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Episode #13: ‘Can Green Hydrogen Lead Us to Green Ammonia?’ with John Armstrong of E.ON - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry...

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  • 111 items added with 212,798 views
  • May 26, 2020

On this week’s episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, Jason Price and Matt Chester welcome to the show John Armstrong, Head of City Energy at E.ON. John’s experience in the utility industry and his passion for decarbonizing the energy sector brought him to Energy Central where he’s shared many insightful and compelling posts on the future of energy. While many may focus on the generation of power in a clean way, John has pushed forward some intriguing ideas about creating the green fuels of tomorrow.

Specifically, John’s recent article on ammonia as the clean fuel of the future generated immense interest within the Energy Central community. While hydrogen is often discussed as the futuristic fuel type and energy storage method that can help decarbonize our energy and heating systems, John argues that taking it a step further to green ammonia can really open up a new plethora of doors for the energy transition. John’s vast experience and clear explanation of otherwise complex topics make him a stellar podcast guest, so you won’t want to miss this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast!

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Key Links:

John Armstrong’s Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/236301/about

Could ‘dirty’ Ammonia be the clean fuel of the future? https://energycentral.com/c/ec/could-%E2%80%98dirty%E2%80%99-ammonia-be-clean-fuel-future

Hydrogen may be a bit like Marmite – but love it or hate it..it’s probably going to happen: https://energycentral.com/c/um/hydrogen-may-be-bit-marmite-%E2%80%93-love-it-or-hate-it-its-probably-going-happen


As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast be looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community and we'll invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting twice per month (on the second and fourth Tuesdays), we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. 

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for episode #14 next month! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

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Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriGuidehouse, and CPower

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 26, 2020

Matt, Nathan Wilson is an engineer who often contributed posts on The Energy Collective looking at the possibilities of ammonia as a liquid fuel. In our many, many discussions on the subject we discovered there are some fundamental reasons - physical, environmental and economical - why ammonia will probably never see widespread adoption as a transportation fuel:

  • Energy density. In simple terms, there's not as much energy available from ammonia (NH3) as from hydrocarbon-based fuels like natural gas (CH4). The energy comes from breaking the bonds connecting hydrogen to either nitrogen or carbon. Ammonia has three, methane has four.
  • Competition. fossil fuel companies don't want ammonia because it would compete with their core product line of hydrocarbon-based fuels. Nitrogen is made from liquefied air - a source available to anyone.
  • Toxicity, and smell. Ammonia is toxic, and consumers tend to reject any product which smells bad - a simple truth of marketing.
  • Compatibility. The classic "chicken-egg" problem of hydrogen applies to ammonia. Consumers won't buy ammonia-powered vehicles without convenient locations to refuel them; fuel manufacturers won't build refueling stations where there aren't consumers to buy their fuel.

Powering transportation with liquid fuel was a direct result of the discovery of oil in 1859. Though some contemplate the production of green liquid synfuels using either nuclear or renewable energy, there's no particular reason to make the sacrifice in efficiency required by this extra step. Either can be used to generate electricity to charge batteries; electric vehicles can be conveniently refueled at customers' homes or places of work.

John Armstrong's picture
John Armstrong on May 27, 2020

Thanks Bob. These are great points!

I think we are probably talking 10 years out here in terms of deployment (maybe a bit less with some heavy regulatory intervention).

  • Energy Density - I think we will see a world where directly combusted fossil fuels are only used for certain hard to replace applications. So you need something else for haulage... ammonia isn't perfect but its possible!
  • Competition - I suppose regulation may force theur hand?
  • Toxicity & Smell. Petroleum products don't smell great either?! I think this could probably be overcome with some good engineering.
  • Compatability - Abosolutely. You would need large scale regulatory intervention for mass role out. I would see ammonia reserved for some point point applications in transport (large depots / ports etc.

I think this may be very different in various countries. In Europe transport is receiving a lot of attention for decarbonisation!  

This report from the royal society is worth a read for a more European perspective!

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Jun 2, 2020

Thanks for the podcast John. and for sharing other encouraging news about developments in the UK leveraging green ammonia! GenCell Energy absolutely agrees with your contention that ammonia can be the silver bullet that resolves the barriers to hydrogen transport and storage, allowing hydrogen to be cost-effective and go mainstream.  GenCell's technology will allow adaptation of existing fuel stations to extract hydrogen from liquid ammonia in order to power buses that run on fuel cells - exponentially reducing the cost of hydrogen. With lower costs, shorter fueling times and less pressure on electricity grids, hydrogen FCEVs with the help of ammonia can become an increasingly attractive alternative to heavy battery-powered EVs that require long duration charging, problematic battery disposal and replacement and that create issues for grid stability in many locations. 

As you wrote in your earlier post on the topic, "If you can make green Hydrogen  and green electricity you can make green ammonia. You just need a lot of green energy! I do think the focus now could and should be on de-carbonising the world’s existing ammonia demand… this would then provide a sound footing for Ammonia to potentially be used as a green fuel!" 

As hydrogen is being selected to power more and more varied applications, the demand for hydrogen is rising. And as the demand for hydrogen increases, so does the justification for green hydrogen. It makes a lot of sense to leverage surplus renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted to produce green ammonia that is far more easily and economically stored and transported than any other hydrogen carrier. This emission-free green liquid ammonia can be consumed as fertilizer or used in pesticides, can be processed in a variety of industrial applications such as refrigeration or water purification, or can be shipped to virtually any destination and be stored and stand ready to be cracked at any time to provide an efficient, dense and rich source of hydrogen to generate electricity via fuel cells. New technologies for producing green ammonia will allow the world to rely on hydrogen as the optimal path to decarbonization, and in so doing we will be better placed to combat climate change.


John Armstrong's picture
John Armstrong on Jun 3, 2020

Thanks for the comment @Rami. I think its really interesting to see technologies emerging which will compliment the Hydrogen economy. Its certainly not a case of either Hydrogen or Ammonia but how can Ammonia reach the parts of the economy that Hydrogen can't. I think this may also be a very country/location specific technology shift as ammonia will suit more geographically spread areas or areas with a lot of agriculture for example more.

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Jun 3, 2020

Yes John, you are absolutely right - ammonia certainly doesn't replace hydrogen, it complements hydrogen and delivers it to the doorsteps of those areas of the market that are difficult to decarbonize otherwise. Yes, it makes sense that ammonia will best suit locations that are already well-versed and comfortable with safe handling of ammonia for farming or refrigeration or other sectors where it is a commonplace commmodity.  The recent developments re green ammonia in the UK are really exciting - looking forward to hearing how these projects progress and hope that the uptake and public response will be positive.


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