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21 September 2022

Topsoe lands record breaking 5GW green ammonia deal

By Bogdan Avramuta

It feels like records for the “largest (hydrogen) agreement in the world” are being broken every other day after the news that Topsoe, a Danish company which specializes in designing and manufacturing systems around the hydrogen industry, has agreed to supply 5GW of solid oxide electrolyzer cells (SOEC) to First Ammonia, a US based, green ammonia plant developer.

The deal will see an initial 500MW of power installed in the world’s first commercial-scale green ammonia plants at sites in Northern Germany and Southwestern United States, which will be operational by 2025. Topsoe claims that the deal has the potential to displace almost 5BCM (billion cubic meters) of natural gas and eliminate 13 million tons of CO2 emission per year because ammonia can be used in multiple sectors including: fuel for transportation, power storage and generation, and fertilizers. This falls perfectly in line with our predictions of the gas market and our forecast of the hydrogen industry.

Over the lifetime of the agreement, First Ammonia will be able to expand on the initial 500MW and use up to 5GW of Topsoe’s SOEC technology in green ammonia plants around the world. Topsoe’s SOEC manufacturing plant is to be built in Herning, Denmark, and has recently received the Final Investment Decision from the board.

Joel Moser, CEO of First Ammonia, said that “ammonia saved humanity from starvation a century ago as a replacement for depleted sources of fertilizers” , and it “can save humanity once again by decarbonizing agriculture, transportation and power storage and generation. “

Ammonia production makes use of the Haber-Bosch process which combines hydrogen and nitrogen at temperatures of 400°C to 650°C. In such plants waste heat will be readily available which will benefit solid oxide electrolyzer technologies which are known for their high required operating temperatures of 500°C to 850°C, about ten times higher than PEM (proton exchange membrane) and alkaline electrolyzers. But Topsoe CCO, Sundus Ramli, argues that the SOEC will present customers with a lower project cost due to its greater efficiency.

First Ammonia is also planning to build the world’s first internal combustion engine that runs on 100% ammonia although we are not very excited by the news. Burning ammonia doesn’t release any carbon-based polluters into the atmosphere, but it does produce harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) which are just as bad.

The appeal of ammonia is mainly due to its volumetric energy density. Sitting at 12.7 MJ/L (mega-joules per liter), it’s a more efficient energy carrier – volume wise – than liquid hydrogen (8.49 MJ/L) or compressed hydrogen (4.5 MJ/L at 69MPa and 25°C)  but one thing that needs to be considered is the amount of energy it takes to break those hydrogen-nitrogen bonds and how that can affect the price of the hydrogen obtained from ammonia compared to other means.

And this is something that’s being looked into by Amogy, a provider of ammonia power solutions, and Trafigura, a large physical commodity trading group. A press release this week announced their agreement to study the feasibility of scalable ammonia cracking technologies and the use of ammonia as a carrier to transport clean hydrogen from point of production to point of consumption. The two companies hope that the findings of this study will help support industry-wide efforts to decarbonize transport and heavy industrial processes and lower carbon emission to meet global climate goals.

More on the different means of hydrogen distribution and the most efficient and cost-effective ways of storing and shipping it can be accessed in our latest research paper titled Pipelines and organic carrier ships to dominate hydrogen distribution.