Japan investing in ammonia as fuel

Japan is furnishing $500 million to much-watched projects that will develop and demonstrate 100% fuel ammonia combustion technology for gas turbines and 50% co-firing at coal boilers, as part of an effort to build out the nation’s supply chain for fuel ammonia.

The country’s national research agency New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) on Jan. 7 announced the funding under the Green Innovation Fund. One aspect of the 10-year “Fuel Ammonia Supply Chain Construction Project” will seek to tamp down ammonia production costs to the range hydrogen in terms of calorific value) by 2030. The grant will also develop burner technology to enable high co-firing and dedicated combustion for power generation. They aim to solve the technical issues for expanding and popularizing the use of fuel ammonia and build a fuel ammonia supply chain.

The initiative is rooted in Japan’s October 2020-announced ambitions to become carbon neutral in 2050. While the country heavily depends on coal and liquefied natural gas fuel for power generation, it intends to boost electrification; ramp up its use of hydrogen, methanation, synthesis fuel, and biomass; and decarbonize its coal and gas fleets. Current targets require that 10% of Japan’s electricity by 2050 and at least 1% (around 1 GW) by 2030 will come from hydrogen or ammonia.

But the new initiative holds global interest given soaring attention on ammonia’s future role in the power sector as decarbonization gains momentum. Experts have noted countries with limited direct access to sources of low-carbon power could use ammonia as a vector for hydrogen imports, because ammonia has a high hydrogen content per unit volume, and it can be easily liquefied. Ammonia can also be cracked to yield pure hydrogen for use in gas turbines, but it can also be combusted, directly fed into or co-fired at existing coal plants or gas turbines. Finally, like hydrogen, it can also be used as a seasonal storage medium for the power sector, offering a potentially cheaper alternative to batteries.