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July 13, 2023

Accelerating the energy transition with First Ammonia

Green ammonia is crucial for a green future. It’s a reliable source of power but producing it calls for electrolysis on a huge scale. Our revolutionary electrolyzers can provide that – and they’ll be at the core of First Ammonia’s green ammonia plants.

Green ammonia can be a carbon-free fuel for industry and shipping. It’s also easier to transport than the hydrogen it derives from. And it can store power from renewable sources that might otherwise go to waste. But producing it on a big enough scale to contribute significantly to decarbonization is a challenge. That’s where our solid oxide electrolyzer (SOEC) technology comes in.

We’re working with US-based business First Ammonia to put SOEC at the heart of green ammonia plants set to open by 2025.

First Ammonia is developing plants to produce up to 5 million tonnes of ammonia a year. Making that possible demands efficient, large-scale electrolysis. SOEC technology promises exactly that. Our new plant in Denmark that will produce electrolyzer units will be in operation in 2025. It has a production capacity of 500 MW with an option to expand further. First Ammonia will use these electrolyzers to produce ammonia with spare renewable power from nearby solar and wind facilities.

The collaboration with First Ammonia began after Joel Moser, now its CEO, visited our labs in Lyngby, Denmark, in 2018. ‘I could see there was something special about this company. As a green energy investor, it was clear to me that Topsoe’s research positioned them to have industry-ready applications. I decided then, that I wanted to be close to the company.’ When Joel and colleagues later decided to form First Ammonia to produce green ammonia, ‘it was natural that we do this with Topsoe,’ he says.

Glimpsing the future of green ammonia

Ammonia is a highly versatile relative of hydrogen. Its possible uses include fuelling ships, which can’t be electrified, and producing nitrogen-based fertilizer, which currently relies on natural gas. It can also replace coal-fired power stations – Japan aims to replace 20% of coal with ammonia in power generation by 2030* – as fuel for aviation or as an energy carrier. As Joel explains: ‘Hydrogen is more complicated to store, transport, and use, and it’s expensive to liquefy. Adding nitrogen to make ammonia gives a substance that’s easy to use and handle, easy to store and easier to transport.’

First Ammonia’s planned production process uses power generated by solar and wind facilities at peak times, but that grids can’t accommodate. Using this excess power to make green ammonia means it doesn’t go to waste. Once the ammonia is available, it can also store power, acting like a liquid battery. This could in turn create more demand for renewable power facilities because more of the electricity they generate will be used, either to produce ammonia or be stored in it.

Harnessing a unique technology

Topsoe SOEC technology is better suited to producing green ammonia than other forms of electrolysis. Alkaline electrolyzers can’t turn on and off quickly enough to handle intermittent renewable power. And proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis relies on rare earth metals that put the cost out of reach. ‘We did a detailed economic analysis of producing hydrogen from all types of electrolysis and our enquiries concluded that SOEC was the most efficient, cost-effective method,’ says Joel.

Sundus Cordelia Ramli, Chief Commercial Officer at Power-to-X, Topsoe says: ‘The collaboration now means that we’re helping to realize each other’s visions. First Ammonia is helping us commercialize our technology and make strides in Power-to-X – turning electricity into carbon-neutral fuels. Meanwhile, our technology is the key to First Ammonia producing green ammonia at scale.’

Saving the world

In the largest agreement of its kind, First Ammonia will take 5GW of electrolyzer capacity in all. This will produce enough ammonia to eliminate 13m tons of CO2.

And continues: ‘We’re not messing around here. This is about saving the world. Ammonia has done that once by producing fertilizer to grow crops that prevent starvation. It can now save humanity again by creating green fuel and energy to help decarbonize the world.’

‘The world will be watching our first project with Topsoe technology. We’ve got to get it right – and Topsoe is the company in the world most uniquely positioned to do that and demonstrate that this works.’

*Japan’s Green growth strategy announced in October 2020 with emission reduction targets being increased in April 2021.

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