The prospects for green hydrogen, green methanol and green ammonia as transport fuels are growing with three new large-scale production projects underway.

One of the projects, expected to be finalised by 2030, will be located in the Greater Copenhagen Area, and the partners cover the whole value chain for renewable hydrogen and sustainable fuels: Ørsted, Copenhagen Airports, A.P. Moller – Maersk, Haldor Topsoe, DSV Panalpina, DFDS, SAS, Nel and Everfuel.

The Copenhagen project will be executed in three stages. The first stage, which could be operational by as early as 2023, will comprise a 10MW electrolysis plant producing renewable hydrogen for trucks and potentially buses from energy generated by Denmark’s offshore windfarms. By 2027, the stage two facility, equipped with a 250MW electrolysis plant, will combine the production of renewable hydrogen with capture of CO2 from combustion of municipal waste or biomass to produce renewable methanol for ships and renewable jet fuel for planes. Stage three will upgrade the electrolysis plant’s capacity to 1.3GW and capture more CO2.

The project forms part of a wider European Union-level hydrogen strategy, announced earlier this year. The strategy is targeting the production of 6GW of renewable hydrogen by 2024, rising to 40GW by 2030. The strategy also envisages the development of a further 40GW of hydrogen from the EU’s neighbours to the east and south, such as Ukraine and Morocco. While suppliers in the EU’s neighbourhood would be likely to utilise existing gas pipeline connections, other projects offer the possibility of increased seaborne shipments of hydrogen carriers.

Worldscale NEOM facility

The second project will see a green hydrogen production facility established in NEOM, Saudi Arabia. The $5 billion NEOM project, equally owned by partners Air Products, ACWA Power and NEOM, will use about 4GW of renewable power from solar, wind and storage to produce 650 tons per day of carbon-free hydrogen to power buses and trucks around the world. The hydrogen will be converted into 3,500 tons per day (1.2 million tons per year) of green ammonia. Air Products, a leader in industrial gases and mega-project development, will be the exclusive off-taker of the green ammonia and intends to transport it around the world to be dissociated to produce carbon-free hydrogen for the transportation market. The company aims for the carbon-free hydrogen to power buses and trucks around the world by 2025.

Seifi Ghasemi, Chairman, President and CEO of Air Products, says the green ammonia produced at NEOM can be transported via commercially-available ships to any part of the world. The green ammonia would then be taken by truck and delivered to depots where it would be dissociated into carbon-free hydrogen, compressed and provided to the trucks and buses.

“Even the massive NEOM project will produce enough carbon-free (green) hydrogen to power about 15,000-20,000 buses, a small fraction of the estimated 250 million commercial vehicles on the road,” says Ghasemi. “So there will be many more of these projects. We expect to grow significantly in the next decade, and we are positioning Air Products to continue to be the leader in this space.”

The planned green ammonia loop at NEOM will be one of the world’s largest, on a par with the Gulf Coast Ammonia facility to be built in Texas. The project will build the world’s largest single train ammonia synthesis loop with a production capacity of about 1.3 million tons per year. The anhydrous ammonia will be produced from hydrogen and nitrogen feedstock purchased from Air Products. Expected to begin production in 2023, the facility will be located in an industrial complex that has deep-water access and pipeline connectivity.  

Earlier this year, Air Products and Haldor Topsoe, a leader in high-performance catalysts and proprietary technology for the chemical and refining industries, signed a global alliance agreement, and Haldor Topsoe is providing chemical technology for all three projects, as well as for Air Products’ world-scale coal-to-methanol production facility to be built in Indonesia. For the Copenhagen project, this will involve technology to convert captured CO2 into sustainable methanol using hydrogen from the electrolysis of water. The NEOM project uses an ammonia loop which combines hydrogen from the electrolysis of water with nitrogen from the separation of air to produce ammonia.

Techno-economic study of Ammonfuel  

Along with Alfa Laval, Singapore-based product tanker company Hafnia, Vestas and Siemens Gamesa, Haldor Topsoe issued a report in August titled Ammonfuel – an industrial view of ammonia as a marine fuel. The report examines the scalability, cost and sustainability of ammonia as a marine fuel and concludes it is an attractive and low risk marine fuel, applicable both in the transition towards more sustainable shipping and as a long-term solution.

The report highlights that there are already 120 ports equipped with ammonia trading facilities worldwide and 170 ships capable of carrying ammonia as cargo. It indicates that ammonia production would need to be increased from 180 million tons to 330 million tons per year to supply 30% of the marine fuel market demand in 2050. This would require 400GW of power, and it could be achieved by revamping existing plants and building new ones. Between 2025 to 2035, the first dedicated green ammonia plants would be built and scaled up. From 2035 to 2050, the number of large scale green ammonia plants would increase to satisfy demand.  

Today, around 60 million tons a year over capacity is available that could sustain the maritime market initially, offering the potential for a smooth introduction of the fuel with stable costs and availability. Green ammonia prices when smaller plants appear from 2025 would be US$650-850 per ton. In 2030, with larger plants in operation, this could drop to US$400-600, and by 2040 it could drop to US$275-450.  

Ammonia is conventionally produced from natural gas, and by this route CO2 is a byproduct. Natural gas is abundantly available in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, and that is where many natural gas based ammonia plants are located. Adding the shale gas production in the US to this means there is plenty of gas available for new ammonia plants.

However, the majority of the additional capacity is expected to be based on sustainable hydrogen production using renewable energy and electrolysers. Ammonia will probably always be produced where energy is abundantly available and relatively cheap, state the report partners, and this could mean regions with constant wind or sun resources, such as Australia, the Arabian Gulf and Chile as well as the readily available geothermal and wind energy in Iceland and New Zealand. 

Electrolyser costs key constraint 

There will be a learning curve to bring costs down, says Joachim Harteg Jacobsen, Senior Principal Scientist at Haldor Topsoe. This will involve reducing the cost of electricity and reducing the cost of electrolysers and improving their efficiency – both these developments are well underway. Haldor Topsoe has developed a next-generation electrolyser that delivers more than 90% energy efficiency when using power to produce hydrogen as compared to alkaline technologies that offer around 70% energy efficiency. This is vital to making green hydrogen more competitive, he says.

“Then there is the investment cost of the plant as a whole. We see two ways forward. The traditional way of reducing investment costs in chemical plants is by making ever larger plants. That is one thing that could happen. Another way is to scale up production using a more standardised design. Production plants in large numbers will bring the costs down. Either way, the capital cost will go down, and that will bring the cost of green ammonia down.”

Production capacity for electrolysers could be a bottleneck as plant size grows. Therefore, it makes sense to begin the journey for green ammonia production by revamping existing ammonia plants into hybrid plants by introducing electrolysers. This should stimulate the demand for electrolysers and therefore the capacity to produce them should grow, and this is already happening.

In July, Air Products and thyssenkrupp signed an exclusive agreement to collaborate on world-scale electrolysis plants to generate green hydrogen. thyssenkrupp will supply engineering, equipment and technical services for electrolysis plants to be built, owned and operated by Air Products.

thyssenkrupp has developed high-efficiency alkaline water electrolysis technology and has over 600 projects and electrochemical plants worldwide with a total rating of over 10GW realised. “Already today, we are set to supply 1GW for water electrolysis plants per year, and we are prepared to ramp up the capacity in this rapidly evolving market,” said Denis Krude, CEO at thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers.

The Ammonfuel report also includes proposals for the swift and cost-effective establishment of a bunkering grid alongside the current established world grid of ammonia terminals and storage facilities. Small gas carriers could be converted to act as bunkering vessels.

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