World's largest green ammonia projects could clean up half the market
If all the major green ammonia projects on our shortlist are completed on schedule, their combined production total will be more than half of today's global ammonia industry by the mid-2030s – eliminating nearly 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Ammonia (NH3) is a critically important chemical, and it's produced at a huge rate – about 150 million tons per year. About 70% of that is used as agricultural fertilizer, but it's also used in pharmaceuticals and cleaning products. It's also being evaluated as a potential zero-emissions fuel for energy intensive applications where batteries won't cut the mustard, or as a relatively cheap and easy way to transport green hydrogen.
Traditionally though, it's been produced using hydrogen derived from steam-reformed methane gas, which is combined with purified nitrogen at a temperature around 450 °C (842 °F) in gas-fired reactors as part of the Haber-Bosch process. End to end, it's a filthy business, and responsible for some 1.8% of global carbon emissions.
In the race to zero carbon by 2050, that 175 million tonnes of ammonia production capacity will need to be completely replaced with green production processes. It's simple enough to do; you use renewable energy to create hydrogen through electrolysis of water, then run your green hydrogen through a Haber-Bosch reactor that's heated using more green hydrogen.
According to the Ammonia Energy Association, the price of green ammonia is heavily dependent on the price of renewable energy; at or below US$50 per MWh, it becomes cheaper than making dirty ammonia using methane. That's a level already achievable with wind and solar in many areas, so it's eminently doable, and large-scale projects are already in the works to get the ball rolling. Here are some of the biggest we could find.
Brazilian chemicals company Unigel has already started construction on a combined green hydrogen/ammonia plant in Bahia, northeastern Brazil. Slated to open in 2023 at a quarter of its capacity, it'll ramp up to produce 40,000 tons of green hydrogen and 240,000 tons of green ammonia per year by 2025.
Meridian Energy has just selected Woodside Energy as its development partner on the Southern Green Hydrogen project in Southland, New Zealand. This will be a 600-MW renewable energy facility, feeding a green ammonia facility that's expected to produce up to 550,000 tons per year for export, while also acting as backup for the national energy grid in dry years when hydro power drops off.
Hive Energy announced in 2021 that it's building South Africa's largest solar farm – with a 1 GW capacity – to feed renewable energy to its Coega site, where it's building a green ammonia plant near a deep-water harbor in Nelson Mandela Bay. The $4.6 billion Coega plant will produce 780,000 tons of green ammonia per year, largely for waterborne export to the Far East, Europe and the USA. Construction begins in 2025, and first-phase production is expected to begin in 2026.
Air Products and ACWA Power are teaming up with the nascent Saudi "future city" of Neom to build a $5 billion, 4-GW green ammonia plant as one of Neom's first industrial projects. The Helios Green Fuels project aims to be operational by 2026, producing 1.3 million tons of green ammonia per year for export.
Australia's Hydrogen Utility (H2U) is gathering steam and partnerships toward a monster facility in Gladstone, Queensland, that plans to open as soon as 2025. The $3.15 billion H2-Hub has a planned 3 GW of electrolysis capacity, and a planned output just over two million tons of green ammonia per year from 2030. H2U has signed an export MoU with Korea East Power.
On the west coast of Australia, the Murchison Hydrogen Renewables project aims to install 5 GW of wind and solar, and 3 GW of electrolysis capacity, and to produce some 2.2 million tons of green ammonia annually by 2030. A final investment decision is expected by 2025.
CWP Global is working on two giga-scale projects in Africa. One is the AMUN project in Morocco, which will produce up to 2.8 million tons of green ammonia per year in its second phase with 6 GW of renewables, before expanding to 15 GW and nearly tripling production. It's also signed a $40 billion MoU with the government of Mauritania, on the west coast of Africa, to build 30 GW of renewables and a 10-million-tons-per-year green ammonia facility. The AMAN project will electrolyze 50 million cubic meters (1.77 billion cu ft) of water per year, and it's expected to add 50-60% to Mauritania's total GDP by 2035.
Intercontinental Energy is working on at least four of the world's largest green ammonia projects, including the 26-GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Australia, now majority-owned by BP, and the 25-GW Green Energy Oman project, which will produce a massive 1.8 million tons of green hydrogen and 10 million tons of green ammonia per year. Both of these pale in comparison to Intercontinental's Saudi Arabia Renewable Energy Hub, which is targeting 16.5 million tons of green ammonia per year by 2030, rising to 22 million tons per year by 2035, and the Western Green Energy Hub in the south-east of Western Australia, which is targeting 22 million tons per year of green ammonia by 2030.
There may be larger projects in the works; it's hard to tell how much of the 45-GW Svevind green energy project in Kazakshtan will be dedicated to ammonia production. Likewise the 60-GW Hydrogen City project in Texas, and the massive HyDeal Ambition project, which will have 95 GW of solar capacity and 67 GW of electrolysis, spread out across Spain, France and Germany.
Most of these projects are in their early stages; the rubber starts hitting the road around 2030, and some can definitely be expected to fall by the wayside and never get built. But there are some very ambitious projects here – Intercontinental's four giant giga-facilities alone could replace well over a third of current global ammonia production if they do what the company says they're going to – and there's room for many more as decarbonization accelerates, green ammonia finds its way into marine, aviation, rail and other sectors, and the global population continues to grow.