Project GERI: BP’s green ammonia feasibility study

By Trevor Brown on May 13, 2020

This week, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced funding for the Geraldton Export-Scale Renewable Investment (GERI) Feasibility Study, led by BP Australia. While this project begins small, with a pilot-scale 20,000 ton per year green ammonia plant selling into domestic markets, it could lead to a 1,000,000 ton per year (1.5 GW capacity), export-oriented green ammonia plant.

More broadly, the feasibility study will establish “a pathway to a fully integrated green supply chain with significant global scale.” This includes identifying “enabling infrastructure requirements,” which could unlock the investment opportunity for green ammonia developers across Australia and launch a new industry of renewable energy exports.

BP will be investing AU$ 2.71 million (US$ 1.75 million) in Project GERI, with a further AU$ 1.71 million coming from ARENA. The completion date for the AU$ 4.42 million feasibility study is February 2021.

The Project GERI feasibility study will deliver a detailed techno-economic evaluation of both demonstration and commercial scale green hydrogen / ammonia production plants in Geraldton. This will include an evaluation of different technologies and process configurations … [including] a blend of existing and new technology options …

ARENA website, Project GERI Feasibility Study, accessed May 2020

BP selected Geraldton as the preferred location for the project due, in part, to its vast solar and wind resources, existing port infrastructure and proximity to large, long-term Asian markets.

ARENA announcement, BP Australia study looks to scale up renewable hydrogen for export, May 8, 2020

The project scope also includes outcomes that support the general acceptance of ammonia energy, beyond any specific project. These include identifying “social benefits” in addition to the economic benefits, and demonstrating safety to “harness community support.”

BP investigates green ammonia

BP has not been in the business of producing ammonia for many years but, like most oil and gas majors, it has been deeply involved in the ammonia industry historically, for the purpose of developing its own downstream markets (the Sohio Acrylonitrile Process is one example). As its upstream portfolio transitions from fossil fuels to renewable energy, it makes sense that the company would continue investing in downstream product development — which, for BP’s solar assets, includes green ammonia.

Project GERI represents the first public acknowledgement that BP is investigating green ammonia within its portfolio of clean energy technologies.

The company recently announced a high-profile plan to reach “Net zero by 2050,” which apparently includes Scope 3 Emissions (the carbon content of the oil and gas products it sells but doesn’t directly emit). Achieving these net zero ambitions without a carbon-free fuel molecule, or without long-term, large-scale ways to store and transport renewable energy, will be extremely difficult.

According to BP’s announcement on Project GERI:

The potential pilot plant will look to produce green hydrogen, using onsite and/or grid-sourced renewable power. This will then be converted into around 20 kilo-tonnes per annum (ktpa) of green ammonia. Once developed to commercial scale, this is expected to increase to around 1,000 ktpa of green ammonia, targeted at domestic and export markets. 

The commercial-scale plant would require around 1.5GW of power. This is expected to be sourced from greenfield renewable power generation, enabling the project to benefit from the advantaged solar and wind resource in the region …

Results of this study will be released to the public as part of a knowledge-sharing agreement to help progress the use of renewable hydrogen energy.

BP press release, bp Australia announces feasibility study into hydrogen energy production facility, May 8, 2020

BP Australia has partners on this project. Lightsource BP, which claims to be the “global market leader in solar energy,” and is 50% owned by BP, will “provide and advise on the renewable power solutions.” GHD Advisory is a global “multi-disciplinary consulting firm” that has relevant local credentials, having participated in the development of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy (as well as Canada’s H2GO Strategy). GHD will support BP “to deliver the study.”

Ashley Wright, GHD’s CEO, says, “We are not waiting for a clean energy future – we are building it with our clients and communities.

GHD Advisory announcement, GHD Advisory supports BP Australia’s sustainable hydrogen feasibility study, May 8, 2020