Ammonia market could drive region’s low carbon strategy and boost port operations

Prof Joe Howe

Increasing the use of ammonia is the latest option to boost a low carbon economy across the North West, with the Port of Liverpool ideally placed to handle international traffic.

A new report reveals how the region could build on world-leading plans for local low carbon hydrogen production and use by also pioneering low carbon energy imports through ramping up Britain’s use of ammonia.

The report, ‘The role of ammonia in the North West hydrogen economy’ by the North West Hydrogen Alliance (NWHA), outlines how using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier could further boost its rollout in the UK as a low carbon fuel.

Doing so could also diversify the energy being imported into the UK.

Hydrogen forms a key part of the UK’s net zero plans, recently featuring heavily in the Government’s Energy Security Strategy and the North West’s Cluster Plan, a roadmap to decarbonising the region’s industrial cluster.

Low carbon hydrogen will be transported via pipelines for distribution to industry and other sectors of the economy to replace fossil fuels or refrigerated to very low temperatures to store and transport it in liquid form for international shipping.

Ammonia alone can be used as a low carbon fertiliser or even a green shipping fuel. Alternatively, by converting it to hydrogen it can then be used more widely for transport, industry, heating homes and in power generation.

Using ammonia – a compound made of hydrogen and nitrogen – means it can be easier to liquify and transport over long distances. It can also provide additional hydrogen storage capacity.

Prof Joe Howe, chair of the NWHA and executive director, Thornton Research Institute at the University of Chester, said: “The Government has doubled its 2030 hydrogen production target and it’s a major part of the UK’s green future.

“Ammonia could be an important component of the hydrogen economy, providing a cost effective way to store and transport the low carbon fuel around the UK and beyond.

“The North West is ideally placed to capitalise on this market. We have mature supply chains used to producing and handling ammonia in large quantities, coupled with a high demand for hydrogen from industry looking to decarbonise.”

He added: “Ammonia could also be key to decarbonising our energy imports through destinations like the Port of Liverpool.

“The success of ammonia will be down to its versatility. Not only can it be a low carbon hydrogen carrier, but it can also be used as a green fertiliser and shipping fuel.”

The North West’s industrial leaders say the region is in a prime spot to develop this low carbon market. Not only does the region have a high demand for hydrogen, due to levels of energy-intensive industries, but it already has a long history of large scale ammonia production, with the UK’s largest ammonia manufacturer, CF Fertilisers located near Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

More broadly, ammonia could also play a role in decarbonising the UK’s energy imports. The low cost of solar energy overseas mean green ammonia plants in places like North Africa and the Middle East could supplement domestic supply.

With the UK currently importing some 200TWh of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) every year, ammonia can act as low carbon alternative. With the North West boasting one of the UK’s largest and most centrally placed ports at Liverpool, it could be a key location for ammonia imports.

The North West is already making significant strides in developing a hydrogen economy. The region is home to the leading hydrogen and carbon capture project HyNet North West, which will deliver amongst the lowest cost CO2 transport and storage infrastructure in the UK by extensively repurposing existing onshore and offshore assets.

The project can deliver nearly 40% of the Government’s new national 2030 target for low carbon hydrogen production. Able to benefit from the existing regional technical skill base in engineering, chemicals production, refining and offshore oil and gas, HyNet North West is planning to be operational from 2025.

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