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Green ammonia

The challenges of our time are that the world’s population is growing more and more and fossil resources are running out. More people need more food and more energy. In order to protect the climate, we want to reduce the CO2 emissions. Researchers and Industry are focussing on sustainable technologies to stop climate change, develop technologies that make sustainability feasible for business, reduce the carbon footprint of industrial value chains, and move renewable energies forward.


 Ammonia (NH3) is a very simple molecule. It contains a single atom of nitrogen and three atoms of hydrogen. Ammonia is a gas at room temperature and it is significantly lighter than air.  It is flammable, poisonous, and corrosive. It is notorious as a danger to aquatic life.


The majority of ammonia production worldwide is used in agriculture. It is used either directly in form of anhydrous ammonia, or to make a variety of nitrogen-bearing compounds, such as the ubiquitous ammonium nitrate. Ammonia is widely known as a cleaning agent, and is well known for its properties as a glass cleaner. Ammonia’s anti-microbial properties allow it to be useful as a disinfectant. It is also used in processes that involve fermentation.


It can be used as a refrigerant, in which context it is known as R717.  It was frequently used as such before the advent of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as “Freon.” It is making a bit of a comeback as a refrigerant now that the environmental hazards of CFCs are well known.


Because ammonia is widely used in industry and widely transported in such large quantities, it has been involved in a number of industrial and transportation accidents. Some were fairly catastrophic. An infamous incident in May 1976 in Houston Texas, killed five people and injured over 100 when over 7500 of gallons of ammonia leaked. This incident involved a number of contributing factors, and resulted in various recommendations to improve safety and emergency management in the USA.


Most recently, on 25 April 2019, an incident in the Chicago suburb of Beach Park involved two one-tonne containers of ammonia, which leaked. This incident caused the hospitalisation of 37 people, of whom seven were considered to be seriously injured. Residents in the area were evacuated.


Ammonia has some role as a precursor in the production of certain chemical warfare agents. The so-called Andrussow process and the BMA process for making the chemical warfare agent (and industrial chemical) hydrogen cyanide (HCN) use ammonia. A cruder and more dangerous method, used in the 1890s, passed ammonia over glowing coal. Ammonia is also used in the production of the nerve agent Tabun. The manufacture of Tabun generally starts with a chemical compound known as dimethylamine. Dimethylamine can be produced from ammonia and methanol, and it was thus produced in Nazi Germany. Tabun manufacture also requires hydrogen cyanide, which can be produced from ammonia as above.


Ammonia is used to produce a number of explosive compounds. Ammonium nitrate, which is extremely common as a fertilizer around the world, is made from ammonia. It is useful as an explosive, particularly when another higher velocity explosive is used to initiate it.


For example, ammonium nitrate was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Explosive incidents involving ammonium nitrate in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are commonplace. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is often smuggled (example) or otherwise diverted for use in making explosive devices in the current conflicts. Ammonia can be reacted with perchloric acid to make ammonium perchlorate, which is useful as a rocket propellant and can be used as an explosive. Ammonia is also used to make nitric acid, which is the starting point for numerous other explosives. Ammonia’s role as a basic building block for numerous explosives is too extensive to discuss in detail here.


Ammonia also has uses in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine. One method for producing methamphetamine involves a dangerous process which combines ammonia with alkali metals such as lithium. Theft of agricultural anhydrous ammonia, often for methamphetamine production, has been a problem in some rural areas of the United States. Numerous seizures of drugs in the amphetamine family have occurred in Iraq and Syria. Some of the seizures have been from ISIS or their affiliates


Ammonia Manufacturing

Ammonia (NH3),  is mainly used to manufacture fertilizers, 80% of the annual global production of over 170 million metric tons is used in this way. And that should become even more in the next few years. But ammonia can also be burnt to make electricity with air and water the only emissions, or used as a storage medium for energy generated from renewable sources.


Ammonia is the second most-produced chemical in the world and acts as a building block for various endues industries, such as fertilizer, plastics, explosives, fabrics, pesticides, and dyes. However, conventional ammonia making consumes fossil fuels, such as natural gas or coal, for sourcing hydrogen, and as a result, ammonia production is responsible for more than 1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and 5% of the global natural gas consumption.


Globally, about 72% of the total ammonia is produced from natural gas using the steam reforming process. This results in high level of carbon dioxide emissions. Green ammonia uses renewable energy instead of natural gas or coal for producing hydrogen; hence, is an effective way to reduce greenhouse emissions.


Green ammonia is crucial to tackle the existential challenges of producing enough food to feed a growing global population and generating CO2-free energy.  Ammonia is conventionally produced using natural gas as a fuel. Unfortunately, this accounts for around 1.4% of global fossil-fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.



Green ammonia technology is still in its nascent phase. Processes directly producing ammonia from water and nitrogen include electrochemical synthesis, photochemical synthesis, or chemical looping. However, such processes are associated with significant technical challenges, which require investment in time and R&D activities. Most of the ammonia producers are still using conventional methods for producing ammonia.  The electrochemical Haber-Bosch process produces ammona without any greenhouse emissions.



Green Ammonia

But there is an alternative. At thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions we developed a technology that can produce green ammonia from just water, air and electricity generated from renewables. The process involved, alkaline water electrolysis (AWE), is based on the proven chlor-alkali electrode technology developed by thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers, whose expertise and experience in electrolysis technology and EPC execution are based on more than 500 projects with over 10 GW capacity installed worldwide.


Green Ammonia Market

The global green ammonia market is projected to reach USD 852 million by 2030 from an estimated USD 11 million in 2020, at a CAGR of 54.9% during the forecast period. Increasing investments in green fuel and large scale green energy plans driving the green amonia market.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the industries globally. Under the current situations, fossil power generation have faced immense challenges in terms of revenues, projects, CAPEX, and installations. The only segment that has faced least affect amidst this pandemic is renewables energy, however, some of the ongoing renewables energy projects have been put on hold. Green ammonia market is directly affected by renewable energy projects. Green ammonia market is in initial phases, wherein no commercial production have been observed till date. All the projets are in pilot or demonstration phases, and most of these are expected to be operational in coming 2 to 3 years.


Currently, the major factor obstructing the growth of the green ammonia market is the capital intensivemnature of green ammonia plants. A modern ammonia plant has an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. An average CAPEX cost associated with a greenfield project is around USD 1,300–2,000 per ton of ammonia produced. However, green ammonia costs 1.5 times higher than the natural gas-based ammonia plants. Major operational costs in ammonia production are associated with natural gas or coal, which accounts for 75% of the plant’s operating costs. In a green ammonia plant, the cost of electrolyzers increases the cost of operations. Thus, higher capital intensity of green ammonia plants makes it cost inefficient for smallscale production. Thus, such factos hamper the growth for green ammonia market.


The green ammonia market has promising growth potential due to increasing consumption of green ammonia as a maritime fuel The shipping industry currently contributes to 3% of the global greenhouse emissions, and this is mainly due to high consumption of diesel and high sulfur fuel for ships. However, the maritime industry is obliged to cut down its emissions by using cleaner energy sources. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020 regulations has reduced the limit of sulfur in transportation oil used in onboard ships to 0.5% m/m (mass by mass). This will result in transition towards higher quality marine fuels, which will bring growth opportunities for the green ammonia market.


In a bid to reduce greenhouse emissions, a number of companies across the world are shifting towards ecological processes. Such transition is driving the green ammonia market. he main challenge associated with green ammonia is low awareness among chemical producers. The major chemical producers in China, Japan, and Russia are still using natural gas steam methanation technology for producing ammonia. However, the market for green ammonia is expected to gain traction during the forecast period with growing awareness about electrolysis technology and reduction in the cost of renewable power generation.


SOE technology is observed to be new revenue pockets for the green ammonia market owing to the increasing demand for hydrogen systems to cut the carbon emissions. The SOE process is used to produce green hydrogen from surplus electricity generated from renewable sources. Such green hydrogen can be synthesise further in ammonia synthesis plant to produce green ammonia by using SOE technology. Moreover, the green hydrogen produced by the process can be stored and used as a fuel cell, and reconverted into electricity again when the demand arises. This allows the storage of electricity when production exceeds demand. Therefore, increasing demand for hydrogen fuel cells are expected to drive the SOE market during the forecast period.


Europe, North America,  Asia Pacific, and Rest of the World are the major regions considered for the study of the green ammonia market. Europe is estimated to be the largest market from 2020 to 2030, driven by the growth in green hydrogen projects in the Germany and Netherlands. Additionally, favourable government policies and initiatives to produce green hydrogen is expected to drive the demand for green ammonia


The major players in the global green ammonia market are Siemens (Germany), MAN Energy Solutions (Germany), ITM Power (UK), Nel Hydrogen Solutions (Norway), Yara International (Norway) and Haldor Topsoe (Denmark).


Recent Developments

  • In April 2020, ITM Energy was awarded a project by the UK Government to provide green hydrogen solutions in Humberside. The project will lead to the production of renewable hydrogen at the Gigawatt (GW) scale by deploying 100 MW electrolyzers.
  • In February 2020, Nel Hydrogen received a purchase order worth approximately USD 2.2 million for 1 megawatt containerized Proton PEM electrolyzer from Trillium, a provider of installation and operations for innovative energy solutions. Transportation Fuels, LLC, that offers the electrolyzer will be used to produce green hydrogen for a fleet of fuel cell electric buses in Urbana, Illinois, US.
  • In December 2019, Nel Fuel AS, a subsidiary of Nel ASA, formed a joint venture with H2 Energy AS, Greenstat AS (Norway), and Akershus Energi Infrastruktur AS (Norway). These companies provide and distribute green hydrogen to establish Green H2 Norway, in which all parties had an equal share.
  • In February 2019, Uniper and its consortium partners, VNG Gasspeicher GmbH (VGS), ONTRAS Gastransport GmbH, and DBI Freiberg, providers of green energy solutions, built an electrolysis plant in the central German chemical triangle that would produce up to 35 MW of green hydrogen.
  • In Ovt 2021, US-based KBR  announced in Oct 2021 that its leading ammonia technology has been selected by ACME Group for its breakthrough green ammonia project to be built in Oman. Under the terms of the contract, KBR will provide technology license, engineering, proprietary equipment, catalyst, and commissioning services for a plant to produce 300 metric tons per day of ammonia. The plant will be an integrated facility using solar and wind energy to produce green ammonia. KBR is the world leader in ammonia technology with around 50% share of licensed capacity and holds the industry records for the largest capacity plants with a single converter, best energy-efficiency and longest runs without shutdowns. Since 1943, KBR has licensed, engineered, or constructed 244 grassroot ammonia plants worldwide.


New UK joint venture for lightweight, modular ammonia crackers, reported in Nov 2021

Reaction Engines, IP Group, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) launched a new joint venture at COP26 in Glasgow. The group will design and commercialise lightweight, modular ammonia cracking reactors to enable the use of ammonia in hard-to-decarbonise sectors, particularly aviation, shipping and off-grid power generation applications. The design will feature Reaction Engines’ heat exchanger technology developed for its SABRE™ air-breathing rocket engine. In this setup, exhaust heat is utilised to partially crack ammonia back into a fuel blend that “mimics” jet fuel. STFC will lead development of the cracking catalyst, with funding to be provided by IP Group.




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