Clean ammonia, which is produced by reacting clean hydrogen with nitrogen and capturing and sequestering the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2), is gaining momentum. In just the past few months, several more new clean ammonia production projects have been proposed along the U.S. Gulf Coast, many of them made possible by commitments from Japanese and South Korean companies that see the low-carbon fuel as an important part of the Far East’s future energy mix. Taken as a group, the dozen-plus projects now under development have the potential to produce tens of millions of tons of clean ammonia annually, and to create yet another massive energy-export market for U.S. producers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the new projects moving forward — and one being put on hold — and what’s driving the clean ammonia market.
A year and a half ago, in Something to Believe In, we looked at Japan and South Korea’s growing interest in co-firing coal plants with clean ammonia as a way to reduce the plants’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We emphasized there — and do so again here — that there is a lot of skepticism regarding the outlook for clean hydrogen and clean ammonia as “fuels of the future,” or more specifically about whether these commodities can ever be produced efficiently and cheaply enough — and in sufficient volumes — to result in their widespread use. Also, there’s a lot of concern that co-firing Japanese and South Korean coal plants with clean ammonia would result in only a modest reduction in GHG emissions and would extend the use of coal, which is widely viewed as the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Still, both Japan and South Korea see the co-firing of coal and clean ammonia as an important element in their energy transition plans. Both countries are on pretty much the same timeline, with plans to demonstrate the effectiveness of co-firing by 2027, commercializing the technology and co-firing coal plants with 20% clean ammonia by 2030, ramping up ammonia’s share of the fuel mix through the 2030s and ’40s, and phasing out coal use entirely — and running plants on 100% ammonia — by 2050. (China, the world’s largest coal consumer, also has experimented with clean ammonia co-firing but has no plan in place to shift to that approach.)
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