CCS Ready to Conquer the Ammonia Industry

Ammonia is not typically discussed at the dinner tables around the world, but it should be: it’s a vital chemical for making fertilizer, enabling efficient food production for a growing world population. Ammonia’s importance is also linked to significant energy needs and large greenhouse gas emissions. In this article, we give a brief background on the ammonia industry before we dive into the greenhouse gas emissions side of things. Then we look at some recent announcements in the CCS world and use CaptureMap to locate the sites and get a sense for what’s happening. 

The world needs ammonia 

Ammonia is the magic that connects nitrogen in the air to the food we put on our plates. Slightly more than ⅔ of all ammonia production goes to fertilizer production. The rest is used for various other applications like plastics, explosives and synthetic fibers. In the future, ammonia could also serve important needs as a fuel in the transport sector – shipping is one example. 

Looking at the major producers, China alone makes roughly 30 % of the global output. The next five have about 10 % each, being US, EU, India, Middle East and Russia. Do we need ammonia in the future? Simply put, yes. IEA’s Technology Roadmap on Ammonia argues that a larger and more wealthy population will lead to increased ammonia demand compared to today. IEA is also quick to point out that we’ll need ammonia production with less emissions. 

Ammonia is mostly made from natural gas and coal

Turns out that ammonia production is both energy and emissions intensive. The majority of ammonia production comes from steam reforming of natural gas, with some also from coal gasification. And this generates greenhouse gas emissions – quite a bit, in fact. 

According to the IEA, global ammonia production accounts for 450 million tons of CO2 annually, that’s on the order of 10 % of all GHG emissions in the EU. On an emissions per ton of production basis, Ammonia is close to twice as emissions intensive as crude steel and close to four times as emissions intensive as cement. 

What are the emission reduction options?

There’s good news, fortunately. Several pathways are available for reducing emissions from ammonia production. Most notably are perhaps electrolysis, methane pyrolysis and CCUS. But, IEA’s list of upcoming emission reduction projects together only cover around 3 % of current production capacity. So, we need more projects. That’s in addition to using nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently, where there’s also potential for significant improvement. 

A 78% drop in the emissions intensity of ammonia production by 2050, as in the Sustainable Development Scenario, hinges on electrolysis and CCS routes. Such dependency is even more important to reach the 96% reduction in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.

IEA, 2021: Ammonia Technology Roadmap

CCS has big potential in the industry

CCS works particularly well for ammonia production. That’s because ammonia requires hydrogen as a feedstock, typically made from processing natural gas or coal. A byproduct of the hydrogen production process is a high-concentration stream of CO2 (more than 95 % by volume). In other words, the process already captures CO2. Some of this CO2 can be used on-site to produce urea, while the rest is typically released to the atmosphere. It just needs purification and compression before it’s ready for transport and storage instead of going to the atmosphere.

In addition to process-related CO2 emissions, there are also energy-related CO2 emissions, but these have much lower CO2-concentrations in the emission streams (3-13 % by volume). As a result you need more energy to separate it from the flue gas stream and thus more difficult to capture economically. 

CaptureMap to the rescue 

We head over to CaptureMap to better understand the business potential for CCUS in the time to come, what regions are important, and where the major sites are. Our first screen shot shows an overview of both ammonia and other nitrogenous fertilizers. We’ve also included a categorization called “Other” because some sites in that category also include ammonia production. In total, we’re looking at nearly 130 facilities with combined annual CO2 emissions of just over 70 mtpa (million tons per annum). 

Screenshot from CaptureMap: Ammonia plants in Europe and North America, circle size scaled with emission size.

Next, we start applying some filters to narrow down the list. We set minimum annual emissions per facility to 1 mtpa CO2 and filter on sites in North America. By far the largest facility from an emissions perspective is CF Industries’ plant in Donaldsonville in the US. Interestingly, they recently announced a 200M USD project to capture as much as 2 million tons per year. To the right is a picture of the complex and below is a snapshot of CaptureMap from the site-specific overview. 

Figure from CF Industries, 2022: Donaldsonville Complex
Screenshot from CaptureMap: Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex

In other news, CF industries’ announcement comes right after Cleco’s news in April for 900M USD carbon capture project at their power plant at Brame Energy Center near Boyce. Looks like things are happening in Louisiana! We therefore select Louisiana as a state in CaptureMap, and clear our other filters to get a better idea of what kind of industries are there. A total of 280 facilities in that state, together generating more than 130mtpa of CO2 emissions. Chemicals, but also power and heat, oil and gas as well as pulp and paper.  

Screenshot from CaptureMap: Industrial sites in Louisiana

Zooming in on the area around the Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex, it’s also of interest to understand which nearby sites could collaborate in a common cluster for sharing common infrastructure costs. The Mississippi river has lots of industries nearby, red indicating chemicals/petrochemicals, green for power, dark gray for refineries and yellow for iron and steel. In the image to the right, we’ve used a clustering function in CaptureMap to identify those sites that are near the river from New Orleans and up to Baton Rouge. In total, close to 90 facilities and 70 mtpa of CO2. 

Screenshot from CaptureMap: Clustering feature along the Missisippi River

For our final venture of this session on Ammonia, we return to Europe. With 29 sites and roughly 28 mtpa, there’s lots of good emission reduction potential in many European countries. One project that’s gotten recent attention is Yara’s deal with the Northern Lights project, a world’s first commercial agreement on cross border CO2-transport and storage. This site is located in Sluiskil in the Netherlands and aims to capture 0,8mtpa from its site. 

Screenshot from CaptureMap: Ammonia production sites in Europe

Final thoughts

Ammonia is and will be essential for food production in the time to come. While there are large emissions from the segment today, there are promising options for emission abatement. The announcements we’ve seen sofar in 2022 bear witness of exciting prospects for emission cuts!

What we find particularly powerful with CaptureMap is the ability to bring situational awareness to CCS project developments around the world. Hopefully this article gave you a better overview of ammonia production and some potential sites out there that could use CCS solutions in the future. If you’d like a demo of CaptureMap, you know where to find us. 

Are you interested in the potential for CCS in other segments? Read our blog posts on CementWaste-to-Energy and Ethanol!


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