GECF: Blue ammonia's role in energy transition

GECF: Blue ammonia’s role in energy transition

In its expert commentary, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) has revealed the potential and benefits of blue ammonia as a clean fuel of the future.

Illustration; Courtesy of NYK
GECF: Blue ammonia's role in energy transition
Courtesy of NYK

As reported in the latest edition of the GECF Global Gas Outlook 2050, the demand for natural gas is expected to increase by 50 per cent from 3,950 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2019 to 5,920 bcm by 2050. This will make it an integral part of the world’s energy supply.

To meet IMO’s ambitions on reducing ghg emissions, there is a strong increase in demand for alternative fuels.

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Gas producers have begun to consider hydrogen as crucial fuel for sustainable global decarbonisation, with blue ammonia also emerging as a prominent fuel to boost a low-carbon economy.

Even though LNG appears as one of the best options to achieve IMO’s goals at the moment, blue ammonia has also been identified as one of the key solutions in the shipping industry’s pathway toward IMO’s decarbonisation objectives in the maritime sector.

The growth in gas production and LNG inflow has enabled industries to expand the production of blue ammonia.

Ammonia is classified either as ‘blue’ when it is produced from natural gas feedstock and the released CO2 is captured by CCS/CCUS technologies, or it can be labeled as ‘green’, when it is derived from electrolysis hydrogen produced by renewable resources.

GECF is developing ‘Hydrogen Scenario’ (HS) as well as ‘Carbon Neutrality Scenario’ (CNS) in 2021. These two scenarios cover a wide range of energy majors’ pathways towards decarbonisation, such as blue hydrogen, blue ammonia, and the application of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).

The GECF member countries are reported to be well-positioned to support a sustainable supply of blue ammonia.

Ammonia is currently one of the largest contributors to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy. The country has eleven ammonia plants with a total capacity of 5.2 million metric tonnes per annum, which positions it as one of the world’s largest exporters of ammonia.

Russia and Japan are planning to jointly study the possibility of transporting blue ammonia produced in Russia’s Siberia for utilisation at coal-fired power generation plants in Japan. The generated carbon dioxide (CO2) from the production process, will be captured and injected into eastern Siberian oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.

According to the Ammonia Energy Association, production levels of ammonia are currently approaching about 200 million tonnes per annum. 10 per cent of this number is traded on the global market. Almost 98 per cent of the feedstock for global ammonia production is originated from fossil fuels, out of it 72 per cent uses natural gas as a feedstock.

Ammonia has the advantages of an existing broad user base as it is the basis of fertiliser production. Developed infrastructure and large-scale ammonia production facilities are available around the world, making its production more feasible. Recent advances in turbine engine technologies have led to the increased use of ammonia, either directly for combustion or indirectly by reforming it back into nitrogen and hydrogen as an industrial feedstock.

Compared to hydrogen, ammonia does not require cooling to extreme temperatures and also features a higher energy density than liquid hydrogen, making it more efficient to transport and store.

The challenges for ammonia include its toxicity and corrosivity, due to the production of nitrogen oxide (NOx), flammability, and combustion in traditional engine and turbine, namely high ignition temperature and low flame velocity. At the moment, producing green ammonia at the commercial scale is expensive given the capital costs of the electrolyser plant for hydrogen production.

The other application of ammonia includes decarbonising coal-fired power plants and fuelling the traditional vehicles running on an internal combustion engine (ICE).

Ammonia has the potential to play an important role in the transformation of the global energy system as a green and less-CO2 intensive energy source to meet the world’s growing energy demand, GECF concludes.