March 2. 2024. 3:24

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There’s a new pathway to decarbonising hard-to-abate industries: green ammonia

For the European Union to win the race to net zero, we must solve the energy trilemma faced by all hard-to-abate industries: we must establish secure supplies of energy that are both commercially competitive and carbon neutral.

Solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy, alongside new energy storage solutions, will be absolutely vital to drive the electrification of our world. However, there are many industries – from shipping to power generation to certain heavy-duty industries – where electrification alone will not be able to meet our world’s carbon-neutral power needs.

To decarbonise these hard-to-abate industries, we have to re-engineer them – swiftly and sustainably, by upgrading and retrofitting as much legacy infrastructure as possible. The energy transformation in the EU and worldwide will need to use multiple pathways to achieve the net zero ambition and meet our climate targets. One of these pathways is an alternative, carbon-free fuel that is only now coming into its own, and that’s green ammonia.

The power of green ammonia

Using ammonia as a carbon-free fuel is extremely promising because it is a well-understood energy source. For starters, it can be produced sustainably via electrolysis and electrosynthesis, especially in countries and regions with large renewable energy potential, such as Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. It’s easy to make from hydrogen and nitrogen, which makes it readily available in the energy sector.

Ammonia is also easier to transport by shipping because it has a higher volumetric hydrogen energy density than other hydrogen carriers but is less technologically challenging to store and transport, which in many circumstances, makes it more efficient and economical as a fuel source. In fact, ammonia can be used as a carbon-free hydrogen carrier. As I’m fond of saying: Ammonia is the perfect way to import the sunshine!

A green pathway for power generation and transport

The real importance of using ammonia as a pathway for decarbonisation, however, is the fact that many parts of the legacy energy infrastructure and its combustion systems can be upgraded or retrofitted to work with this green fuel. IHI is working with partners like GE to develop heavy-duty gas turbines that can be 100% ammonia powered and rolled out across existing gas turbine fleets. This is great news for the decarbonisation targets of power plant operators. That’s even true for coal-fired plants, where the co-firing of ammonia can help to reduce their carbon footprint. The faster the ammonia economy grows, the faster we can achieve pure ammonia combustion in gas turbines, which have higher thermal efficiency during power generation and celebrate the use of the last lump of coal for energy generation.

This green fuel will also play an important role in decarbonising the transport sector, not least when it comes to shipping – both as a hydrogen carrier and a bunker fuel. Our world urgently has to invest in multi-solutions for the transport industry and power generation applications for energy clusters at ports. Ammonia solutions will work for transportation purposes, energy generation and industry if used in line with the marine infrastructure which is already there.

Ammonia means energy independence

IHI is a Japanese company. Our island’s energy self-sufficiency is very low. That’s why we have been working especially hard to explore the potential of green ammonia as we develop an economy underpinned by renewable energy sources. We see the growth of a diversified ammonia market as crucial to securing our country’s energy independence.

With its Green Deal, the European Union now has the opportunity to tap into the ammonia opportunity by helping to develop the regulatory framework and building out the infrastructure needed to unlock this important decarbonisation pathway. I am certain: there cannot be a successful energy transition without green ammonia.

We have launched a dedicated website, “The Ammonia Society”, and opened a Twitter account – @ammonia_society – to debunk common misconceptions and delve into the potential adoption of ammonia in the global economy.