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Something to Believe In? Part 2 - Co-firing Coal Plants With Ammonia to Reduce CO2 Emissions

For many, coal has become a hydrocarbon non grata in recent years, mostly due to the considerable amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) generated when it is burned to produce electric power or heat. But what if, instead of combusting coal on its own, coal plants were co-fired by a combination of environmentally friendly versions of ammonia and the volumes of CO2 generated were way less? And what if, through the 2030s and ’40s, the ratio of fuels used in these coal-and-ammonia-fired power plants shifted away from coal and toward ammonia, and by mid-century the plants were fueled only by “green” or “blue” ammonia, which generates little or no CO2? It may sound too good to be true — heck, it may well turn out to be! But there is a lot of interest in the idea, especially in Japan, where coal still retains a big share of the power generation mix. In today’s RBN blog, we continue to look at the prospects for environmentally friendly hydrogen (H2) — and ammonia, an H2 carrier — in the power generation sector.

As we said in Part 1, there is a lot of skepticism — even cynicism — regarding the outlook for green and blue hydrogen and 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 justify their widespread use. At the same time, though, a growing number of head-on-their-shoulders power generators, including Beaumont, TX-based electric utility Entergy Texas, are incorporating into their power projects equipment that would at least allow for the possibility of firing the plant with up to a 70/30 blend of natural gas and green, blue, or “pink” hydrogen. [Green and pink hydrogen comes from water run through an electrolyzer powered by renewable energy and nuclear power, respectively, while blue H2 is produced from natural gas via steam methane reforming (SMR), with at least part of the resulting CO2 being captured and sequestered. See You Can Make It If You Try for more.] Entergy Texas has indicated that if environmentally friendly hydrogen does become widely available at a reasonable cost, the Mitsubishi Power equipment at its proposed 1,215-megawatt (MW) Orange County Advanced Clean Power Station (OCAPS) near Bridge City, TX, could be retrofitted to allow for up to 100% H2 fueling. A few other U.S. power generators are planning similar projects.

Today, we shift our attention from co-firing natural gas power plants with hydrogen to co-firing coal plants with green or blue ammonia, which, as you can tell from its chemical symbol (NH3), packs a lot of H2 in each molecule. Ammonia, like hydrogen, comes in many “colors,” in this case depending on how the H2 used to make ammonia is produced. “Gray” ammonia — by far the most common type in today’s market — is made from gray hydrogen produced the old-fashioned way, by running natural gas through the SMR process to produce H2 and CO2, the latter being released into the atmosphere. The hydrogen then reacts with nitrogen using the Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia. Blue ammonia, like that to be produced in large quantities at a planned Air Products & Chemicals plant in Louisiana, is made from blue hydrogen, and green ammonia, like that to be made at a project in Saudi Arabia planned by a joint venture of Acwa Power and Air Products, comes from green H2.

[RBN’s Hydrogen Billboard report tracks the latest developments in the domestic and global hydrogen markets, filtering through the noise with an unbiased lens to deliver impactful hydrogen infrastructure and market analysis. Click here for more information and a sample report.]

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