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Clean Ammonia: societal benefits, concerns, and safety demands – part 3 of a threefold story  

Ammonia is expected to play an important role in achieving the Dutch climate targets. Its multifaceted role ranges from a zero-carbon fuel to decarbonize international shipping, a power generator, or vital hydrogen carrier. However, despite ammonia’s potential, the integration of clean ammonia into a sustainable energy framework remains largely unexplored. Over the past few weeks, our network of industry experts has come together to address the potential and opportunities of ammonia. While also discussing the significant gaps and barriers in this area, particularly in terms of public acceptance, safety measures, risks and other critical factors. It’s clear that addressing these challenges will require a collaborative effort. 

In this article, Jan-Jaap Nusselder (OCI Global), Jimmy Faria (University of Twente) and Mark Stoelinga (Port of Rotterdam) take us through what is needed for Ammonia to become a success. We address the development of ammonia’s markets, its societal benefits, potential limitations and barriers and finally propose how the Clean Ammonia Roadmap serves to enhance our existing knowledge and foster collaboration across the value chain.  

Development of markets for clean ammonia  

“Ammonia is a well-known chemical used across various end-market products,” Jan-Jaap Nusselder from OCI Global, a key player in ammonia production and distribution, kicks off.  “More recently, with the growing urgency to reduce CO2 emissions, there has been a shift in attention towards lower carbon and renewable ammonia, which has immense potential to help us realize global decarbonization targets. The established ammonia market, together with its existing infrastructure and procedures, plays a crucial role in facilitating this shift, enabling a rapid expansion to embrace new applications, including power generation and marine fuel, and fostering an overall cleaner energy landscape.” 

Mark Stoelinga (Port of Rotterdam) emphasizes the industrial significance of this shift: “We are seeing major developments in the ammonia sector from the Port of Rotterdam,” he notes. “First of all, Rotterdam stands as Europe’s largest bunkering hub. There’s an anticipation that ammonia will gradually replace a portion of this marine fuel. This shift holds immense significance, considering this sector contributes roughly 3 percent to global CO2 emissions.” 

“Moreover, we foresee ammonia playing a pivotal role in fulfilling the Dutch energy requirements through ammonia-to-power strategies, which enables the generation of electricity using clean ammonia as a source.  This approach is particularly beneficial in regions facing renewable energy shortages or seasonal demands,” Mark Stoelinga highlights. “Additionally, ammonia serves as a crucial player in the hydrogen economy, acting as a temporary carrier of hydrogen, for which imported ammonia can be converted into hydrogen on-site through cracking.” 

This is part 3 in a series of 3 about clean ammonia:

Part 1 – Ammonia as a new key actor in energy- and material transition
Part 2 – Ammonia’s opportunities for the hydrogen economy
Part 3 – Clean Ammonia: societal benefits, concerns, and safety demands

Societal benefits against potential bottlenecks  

Jimmy Faria (University of Twente) contextualizes these advancements within broader societal benefits. “Ammonia’s role as a low-carbon alternative in power generation and hydrogen usage reduces reliance on natural gas, making our energy landscape more sustainable and secure,” he explains. “The use of green ammonia diversifies energy sources, contributing significantly to global energy security, particularly beneficial for countries relying on expensive fossil fuels.” 

“However, there is no such thing as a free lunch”, notes Jimmy Faria. “Irrespective of what technology we deploy for the energy transition, thoroughly assessing the environmental consequences and inherent risks is essential. Importing substantial ammonia quantities for example raises concerns about inadvertent ammonia release during storage and transportation. Ensuring safety by analysing the potential environmental and health impacts of green ammonia is essential, as even a small 1-2% leakage on a larger scale could significantly impact the global nitrogen balance. This highlights that ammonia’s role should not only be technically feasible, but we must also consider safety and risks aspects involved.”  

Health, safety and environment requirements for ammonia

Jan-Jaap Nusselder echoes Jimmy Faria’s caution, highlighting the need for careful handling of ammonia processes. “Decades of engagement with ammonia by chemists have led to a comprehensive understanding of its health and safety implications,” he notes. “Existing codes and standards for working with ammonia exist, but they require updates to accommodate the anticipated rise in ammonia’s volume and diverse applications as an energy carrier.” Nusselder stresses the necessity of developing new technologies to maintain safety standards, especially in storage and transportation. “Establishing regulations for ammonia’s role in energy and hydrogen transportation is crucial,” he emphasizes. 

Mark Stoelinga adds that the expertise in chemical handling at the Port of Rotterdam can establish secure protocols for ammonia usage in maritime and power sectors. “Years of handling and transportation of chemicals converge here, which can contribute to the development of secure protocols and practices concerning ammonia. Such guidelines and standards are needed to ensure safe operation and maintenance of bunkering, cracking and firing of ammonia as fuel in the maritime and power sectors.”   

Required research and collaboration 

In this regard, Mark Stoelinga emphasizes the significance of collaboration among key stakeholders in the field. “The Clean Ammonia Innovation Platform unites parties with vast knowledge and experience,” he notes. “This collaboration leverages industrial expertise in safe ammonia storage and handling, requiring a concerted effort and the establishment of streamlined procedures across the value chain.” 

Jimmy Faria stresses the necessity of consistent governmental regulations for long-term success. “Clear, stable regulations are crucial,” he asserts. “Frequent changes with new government pose risks, especially for large-scale projects. Significant investments need government-backed policies ensuring stability and substantial incentives to drive widespread adoption of new technologies.” Faria also underlines the importance of political and social stability for sustained project investments. “Collaboration across politicians, government bodies, industries, and academia is vital to ensure safe and sustainable implementation of green ammonia technologies,” he emphasizes. 

Download the Clean Ammonia Roadmap

The industry recognises the potential of using clean ammonia as a low-carbon energy and hydrogen carrier. Although ammonia has been used in chemical industry for nearly 100 years, these new industrial-scale value chains pose new challenges and opportunities. In collaboration with ISPT, a team of industrial partners has explored potential market volumes, value chains, and enablers for clean ammonia as an energy and hydrogen carrier. These results are published in the Clean Ammonia Roadmap.