Why, oh why, did US President Joe Biden choose Louisiana as the place to launch a personal pitch for his new infrastructure plan? It’s true that infrastructure in the state could use some improvement, but the green jobs angle is a heavy lift, because wind and solar resources in the region are sub-par compared to other areas of the US. However, some interesting news about green ammonia just popped up on the old CleanTechnica radar, and that could come into play as the Pelican State seeks firmer footing in the emerging green economy.
Green Ammonia Was Just Waiting For Green Hydrogen To Happen
For those of you new to the topic, ammonia is one of those chemical ingredients one doesn’t spend much time thinking about unless one’s livelihood is at stake. That includes plenty of natural gas stakeholders, because ammonia is the main ingredient in synthetic fertilizer, and the main source of the global supply of ammonia today is natural gas, except in China where coal gasification is a thing.
If you’re thinking that sounds suspiciously like the global supply of hydrogen, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. The main source of hydrogen today is natural gas, except for the coal thing in China, and the chemical formula for ammonia is NH3, meaning one nitrogen plus three hydrogen.
Fortunately for the health and safety of the entire human population of the Earth, an alternative market is already emerging for green hydrogen, meaning hydrogen chased from water with electricity, or extracted from renewable biogas or biosolids. Synthetic wastes are also in the running for a more sustainable global hydrogen feedstock.
Doing the math, that means the green hydrogen trend could enable the ammonia industry to release itself from the grip of natural gas (and coal in China).
As one measure of how quickly the green ammonia craze is catching on, just yesterday two leading global power and engineering firms, Cummins and KBR, signed an MOU to “collaborate on offering a complete and integrated solution to produce ammonia from renewable sources, commonly referred to as green ammonia.”
CF Industries Is Already On To The Green Ammonia Thing
Over here in the US, the leading global ammonia producer CF Industries is already on the case. CF Industries is headquartered in Illinois, but it is best known for its sprawling ammonia facility in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, which is the largest facility of its kind in the world.
Green ammonia at the Donaldsonville facility could provide both CF and Louisiana with a golden opportunity to demonstrate how quickly the good old fashioned American system of capitalism can pivot into new money-making technology that happens to dovetail with President Biden’s scheme for saving the planet while creating many new green jobs, and that very thing appears to be in the works for CF.
In fact, CF anticipated the President several months ago with an ambitious decarbonization plan for the Donaldsonville facility, announced last November. The plan includes additional pollution controls at the facility in addition to green hydrogen production for ammonia. As for the nitrogen angle, that can be sucked out of ambient air.
Lest there be any doubt, CF President and CEO Tony explained that “today’s commitment to decarbonize the world’s largest ammonia production network positions CF Industries at the forefront of clean hydrogen supply. Due to our unparalleled manufacturing and distribution network, our competitive advantage in producing low-carbon ammonia at scale is measured in terms of years and billions of dollars.”
For anyone still skeptical, the company’s home page also hammers home the ammonia decarbonization point.
Next Steps For Green Ammonia In The US
Louisiana is just one green ammonia hotspot in the US. The game is also afoot in Minnesota, where researchers are looking into the feasibility of a distributed ammonia production network leveraging on-site wind turbines at local farms.
CF must have felt Minnesota breathing down its neck, because earlier this week the Gonzales Weekly Citizen reported that CF inked a deal in April with the global engineering firm thyssenkrupp to get moving on the new decarbonized green ammonia system at the Donaldsville facility (follow that link for all the details and to support local journalism).
Thyssenkrupp’s end of the deal is to install a 20-megawatt electrolysis plant, which is fancyspeak for pushing hydrogen out of water by applying an electrical current. The next logical question, sustainability-wise, is where all the electricity will come.
We’ll get to that in a sec. Meanwhile, thyssenkrupp already gave a sneak peek back in April, when it let word drop about the Louisiana ammonia project.
Where Is All The Green Electricity Coming From?
That’s a good question. CF’s electrolysis plan involves purchasing renewable energy offsets from grid-supplied electricity, leveraging facilities across its network.
That makes sense considering that Louisiana’s solar profile is slim to none. Our friends over at the Solar Energy Industries Association rank Louisiana down at a lowly #38 in the state rankings, with little prospect of improvement over the next five years.
For wind rankings we used to rely on the American Wind Energy Association, and they merged with American Clean Power so we’ll go with that. As cited by the US Department of Energy, ACP is tracking precisely zero megawatts of installed wind capacity this year, with nothing in the pipeline.
More Green Electricity For Louisiana
That’s tough for CF, which would probably like to burnish its green cred by using actual renewable energy to produce its green ammonia at Donaldsonville instead of relying on offsets.
However, hope is in store, and that’s where the new green jobs angle comes in.
Last fall the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory took a closer look at wind resources in the Gulf of Mexico. While the region does not boast the kind of those luscious winds powering the US wind industry up and down the Atlantic coast, NREL does make an economic case for kickstarting offshore wind activity in targeted Gulf states, and Louisiana is one of them.
Add an enthusiastic endorsement from Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards, and the stage is set for thousands of new green jobs to come swarming into the state.
Governor Edwards has noted that Louisiana-based engineering and supply chain firms in the state’s existing offshore energy industry have already played a key role in bringing green jobs to Rhode Island through the Block Island offshore wind farm, which is the first and still the only commercial offshore wind farm in the US.
With that experience under its belt, Louisiana-based offshore energy stakeholders are primed to do the same and more at home. Edwards is probably eyeballing the 300 construction jobs involved in building the Block Island wind farm, and the development of an assembly facility in Rhode Island to build even more wind turbines for more offshore wind farms.
If Mitch McConnell really is serious about being 100% focused on stopping all those offshore wind jobs, he better get cracking.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Conventional vs. renewable ammonia production courtesy of thyssenkrupp.
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