Demand for more environmentally friendly fertilisers is rapidly increasing, amid growing environmental regulations, especially those aimed at emissions abatement
The drive for a green recovery after COVID-19 has also served to generate unprecedented momentum behind hydrogen technologies as a tool for global decarbonisation.
Both factors have led to a rapid escalation in the race to develop green ammonia projects. Green credentials alone will not be sufficient for all to achieve financing, and developers should develop a solid business case from the outset.
Demand for low carbon fertilisers is set to grow
The global population continues to grow, driving demand for fertilisers to support the agricultural productivity gains required to meet world crop demand. At the same time, however, there is increasing pressure from policymakers, investors and consumers to produce fertilisers in a more environmentally sustainable way. This is a particular challenge for nitrogen fertiliser producers, focusing on carbon-intensive ammonia, the raw material for nitrogen fertilisers.
Conventional ‘brown ammonia’ (or grey ammonia) production, using fossil fuels (mostly gas) and steam methane reforming, is currently responsible for roughly 1% of world CO2 emissions, and over time producers face rising carbon pricing and broader market access issues if they fail to respond to these emerging expectations.
In response, the development of ‘green ammonia’ production, using renewable energy and electrolysis to replace fossil fuels as the hydrogen source for carbon free ammonia, has been gaining traction. Over 2019 and 2020 the pipeline and scale of green ammonia projects has expanded rapidly, with recent announcements from Saudi Arabia, Europe, the US, and Australia, amongst others. At the same time, ‘blue ammonia’ – the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and fossil fuels to produce low-carbon ammonia – is also expanding, albeit arguably to a lesser degree. Turquoise ammonia, involving the conversion of natural gas into carbon black and hydrogen via methane pyrolysis which can be carbon free where renewable energy is solely used is also more popular.