Texas has been full of surprises this year, and we’re not talking about a small thing like the state attorney general running away from a bailiff in broad daylight. Texas has also become a hotbed of renewable energy activity, despite its long fossil fuel footprint. In the latest development, Danish company Topsoe has announced that it is part of a plan to scrap a massive new electrofuel plant in the state, containing green hydrogen. The same company is also involved in a new green ammonia scheme that could also find a foothold in Texas.
The green ammonia / green hydrogen connection
For those of you new to the subject, ammonia (NH3 or H3N) is naturally present. A man-made version is also ubiquitous in industrialized economies and modern farming systems. The problem is that almost all of the world’s supply of man-made ammonia comes from fossil fuel sources, which supply the three hydrogen atoms to bond with the nitrogen atom.
The US Energy Information Administration has quite a bit to say about the carbon intensity of the ammonia economy, like this:
“Globally, ammonia production is a carbon-intensive process, and 98% of ammonia plants worldwide use fossil fuels as a raw material, mainly natural gas (72%) and coal (22%). Ammonia production in the United States, third in the world behind China and Russia, is dominated by low-carbon natural gas-fired ammonia plants, which account for 92% of all ammonia production in the USA.
They probably mean less carbon compared to producing ammonia from coal, but that doesn’t let natural gas off the hook. The natural gas supply chain is a minefield of environmental and public health impacts, from drilling sites to transportation, storage and distribution networksas well as strong pressure on water resources In certain regions.
The ammonia industry’s reliance on fossil feedstocks also presents challenges in terms of bottom line. Boom and bust cycles in the natural gas industry can cause price spikes, supply chain disruptions and other unpleasant surprises for ammonia producers.
The green hydrogen The trend should help smooth out some of these bumps by expanding the range of feedstocks for ammonia production.
First Ammonia rides the green wave of ammonia
Green hydrogen can be produced from biomass, biogas and wastewater. However, most of the interest is currently focused on electrolysers that deploy renewable energy to push hydrogen gas out of water. This is where Topsoe comes in.
Earlier this month, topsoe announced that it will supply First Ammonia with dibs on up to 5 gigawatts of Topsoe electrolyser cells. This will put First Ammonia on track to build a global network of green ammonia plants, capable of producing up to 5 million metric tons of green ammonia per year.
“This is shaping up to be the world’s largest deal, to date, for any type of electrolyser and will displace nearly 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas and eliminate 13 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year,” First Ammonia enthused in a press release. , which is not so good news for natural gas players.
“At 5GW, this would be the largest electrolyser reserve of any type,” First Ammonia pointed out. “Producing 5 million metric tons of green ammonia produced per year would eliminate 13 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which is equivalent to taking 9 million gasoline-powered cars off the road.”
The agreement will begin with an initial purchase of 500 megawatts of units for two facilities from First Ammonia, planned for sites in northern Germany and the southwestern United States. If all goes as planned, these plants will come on stream in 2025. First Ammonia says the plants will operate on a schedule that supports renewable energy development in these regions.
As for where in the southwest, that’s a good question. Texas would be a good guess despite its oily and gassy history. Stakeholders are already putting together the pieces of a green hydrogen hub in Texas that harnesses solar, wind, biogas, energy storage and fuel cells as well as existing pipelines and other applicable parts of oil and gas infrastructure.
Follow the money for green ammonia
For the record, First Ammonia is a subsidiary of the financial management company Christofferson Robb & Company, and it is interesting from the point of view of the results. The Robb part of the equation belongs to the company’s CEO, Richard Robb, who is Professor of Professional Practice in International Finance at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.
CRC was launched in 2002 with the aim of helping banks manage loan portfolios for small and medium enterprises, including farmers. The company’s business appears to have been mostly fuel independent, but the affiliation with First Ammonia could mark the start of a more intensive focus on renewables, especially given CRC’s connections in the agricultural industry. .
Topsoe has also started turning to renewable energy. For the electrofuel project in Texas, the company entrusts its electrolyser technology to the firm Global HIF, which plans to produce eFuels from green hydrogen and recycled carbon dioxide at a new facility to be located in Matagorda County. Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and production to begin in 2026.
Electrofuels have eliminated fossil energy and intermediate energy crops from the production of conventional fuels, in favor of the synthesis of identical fuels from elementary building blocks.
Once online, the HIF plant in Texas will produce 200 million gallons per year of eFuel that can replace conventional gasoline on an ad hoc basis. This applies to gas station equipment as well as car engines.
The Texas connection may surprise some, but not HIF Global and other stakeholders. The company intends to establish firm roots in the state, including the training of the workforce.
“We see great benefits for the region in Texas,” enthuses HIF. “We also plan to engage the community and work with local colleges for career development.”
“In terms of business opportunity, Texas is the largest wind generator in the United States (~28 GW), it has very competitive tax laws and a favorable regulatory environment for the development of large infrastructure projects”, they add.
The overall benefit of decarbonization remains to be seen, but the electrofuel industry has a key advantage over the biofuels industry. Instead of extracting carbon (and hydrogen) from energy crops, electrofuels can deploy waste carbon of industrial origin.
If all goes as planned, more ammonia-based green manures could one day be used to grow more food crops instead of energy crops. If you have any thoughts on this topic, drop us a note in the comment thread.
For those of you who want to follow Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton (this guy), the Texas Grandstand has a good overview of the fugitive AG’s legal issues.
follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: More green hydrogen and green ammonia for the United States and Texas (screenshot courtesy of HIF Global).
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