• Green Ammonia
  • Power Generation
  • Fuel Cells
  • Clean Energy
  • Zero Emissions

Watch for Near-Term Developments in the Ammonia-to-Power Sector

Serkan Birgel
Aug 03, 2023

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Guidehouse Insights recently released a report covering ammonia’s potential roles as a hydrogen carrier and decarbonization tool. The report discusses how technological developments are opening new possibilities for ammonia and prompting companies to reassess how they approach their decarbonization goals. Among these possibilities is “ammonia to power,” a term that can refer to a number of different processes—namely, ammonia-fueled turbine combustion and ammonia-based fuel cell systems. Recent industry announcements have highlighted advances in both applications, raising the prospect of 100% ammonia-based power generation in the near term.

Ammonia as a Combustible Fuel

Firstly, ammonia can be used as a combustible fuel for stationary power generation (e.g., in combined-cycle gas turbines). One of the major advantages of using ammonia as a combustible fuel is that no direct CO2 emissions are released. Currently, almost all of the 200 million tons of ammonia produced each year relies on fossil fuel inputs. However, projects that use green hydrogen for ammonia production can reduce the lifecycle emissions footprint of ammonia to close to zero.

The idea of ammonia-fueled turbine combustion processes dates back to the 1960s. However, ammonia has lower flammability and combustion efficiency than conventional fossil fuels, which introduces ignition challenges. As such, ammonia’s role in power generation has historically been confined to co-firing with other fuels, such as coal, diesel, and kerosene.

Nevertheless, a number of recent developments signal the near-term emergence of 100% ammonia-capable gas turbines. In 2021 Mitsubishi Power began developing a 40 MW class gas turbine (H-25) that combusts 100% ammonia. The company expects the technology to be commercialized by 2025. Similarly, in 2022 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Japanese power generator JERA to develop a 60 MW class gas turbine combined-cycle plant fueled by 100% ammonia in Singapore. Earlier, in October 2020, JERA had announced that it was planning to use a 20% fuel mix in its coal-fired power plants by 2035, with a target of 100% by the 2040s. Finally, following a MOU signed in January 2023, GE and IHI are developing a roadmap targeting the conversion of existing GE gas turbines to run on 100% ammonia by 2030.

Ammonia as an Input for Fuel Cells

As an alternative to combustion, ammonia can also be used as an input for fuel cell systems. For low temperature technologies such as proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, hydrogen produced though ammonia cracking can subsequently be injected into a fuel cell. Ammonia can also be fed directly into some high temperature fuel cell technologies, termed direct-ammonia fuel cells. Ammonia-based fuel cell systems can be used for applications such as stationary power generation or to provide power to electric propulsion systems on maritime vessels or heavy duty trucks. PEM fuel cells are likely to be the preferred option for most transportation applications, since they are able to start up rapidly and flexibly adjust power output.

A number of noteworthy market developments have been recorded in both the ammonia cracking and the direct-ammonia fuel cell space. In March 2023, Air Liquide announced an industrial-scale ammonia cracking plant in the Port of Antwerp, slated to become operational in 2024. In February 2023, Fraunhofer IMM announced the development of its AMMONPAKTOR reactor, which uses the off-gas generated from hydrogen purification (using pressure swing adsorption) as an energy source. In the direct-ammonia fuel cell space, Fraunhofer IMM is also working with 13 European partners to develop the world’s first ammonia-based fuel cell for maritime transport as part of the ShipFC Project. A 2 MW ammonia-powered fuel cell is set to be installed onboard a multipurpose workboat in 2024. And in July 2023, Alma Clean Power announced it had tested a 6 kW direct-ammonia solid oxide fuel cell system.

Though ammonia applications have received far less attention relative to other decarbonization technologies, developments of late indicate that the sector is not one to be ignored. For more information about ammonia’s decarbonization potential, check out Guidehouse Insights’ Leveraging Ammonia as a Hydrogen Carrier and Decarbonization Tool report.