Last year, Proton Ventures received the green light for ambitious green ammonia production and storage projects in Morocco. And while Morocco sounds far away, the tangible impact of this on the European energy transition and climate goals is massive. By now, we thought it was time to check back in and discuss the pivotal role ammonia has in future green energy solutions.
The Moroccan ammonia projects and their potential for Europe
Schiedam-based Proton Ventures is a pioneer in the field of green ammonia and energy solutions. Leading the way in innovative green energy supply chains, Proton Ventures has developed large-scale projects in ammonia production, storage, and handling.
Signed last year in the summer, Proton Ventures was enrolled in co-developing a Green Ammonia Pilot at the OCP Group chemical complex in Jorf Lasfar. The 4-tonne-a-day ammonia production plant will have the capacity to produce up to 25 MWh of ammonia fuel (based on HHV) every 24 hours. To support and optimize the further international roll-out of ammonia-based solutions, the pilot will be equipped with powerful simulation capabilities to test different wind, sun, and location-based energy profiles.
Late last year, Proton Ventures and its partners SCIF and Engineering & Group IPS were also awarded a large scale ammonia storage project by Moroccan fertilizer giant OCP group. As part of the project, Proton Ventures will design and build two refrigerated ammonia storage tanks in the Industrial Complex Jorf Lasfar, with a total storage capacity corresponding to 62,5 million kWh (based on HHV). Ammonia Storage forms an essential part of the entire value chain to bridge available transportation possibilities and intermittent renewables generation.
The Ammonia Production project is an important first step for ammonia's role in Europe's renewable energy transition, providing access to Moroccan-produced solar and wind energy by capturing and transporting it through ammonia as a carrier. This method of energy storage and transportation makes it possible to capitalize on areas with lots of sunlight, maximizing energy output and efficiency. With projects like these, we can supplement European solar fields where limitations in space, limited grid connections, and lower efficiency are common.
These projects are “an important step in bringing the energy transition to reality” - Paul Baan, CEO of Proton Ventures
How the project contributes to the field of hydrogen & ammonia research
Not only will the green ammonia plant serve as a facility for learning, it will also act as a “world reference unit” that will guide large-scale industrial projects globally.
“This industrial scale research facility will provide unique operational insights which benefits further expansions in and outside Morocco as well as boosting the education of more Hydrogen/Ammonia experts. It is a privilege to put our Proton Ventures hydrogen/ammonia capabilities and expertise to work in this strategic project that will be a start of many similar activities.” - Paul Baan, CEO of Proton Ventures
What is ammonia and why is it important to the energy transition
Ammonia (NH3), composed of nitrogen and hydrogen, is a pungent, colorless gas at room temperature and a liquid when cooled and pressurized. While ammonia’s most common use globally is as an agricultural fertilizer, there are significant opportunities for its contribution to the transition to net-zero that companies like Proton Ventures are realizing. From a zero-carbon fuel, a hydrogen carrier, and energy storage; ammonia has an important role in the move to renewables.
Ammonia as a fuel
Ammonia is a promising alternative fuel due to its high energy density, ease of handling, and established production infrastructure. When used in combustion engines or fuel cells, it only produces water and nitrogen, making a zero-carbon fuel option. And with ongoing advancements in the field of green ammonia production, renewable ammonia fuel is an attractive solution in the transition to net-zero.
Ammonia as a hydrogen carrier
Compared to ammonia, hydrogen has a higher energy content per unit (in kg’s) and can easily be converted into electricity or fuel. However, storing and transporting hydrogen is complex and expensive and has a lower energy value per volume. By using a process known as ‘cracking’ it is possible to convert ammonia back into hydrogen. This makes it possible to store and transport hydrogen as ammonia and use the ‘cracking’ process when hydrogen gas is required for use.
Ammonia as energy storage
Ammonia storage is important for the transition to renewable energy as it can help with the challenge of intermittency. Since renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are not continuously available, storage is necessary to ensure a consistent power supply.
Compared to other energy storage solutions, ammonia storage has the advantages of its high energy density, cost-effectiveness, capacity for long-term-storage, and scalability. Given its liquid form, ammonia can easily be used in existing distribution networks, making it possible to transport around the world via pipes, road tankers, railcars, and ships.
What’s the difference between grey, blue, and green ammonia
The ammonia industry has adopted an informal color scheme to distinguish between the carbon intensity of different ammonia production methods.
Grey ammonia is the conventional method for producing ammonia and accounts for the majority of what is currently produced worldwide. It is made using the Haber-Bosch process which is responsible for 185 million tonnes of ammonia yearly. The method, which includes the use of fossil fuels as feedstocks releases about half a gigaton of CO2 and significant amounts of other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Blue ammonia is produced in a similar way to grey ammonia, typically with natural gas as the feedstock. However, unlike grey ammonia, the carbon dioxide which is produced during the production process is captured and stored rather than released into the atmosphere.
Green ammonia refers to ammonia that is produced using renewable energy sources and a carbon-free process. It does not produce carbon dioxide during the production process and is considered a carbon-neutral or carbon-free fuel. It has a promising future in the transition to net-zero thanks to its uses as a clean energy carrier and feedstock for fuel cells and energy storage.
The future for Proton Ventures: building secure and reliable solutions
So what’s next for Proton Ventures? We asked them about the company’s current focus and future goals.
Paul, when do you consider your task with Proton Ventures “done”?
Our job is never done, we’re always going after the next big impact project. But one of our ultimate goals at Proton Ventures is to make green ammonia competitive and more attractive than grey ammonia today. Optimizing the cost of production is the only way to close this gap. With all the services we provide with Proton, we are advancing low-carbon ammonia along the entire value-chain. Worldwide, it is expected that low-carbon ammonia could help to substitute 10-20% of global CO2 emissions, including its existing and future use-cases.
What are the most important product aspects Proton Ventures is working on now?
Our focus varies depending on the value-chain step.
On the demand side, the new use-cases that are emerging for ammonia as a bunkering fuel or as a hydrogen carrier will put ammonia in direct competition with other energy carriers, and there the pressures on the cost will be significant. The main lever to reduce the ammonia production cost is to source low-cost renewable electricity from locations with high renewable resources, such as Morocco, Brazil, Namibia, Australia, etc. which is why Proton Ventures targets these countries for project developments.
On ammonia storage, Proton Ventures main role is to make sure that the highest safety standards are always implemented in the terminals that we design. A state-of-the-art ammonia storage terminal contains 10-100kT of liquified ammonia stored at any point. Any leakage or venting of this ammonia could quickly become dangerous. That said, it is important to know that safety codes, standards, and procedures for ammonia have been in place for over a century and that the safety track record for ammonia storage and handling following these procedures is exceptional.
How does Proton Ventures view the impact it can have with ammonia on the energy transition the coming 5-10 years? Do you have specific goals or types of projects you want to go after?
Our objective is to provide large volumes of cost-efficient ammonia to the market. This is why we are currently developing a project pipeline of 4,5Mt/y of green ammonia export hubs. If applied to existing markets, these volumes would substitute 12MT/y of CO2 emissions, equivalent to 9% of the current CO2 emissions in the Netherlands.
On ammonia storage, we are currently designing multiple large-scale ammonia import terminals in Europe, for example in Rotterdam and Antwerp. These terminals will be a crucial link to reach the REPowerEU objective to import 10MT/y of green hydrogen to Europe by 2030 and the key to getting low-carbon ammonia to its future customers in Europe.
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