‘Green’ ammonia plants

Hydrogen is taking centre stage in Queensland, with a feasibility study by Queensland Nitrates (QNP) into the construction and operation of a green ammonia plant at its existing facility, coupled with the possibility of the world’s largest ammonia plant powered by green hydrogen being built in Queensland.

ARENA has a stake in both projects, providing $1.9 million in funding to the consortium led by QNP and partners Neoen and Worley that proposes to produce 20,000 tonnes per year of green ammonia from 3,600 tonnes of renewable hydrogen at their plant in Moura, which lies south west of Rockhampton.

If proven feasible, QNP would produce hydrogen via electrolysis for one fifth of its ammonia production, which is presently manufactured from natural gas. The electrolysers would be powered by a hybrid supply of wind, solar and stored renewable energy from facilities owned and operated by Neoen.

According to the media statement announcing the development, the aim of the study is to determine the technical and economic feasibility of producing renewable ammonia at a commercial scale, and down the track progress the commercialisation of renewable hydrogen production for both domestic and international use.

Ammonia production is the largest user of hydrogen, consuming half of total global hydrogen supplied production, and in the process accounting for 1 per cent of global emissions. Production is on the rise: in 2014 global industrial production of ammonia was 176 million tonnes, a 16 per cent increase over the 2006 global industrial production of 152 million tonnes.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said: “Companies looking at creating hydrogen via electrolysis will help establish a local economy for hydrogen and ammonia production in Australia. This is the first step in the country tapping into the huge potential of a renewable hydrogen export industry.

“ARENA is helping to create a market for hydrogen and to ensure that Australia remains at the front of this shift to renewable energy. ARENA is helping industry produce hydrogen at a price, quality and reliability point where it can be competitive with natural gas.”

Three hundred kilometers north of Moura lies the Dyno Nobel Moranbah ammonia plant that is currently powered by natural gas and manufactures more than 360,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate annually for mining customers.

With the forecast increase in demand for ammonium nitrate, ARENA has pledged $980,000 toward a $2.7 million study to assess the feasibility of building a renewable ammonia facility at the premises.

Depending on the results of the study, the proposed green ammonia facility would include up to a 160MW electrolyser and 210MW solar farm co-located at Moranbah.

ARENA’s Darren Miller commented that this was the first step to decarbonising the ammonia sector, and would also help to progress the commercialisation of renewable hydrogen for domestic and international use.

“Hydrogen is a huge opportunity for Australia, both for domestic use and as an export opportunity - and we believe that you cannot realise the export potential without a domestic market, which is why ARENA is looking to fund renewable ammonia and other domestic applications.

“As ammonia already uses hydrogen, ammonia production at large scale is an ideal opportunity for us to begin exploring the pathway to lowering emissions through the use of renewable hydrogen as it already uses hydrogen in an industrial application, and has existing supply chains and end users,” he said. 

Chief executive of Hydrogen Australia John Grimes welcomed the two announcements, saying the developments signal the move toward adoption of smart new technologies.

“These new trials if found successful will drive not just employment but also herald a smarter and cleaner way of generating ammonia by reducing emissions.

“The shift to renewable energy brings all-round benefits to the community as well as the economy.”

And for those interested, the word ammonia derives from the Ammonians, worshipers of the Egyptian god Amun, who used ammonium chloride in their rituals.