see what has changed.  The AFDC database is updated by the US Dept of Energy & can be found by clicking here.  Canada does not have a centralized database of alternative fuel vehicle information so we collect Canadian data by hand.  Ok, on with the report…

The opening quarter in 2020 has many important headlines but there are two major events for hydrogen infrastructure in North America that will be the focus of this article:  1) On March 5, 2020 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the Fuel Cell Energy & Toyota collaboration micro grid project that will use directed biogas from cow manure to produce 100% renewable #hydrogen for Class 8 trucks at the Port of Long Beach & the Port of Los Angeles. 2) On January 31, 2020 Air Products & the Orange County Transit Authority opened the largest fast fill hydrogen refueling station in America at OCTA’s Santa Ana Bus Base on the banks of the Santa Ana River in Southern Los Angeles.

The significance of the Project Portal approval is well conceptualized with a famous economic analogy.  One of my favorite authors, Reed Jacobson, once wrote something in a computer programming book that has stuck with me for over 20 years:  “Long before Henry Ford, and even before Marc Brunel, the economist Adam Smith reasoned that in a single day, a single worker could make only one straight pin, but ten people could subdivide the work and create 48,000 pins in the same day—an almost 5,000-fold increase in productivity.”   The concept Reed was teaching in that one sentence was the concept of writing a ‘loop’ in a computer language.  A loop is a chunk of computer code called a subroutine that specializes in one purpose & therefore can execute its special purpose very fast.  If you spend the time to get that loop set up correctly, its payback to you in terms of run-time execution & lines of code reduced, is 5,000-fold.  That powerful concept has helped improve productivity in our economy for hundreds of years in many different industries as well as helped me write more effective code for over twenty years now. Continue reading “USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2020-Q1”

USA’s First Hydrogen Passenger Rail – San Bernadino California

America’s first hydrogen fuel cell train is expected to be operational in San Bernadino California in 2024 and there’s a cool connection back to Michigan State University. Hydrogen fuel cell powered trains are already in public service in both Germany & China. Hydrogen fuel cell trains create their own electricity onboard by running hydrogen from a tank & oxygen from the ambient air through a fuel cell. That electricity powers a motor that runs the wheels & on-board “right-sized” battery pack that buffers electricity flow and the only emission is potable water. Hydrogen fuel cell trains are being hash tagged on Twitter as #Hydrail.

The San Bernadino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) has begun mainline construction on the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, which is bringing the next generation of passenger rail service to the East Valley. To celebrate this momentous occasion, SBCTA had a Groundbreaking Event on July 19,2019 near the corner of Third Street and Stuart Avenue in Redlands.

california hydrogen train
The Redlands Rail project in San Bernadino California is already under construction & will be operational by 2021. A hydrogen fuel cell powered train is on order from Stadler that should be operational on the new route by 2024. If you want to see a real world Google map of the rail route, click here. (click image to enlarge)

The Redlands Passenger Rail Project will add a nine-mile rail connection between the University of Redlands and the San Bernadino Transit Center, a multi-modal transit hub that can provide access to all points west. When completed, the project will house the Arrow commuter line, featuring specially designed zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell powered trains. The zero-emission units will be the first of their kind in North America. The Arrow system is expected to be operational in 2021 & up to date information about construction on the project & road crossing closures as the construction plays out can be Continue reading “USA’s First Hydrogen Passenger Rail – San Bernadino California”

USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2018-Q4

hydrogen fuel cells

Welcome new readers of RMP’s quarterly H2 infrastructure report.  Each quarter RMP looks back on the major stories related to hydrogen infrastructure advancements in the USA & Canada.  RMP compares the current Alternative Fuels DataCenter database to the AFDC database in the prior quarter to see what has changed.  The AFDC database is updated by the US Department of Energy & can be found by clicking here.   RMP also follows the #hydrogen hashtag on Twitter to stay plugged into the latest develops around the world.  Clickthrough to read all the updates & news from the past three months. Continue reading “USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2018-Q4”

Quarterly USA H2 Report Becomes Quarterly USA & Canada H2 Report

RMP is based near Detroit, Michigan.   The Detroit River separates the City of Detroit & the City of Windsor.  The Ambassador Bridge connects the two cities and soon the Gordy Howe International Bridge, a once in a generation undertaking, will be a second major bridge connecting the two cities.  Windsor is my personal connection to Canada and has been woven into the fabric of my life since I was a child.  I can remember seeing Ronald Reagan at Cobo Hall in the morning & crossing the bridge to Windsor and seeing Queen Elizabeth in Windsor on the very same day.   The USA & Canada border is vast and the friendship & commerce all along the USA & Canada border provides many folks from Washington to New York their own personal connections to our neighbor to the north.

Canada is also a leader in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology.  Ballard Power is Continue reading “Quarterly USA H2 Report Becomes Quarterly USA & Canada H2 Report”

USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q2

This quarterly report looks back at all the H2 infrastructure activity from the previous three months. This issue of our report is focused on activity that occurred between 3/31/2018 and 6/30/2018. With things happening faster now than they have in the past, we may need to make this a monthly report in the near future. If you like keeping up to date on RMP’s H2 data observations, please subscribe to our blog by entering your email address in the WordPress subscribe widget. RMP uses the AFDC database as our main source to generate the information in this report. Several data updates on the Alternative Fuels Data Center database occurred this quarter, which is the 2nd straight quarter RMP has monitored higher frequency in data updates since we started following the AFDC database over six years ago. The AFDC database is also the main source of RMP’s Hydrogen Station Map. Areas of the database that have been stagnate for years, now show an increased frequency in updates. RMP notices every small change from quarter to quarter using special data analytics techniques developed over years of tracking environmental data & creating our environmental Google maps. You can help RMP improve our research & publications by making a tax-deductible donation (USA only) by clicking here.

Seven data records for H2 stations disappeared from the database this quarter. Two of the stations no longer showing on the AFDC database are the Continue reading “USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q2”

USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q1

Respectmyplanet.org has created a new quarterly report called the USA H2 Infrastructure Quarterly Update. This is our 2nd report since our inaugural report on 12/31/2017, but our first with the new ‘quarterly’ title.  You can read our first H2 infrastructure update report published in December by clicking here.  A quarterly frequency should be appropriate to report on H2 station construction & news in the USA, but things are certainly happening faster now than they have in the past. This report may need to become a monthly report in the near future if the pace continues to quicken.

More things H2 related are happening in the USA now than they ever have in the past. There were more data updates on the Alternative Fuels Data Center DB (AFDC database) this quarter than in Continue reading “USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q1”

2016 Michigan Hydrocarbon Production Results – Full Year

The MDEQ publishes full year numbers for hydrocarbon production about 4 to 5 months lagging behind calendar date.  That means these 2016 full year numbers are a little late, but better late than never.  The good news is 2017 results will be ready in May of this year so full year results for 2017 will be just around the corner.

Michigan Natural Gas Production 2016

One of the things RMP talked about in October 2016 was Riverside LLC becoming Continue reading “2016 Michigan Hydrocarbon Production Results – Full Year”

December 2017 – USA Public H2 Fueling Station Update

RMP will begin publishing regular updates of H2 infrastructure build out going on in the USA starting with this very post. RMP created a map several months ago to show all H2 stations in the USA, which you can see by clicking here. Currently, public H2 fueling stations have been predominantly located in California. And, while California continues to be the only state with significant infrastructure to support a fleet of vehicles, the activity there is picking up at a pace not seen over the past couple years. The eastern seaboard has also entered into the public H2 infrastructure game with multiple stations in the planning phase. Things are Continue reading “December 2017 – USA Public H2 Fueling Station Update”