13th July 2024

Hirono thermal energy plant in Hirono, Fukushima, Japan

By Sofia Esquivel-Elizondo and Ilissa Ocko

Firms are saying plans to make use of ammonia to decarbonize the facility sector, as a result of they view it as a carbon-free gas that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide and different carbon-based air pollution, corresponding to carbon monoxide, when combusted.

However there are severe points with this technique, primarily as a result of it doesn’t take ammonia manufacturing — which regularly requires fossil fuels — into consideration. Relying on how it’s made, utilizing ammonia for energy technology can enhance greenhouse gasoline emissions and be incompatible with temperature targets. And, even when manufacturing is clear, co-firing ammonia could be costly, harmful and worsen air high quality.

However pursuing ammonia primarily to profit the local weather, when it may make the local weather worse, appears to make little sense regardless of its different points. So, we did the math to see simply how good or unhealthy ammonia manufacturing could be for the local weather, in comparison with utilizing coal for energy technology.

Why utilizing ammonia in energy technology is dangerous for the local weather Click on To Tweet

Warming impacts of ammonia manufacturing vs. coal

To find out how a lot warming is feasible, we appeared on the near- and long-term warming impacts from emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen for seven completely different ammonia manufacturing pathways that coated the complete vary of dirtiest to cleanest and for best-case and worst-case methane and hydrogen emissions charges (see determine).

Warming impacts from ammonia manufacturing rely upon the manufacturing methodology, the extent of emissions and the timescale of curiosity as a result of methane and hydrogen emissions (emitted from operational releases and leakage in the course of the manufacturing course of) are strongest within the near-term.

* CH4 emissions from pure gasoline extraction, hydrogen manufacturing, and combustion. H2 emissions from hydrogen manufacturing (not from compression, liquefaction or distribution)

Once we in contrast the outcomes to the warming impacts from carbon dioxide and methane emissions from a coal-fired energy plant, we discovered that within the near-term, ammonia manufacturing could cause 50% extra warming or 80% much less warming, relying on the manufacturing methodology and emissions charges.

It’s clearly not advisable to interchange coal with ammonia produced from fossil fuels with high-carbon emissions. It’s nonetheless dangerous, even when carbon seize know-how is employed and captures 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from hydrogen and ammonia manufacturing, as a result of extra warming from the ammonia can happen within the near-term than the coal-fired energy plant if methane emissions are even reasonably excessive. And, in the long run, this methodology remains to be solely 50% cleaner than coal with excessive methane emissions. However it may be 80% cleaner if methane emissions are stored to a minimal.

When renewable electrical energy is used for each hydrogen and ammonia manufacturing,  often called e-ammonia,  each carbon dioxide and methane emissions could be prevented, offering robust local weather advantages from ammonia relative to coal over all timescales. And if hydrogen emissions throughout its whole worth chain are minimized, there are much more local weather advantages from ammonia.

However we should be cautious not to remove renewable vitality wanted to decarbonize the facility grid. As a result of if we do, we might want to produce extra electrical energy from coal and pure gasoline to assist the facility grid, once more ending up in a scenario the place ammonia manufacturing is worse for the local weather than coal-fired energy vegetation, this time over all timescales.

So the place are all these local weather impacts coming from and the way can we scale back them?

All ammonia manufacturing emits climate-warming gases

There are numerous methods to make ammonia, and each methodology emits climate-warming gases to various levels.

The traditional methodology to fabricate ammonia makes use of the Haber-Bosch course of, which mixes molecular hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen and sometimes makes use of pure gasoline because the vitality supply to take action.  And since molecular hydrogen just isn’t readily present in nature, we have to make that, too. At the moment’s hydrogen manufacturing depends nearly totally on pure gasoline or coal.

Subsequently, standard ammonia manufacturing utilizing fossil-based hydrogen generates massive quantities of carbon dioxide emissions and different carbon-based air high quality pollution. Whereas carbon seize applied sciences can scale back carbon dioxide emissions, they gained’t assist scale back methane emissions.

Methane is the principle element of pure gasoline and could be emitted from leakage, venting and flaring. Methane is a potent greenhouse gasoline, significantly within the near-term, and might heat the local weather a minimum of 80 instances greater than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year interval pound for pound. The extent of methane emissions could be low (lower than 1%) or excessive (greater than 3%) relying on the provision pathway.

There are, nonetheless, strategies to make ammonia and hydrogen with out utilizing pure gasoline. We are able to use renewably-generated electrical energy, which might emit near-zero carbon dioxide and methane. However even with this methodology, we nonetheless want to fret about hydrogen.

Hydrogen itself is a leak-prone gasoline that additionally has potent near-term warming results when emitted. The truth is, the most recent science suggests hydrogen can heat the local weather a minimum of 35 instances greater than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year interval pound for pound when it chemically reacts within the environment and subsequently causes different greenhouse gases, together with methane, to extend. Whereas nobody is aware of how a lot hydrogen is emitted from present infrastructure, estimates recommend it could possibly be as excessive as 10% throughout the worth chain.

Lastly, ammonia itself can result in elevated greenhouse gasoline emissions as a result of it’s naturally transformed into nitrous oxide within the setting. This highly effective, long-lived greenhouse gasoline can heat the local weather round 275 instances extra over a 100-year interval than carbon dioxide pound for pound.

The underside line

General, the usage of ammonia within the energy grid — both for co-firing with coal or to burn by itself — just isn’t assured to assist us obtain local weather objectives. The truth is, ammonia could be even worse for the local weather within the near-term, particularly if fossil feedstock and soiled vitality sources are used to fabricate it. Any plan that considers its use wants to make sure that ammonia manufacturing is as clear as potential and complementary to different clear vitality objectives.

Whereas ammonia’s local weather advantages could be maximized if we’re cautious and considerate in its manufacturing and use, the extra considerations raised by consultants — corresponding to its toxicity and technology of air air pollution — name into query whether or not it must be pursued within the energy sector in any respect. Clear ammonia and different various fuels present the best local weather and environmental advantages when utilized in functions that can not be straight electrified with renewable vitality.

For extra info on the methodology and literature behind this evaluation, click on right here

Analysis for this weblog was finished with assist from Eriko Shrestha.

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