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Yara plans to make green ammonia in Norway

The company seeks government support for a project that will cut carbon dioxide emissions

by Alexander H. Tullo
December 8, 2020

A photo of Yara's plant in Porsgrunn, Norway.
Credit: Yara
Yara plans to switch to green hydrogen at this ammonia plant in Porsgrunn, Norway.

The Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara is the latest firm to plan a massive green ammonia project. Yara says it wants to change the source of hydrogen for its ammonia plant in Porsgrunn, Norway, from hydrocarbons to water electrolysis powered by renewable energy.

The conversion of the plant, which has 500,000 metric tons (t) per year of NH3 capacity, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 800,000 t annually, the same amount as emitted by roughly 300,000 passenger vehicles.

Electricity for the plant would come from the Norwegian power grid. Some 98% of Norway’s power already comes from renewable sources, the vast majority being hydroelectric, according to government statistics.

To build the electrolyzers, Yara is seeking outside partners and help from the government. The company says electrolysis-based ammonia costs 2-4 times more to make than conventional ammonia. The company notes that the conversion of the plant would eliminate one of Norway’s largest stationary sources of CO2 emissions.

The primary use of the ammonia, if the project is completed as planned in 2026, will be as fuel, not fertilizer. The hydrogen economy, Terje Knutsen, Yara’s executive vice president of farming solutions, told investors in an online presentation, is developing “faster than previously anticipated.” The first sector to adopt ammonia as an emissions-free fuel will be shipping, he predicted.

“Ammonia is the most promising hydrogen energy carrier, even more than hydrogen itself,” Knutsen said.

Liquid hydrogen must be stored at -253 °C and has an energy density of 2.00 kWh per L of volume, according to Knutsen’s presentation slides. Ammonia is stored at -33 °C and contains 3.75 kWh per L. Moreover, unlike for hydrogen, a vast global infrastructure for ammonia trading and storage already exists.

Yara is banking that its experience in the ammonia trade plus its 8.5 million t of global production positions it to plunge into the green ammonia business. CEO Svein Tore Holsether said in the same presentation that he wants Yara to be “the ammonia champion in the hydrogen economy.”

The company has a few pilot programs in green already. In Porsgrunn, it plans to install enough electrolyzer capacity for 20,000 t of per year ammonia by 2023. In Pilbara, Australia, it is considering installing 3,500 t of ammonia capacity based on solar power. And in Sluiskil, the Netherlands, it is studying 70,000 t of green ammonia capacity based on wind power.

Yara is not alone in pursuing green ammonia. Last month, US competitor CF Industries announced it will install electrolyzers at its plant in Louisiana for 20,000 t of annual NH3 capacity, pledging that the project is just the start of a major new business for the company. Air Products and Saudi partners are planning a complex in Saudi Arabia that will make 1.2 million t of green ammonia.



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