Uniper Eyes Green Ammonia and Hydrogen to Help Industry Decarbonize

A power plant

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by | Nov 7, 2023

Everyone already knows that the industrial sector is hard to decarbonize. But sincere efforts are underway, including one by First Ammonia and Germany’s Uniper. They will produce green ammonia from renewable power at First Ammonia’s Texas-based facility in 2026.

They are working together to deliver green ammonia to Uniper so that it can help its industrial customers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The companies announced the partnership at the U.S.–German Hydrogen Conference in Berlin in late October.   

They will use a solid oxide electrolyzer, which creates an electric current that splits the hydrogen and oxygen from water. They say their process is 30% more energy efficient than a conventional electrolyzer, meaning less electricity is required to produce the same output. It’s a zero-carbon ammonia that will help Uniper accelerate the energy transition for its customers.

“Our focus on greener gases will allow Uniper’s customers to switch from carbon-intensive ammonia to green and blue ammonia and thus avoid a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Uniper’s Chief Commercial Officer Carsten Poppinga. “With our pioneering project development, our near-term goal is to become a supplier of choice for the industries using ammonia as a feedstock.”

Uniper is an international energy company with 22.5 gigawatts of generation capacity in Europe. It sells bulk electricity, gas, and heat to industrial enterprises and utilities. It is also working with Chevron Corp. to advance the development of a hydrogen and ammonia production facility along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

According to the International Energy Agency, 29% of the electricity sector is decarbonizing — a number trending up. But only 10% of industrial process heat is doing so.

Electricity is 20% of energy worldwide. Industrial use comprises 26%, while transportation and building use comprise 30% and 23%, respectively. We can electrify nearly everything — from homes to cars. But the industrial sector is different: Unless we decarbonize industrial process heat, we won’t make our 2050 carbon-neutrality goals.

Green Hydrogen is the Ultimate Goal

Steel, cement, and chemicals are among the most complex sectors to decarbonize. So is shipping.

Enter green ammonia: is an interim step for industrial users — a fuel that wind and solar power can produce and that traditional engines or fuel cells can use. Traditionally, industry burns gas to boil water to make steam. Or it burns coal to heat a boiler, both of which use a lot of fuel and create too many emissions.

DNV GL predicts widespread adoption of ammonia fuel will begin in 2037 — expected to make up 25% of the maritime fuel mix by 2050. Samsung Heavy Industries, Lloyd’s Register, and MAN Energy Solutions are developing an ammonia-fuel ship.

In the meantime, Yara will produce 500,000 tons of green ammonia yearly, powering emission-free shipping fuels and decarbonized food solutions. Norwegian oil giant Equinor, is a prospective customer.

Steel is also a tough nut — a $1 trillion industry, producing 2 billion tons annually and contributing about 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Demand will jump to 2.5 billion tons yearly by 2050 — tied to economic growth in China and India. The sector aims to reduce emissions by half by 2030 and to hit net zero by 2050.

Using Hydrogen’s Potential to Decarbonize Industries

Boulder-based Electra upgrades low-grade iron using green electricity, resulting in much lower carbon emissions — at least at the pilot scale. The goal is to commercialize the technology by the decade’s end, producing 100,000 tons of green iron annually.

Hydrogen also has the potential to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors — especially if wind and solar can split the hydrogen and oxygen from water.

“Hydrogen has the potential to become the fuel that powers a clean economy,” writes Kobad Bhavnagri, lead author of Bloomberg’s Hydrogen Economy Outlook and head of its industrial decarbonization effort. “In the years ahead, it will be possible to produce it at low cost using wind and solar power, to store it underground for months, and then to pipe it on-demand to power everything from ships to steel mills.”

“If the clean hydrogen industry can scale up, many of the hard-to-abate sectors could be decarbonized using hydrogen, at surprisingly low costs,” Bhavnagri added.

To that end, Uniper is also heavily involved in the hydrogen economy. For example, it works with the United Arab Emirates and its clean energy company, Masdar, to produce green hydrogen. They will build a 1.3 gigawatt solar plant to make hydrogen via electrolysis in 2026.

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