The fertilizer industry is learning to love green ammonia
Byon October 25, 2019
Annual Review 2019
Green ammonia is no longer a lonely venture for Yara, which used to appear alone among fertilizer producers in its desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ammonia plants. While dozens of green ammonia demonstration projects and prototype technologies have been demonstrated in recent years, this progress was mostly achieved by energy companies and technology start-ups – and Yara. In the last year, however, fertilizer producers on five continents have begun feasibility studies, launched pilot demonstrations, or simply gone ahead and re-engineered their ammonia plants to replace fossil fuel inputs with renewable hydrogen.
Admittedly, much of the nitrogen fertilizer industry continues to be unaware that green ammonia is technically feasible. Many are simply uninterested in acting to reduce emissions, despite knowing that this action is urgently required on a global basis. But this inertia is starting to be replaced by ambition. The industry is being enlivened, perhaps, by its trade associations, which are beginning to see green ammonia as an opportunity, not a threat.
Fertilizers Europe leads the field so far. In its report Feeding Life 2030, it suggests that 10% of European ammonia could be produced from renewable hydrogen by 2030. This is one million tons of green ammonia, in Europe, ten years from today. This would be a giant leap for the industry and, simultaneously, not nearly enough.
Nonetheless, the feasibility of decarbonization is clear.
If the European Commission sets an objective of net zero emissions economy, across all sectors, in 2050, this would be a huge challenge for the mineral fertilizer industry … the good news is that with the technologies we know today such a future is realistic and possible.Feeding Life 2030: the vision of Fertilizers Europe, Ammonia Energy, May 2019
Yesterday, Gasunie, the owner of the Dutch and German natural gas transmission network, celebrated the first anniversary of Gasunie Waterstof Services, its hydrogen pipeline company. This was one of the many instances we reported this year of major industry players delivering meaningful, quantified emission reductions from existing ammonia plants.
Gasunie Hydrogen Services is today, 16 October 2019, one year in operation. During this year approximately 5 million kilos of hydrogen were transported between chemical company Dow and fertilizer producer Yara International in Zeeland. This transport has taken place continuously in a safe, durable and reliable manner. With hydrogen transport, Yara is able to use [byproduct hydrogen from] Dow Chemicals in the fertilizer production process instead of producing hydrogen from natural gas. Due to the use of this residual product, approximately 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions were avoided. With this first line in Zeeland, a successful start was made with the construction of the Dutch hydrogen backbone. #waterstofGasunie social media update, translated in-app by LinkedIn, October 16, 2019
Two weeks ago I reported on three fertilizer companies that had announced projects to begin replacing fossil fuels with renewable hydrogen at their ammonia plants. Those companies were Incitec Pivot, Wesfarmers, and Ballance-Agri Nutrients. These may not be household names to most people, but they are significant in our fertilizer industry.
The CEO of Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy & Fertilisers, Ian Hansen, is also the Chairman of the International Fertilizer Association’s (IFA) Agriculture Committee. Last month, in IFA’s September Newsletter, Hansen wrote that “Amid growing climate change and environmental concerns, IFA and the fertilizer industry are more dedicated than ever to finding and creating solutions to facilitate more sustainable plant nutrition around the world.”
Words like these cost nothing. It will be the actions that matter, so it is incredibly important to recognize that Hansen’s company, Wesfarmers, just announced its feasibility study for a 20,000 metric ton per year green ammonia plant.
These are small stepping stones. Yara’s electrolyzer pilot with Nel in Norway has the potential to decarbonize 1% of the Porsgrunn plant’s output. Wesfarmer’s project would decarbonize closer to 10% of Queensland Nitrates, in Australia. But don’t mistake small steps for small ambitions. As these demonstrations move forward, the technologies scale up, the costs come down, and the decarbonization impact rises.
The Yara / Nel project will develop a 5 MW electrolyzer in Norway. This month, Siemens announced a 5,000 MW electrolyzer project in Australia. Scale is coming.
Another country with excellent renewable resources is Morocco, and its phosphate fertilizer export giant, OCP Group, continues to develop its green ammonia pilot plant with partners in Germany. (I wrote about this last year.)
OCP’s Chairman and CEO is Mostafa Terrab, also the Chairman of IFA. These are early days for industry acceptance of green ammonia, but the change is unmistakeable.
Green ammonia is on the agenda.
It is my pleasure as IFA Chairman to announce the High-Level Forum on Plant Nutrition, a special event that will take place on 18-20 November in Versailles, France.
This High-Level Forum is intended as a multi-stakeholder dialogue between the fertilizer industry and key international organizations working on agricultural or environmental issues to identify solutions to facilitate more sustainable plant nutrition around the world.Mostafa Terrab, Chairman and CEO of OCP Group, High Level Forum on Sustainable Plant Nutrition.
Ammonia Energy reporting on this topic since last year
- January 2019: Ammonia plant revamp to decarbonize: Yara Sluiskil
- February 2019: Ammonia plant revamp to decarbonize: Yara Pilbara
- May 2019: Feeding Life 2030: the vision of Fertilizers Europe
- July 2019: Green ammonia is key to “making Yara carbon-neutral by 2050”
- August 2019: Yara and Nel collaborate to reduce electrolyzer costs; announce green ammonia pilot in Norway by 2022
- October 2019: Green Ammonia Plants in Chile, Australia, New Zealand
A year in review
This article is part of our Annual Review 2019. To mark the third anniversary of publishing Ammonia Energy, we are highlighting ten “tip-of-the-iceberg” topics that we’ve written about over the last 12 months. In each case, we think we see something just peeking above the current flow of events that is developing into a major phenomenon below the surface.
Read all the stories in our Annual Review 2019.