A pilot attempts to convert and adapt a ship to run on green ammonia, a sustainable fuel, and stop running on fuel. The idea is a major challenge—the umpteenth—of the energy transition, but in this case, it has to do with the maritime industry, which also has to do without fossil fuels. Reuser businessman Xavier Lara, CEO of renewable energy consultancy Aelius, is behind this groundbreaking test, which will be carried out on a Chinese Navy frigate in a few weeks and looks set to mark another milestone in this race to decarbonize transport. maritime.
In June, Lara presented his proposal to various authorities in the Asian country, which is home to the world’s largest shipbuilding industry. The businessman, ambassador of the EU climate pact for Spain and trained at the URV, signed an agreement to develop this first green ammonia pilot and converted a 4,000-ton marine engine in the port of Qingdao. It will be the first conversion worldwide, even if it is only a first step. “We agreed to convert a frigate. We take care of the basic engineering; the conversion itself is done by a Chinese state company. “We have seen a very good disposition, which has been reflected in this agreement,” explains Lara.
Estimated at $25 million, the project may open the door for expansion to the rest of China’s fleet in the eventual transition to green fuel. There are still no ships running on this type of fuel, which could be crucial globally in the coming decades. “On the one hand, we will have ships that can move on green ammonia, but they will be those that already come out of the factory, those designed to do so. We offer that the current fleets can be redesigned,” says Lara.
The head of the Aelius company presented his approach at the Qingdao Forum of the East Asia Cooperation Platform at the “Harmonious Coexistence in the Decade of Oceans” event organized by China’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Shandong Provincial Government.
Aelius is an engineering consulting and technology provider company founded by Lara in 2016 with offices in Madrid, Tarragona, the United States, and Australia. The race for green fuel for ships is on. Iberdrola announced in June an agreement with multinational Trammo, the largest marketer of green ammonia, to build a plant to manufacture the substance in southern Europe.
In turn, shipping giant Maersk wants to set up a “hub” in Spain for the production of green methanol, a hydrogen derivative that will compete with ammonia as a compound enabling fleet decarbonization. Lara points out that “green ammonia can be produced in any country in the world” and also states that “it can serve as a fuel for plants that currently burn fossil fuels”.
The conversion of the Chinese naval frigate to replace fuel oil with ammonia will begin in October and will take nine months
But just in this marine application, there is a path in different phases. Lara suggests that Tarragona could be another enclave for the disposal of this fuel, which has long had multiple uses, such as agricultural fertilizer, but can now be used for the shipping industry. “Tarragona would be an ideal place; it’s part of the Vall de hydrogen, and our idea would be very suitable to reduce dependence on oil-exporting countries,” says Lara.
Once the project kicks off in China, the consultant even plans to look for opportunities in Tarragona. “My idea is to come with a delegation of investors from China who are willing to bet that we can fund something similar,” he says.
“This is a pilot project; this is the first time a ship will be converted to run on green ammonia,” explains Xavier Lara, Advisor and CEO of Aelius.
In the Vall de l’Hidrogen, they take up the glove and see the proposal with very good eyes. “The doors are open to productions of this type, and we are very keen to explore them,” explains Isaac Justicia, Technical Director at Vall de l’Hidrogen.
In fact, Tarragona is deepld in researching this type of technology. “We have projects focused on green ammonia, both as a fuel for boats and as a means of transportation. Hydrogen is difficult to transport, and one of the possible “carriers” is ammonia,” points out Justicia, who emphasizes that “there are people who are interested in making hydrogen and turning it into ammonia”.
For La Vall’s manager, “green ammonia is one of the future fuels for the shipping industry,” although he encounters a downside: “When you turn hydrogen into ammonia, you lose some of the energy efficiency, but it does.” Undoubtedly, we have an interesting alternative. We are moving into a future where green hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol will safely coexist as fuels for ships.” In general, these are projects that are currently maturing, but this will be critical.
The largest electrolyzer in Spain, being built in Tarragona by Repsol to feed the petrochemical pole, is a key element in ammonia production. The proximity of Port de Tarragona also plays a role. “There is a project to convert a ship to run on green hydrogen,” says Justicia.
The Vall de l’Hidrogen and the proximithydrogenort are favorable environments to test these processes
Before that, Xavier Lara will travel to China again later this month to start this project, which will last nine months and be completed by the middle of next year. It will also be a logistical challenge. “We will do the technical design. “The most complicated thing will be the understanding between the two teams,” explains Lara. The other company that will intervene is Shanghai Electric. Around 50 workers will take care of this conversion.
From there, it can be replicated on other ships in the Chinese Navy or on other types of merchant ships. It will be a milestone that paves the way for this race, which is inevitable for experts. “The maritime industry will have to rely on these fuels because they will have no other alternative.” “We assume that the return on investment is estimated in less than ten years, taking into account the current assessments of carbon dioxide emissions,” emphasizes Lara. “And we have to keep in mind that the amounts to be paid for emissions may increase, and we are on the way to banning fossil fuels,” adds the entrepreneur.
“It’s an interesting field. “There is interest in La Vall to produce hydrogen and turn it into ammonia,” says Isaac Justicia, technical director of La Vall de l’Hidrogen.
Green ammonia is made from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen produced in electrolyzers using renewable electricity. The main feature of this type of ammonia is that there are no CO2 emissions into the atmosphere throughout the production chain. “We’re starting with renewable power sources,” says Lara.
From there, elements such as the electrolyzer would come into play, like the one Repsol has planned next to the Tarragona refinery to produce green hydrogen and which is scheduled to come on stream in 2025. Large amounts of distilled water are used, to be eventually recovered through a process involving electrolysis, which produces the green hydrogen molecule, which is compressed and fed into a reactor called the Haber-Bosch.
In this synthesis, which allows hydrogen and nitrogen to react at high pressure and temperature, oxygen is separated from the air that is released into the atmosphere, and nitrogen is recovered.
The end result is the productio green ammonia using green hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen. The refueling of ships will be one of their main applications in the future.
Properties and Benefits of Green Ammonia
Used in fertilizers. Ammonia (NH3) is a chemical compound based on nitrogen and hydrogen that is commonly used in the manufacture of fertilizers and industrial chemicals. It is made from natural gas and emits two tons of CO2 per ton during its manufacturing process. For this reason, conventional ammonia is called gray ammonia.
maritime industry. Green ammonia, on the other hand, does not emit any CO2 in its production process, so its production is expected to grow exponentially, which will replace gray ammonia and can be used for other additional applications, including the maritime industry.
New uses. Ammonia is presented as a substance with potential for various growth areas. It is considered an energy carrier because it enables the efficient transport and storage of hydrogen. This is an additional process called cracking,” in which the NH3 molecule is split again to recover the hydrogen it contains.
decarbonization. Iberdrola emphasizes that “another possible new use of green ammonia is as fuel for ships, which could play an important role in decarbonizing the maritime sector”. The energy company emphasizes that “it has the potential to be used as a fuel in boilers, turbines, or engines to generate heat and electricity, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Transport. Beyond its use as a fuel, green ammonia has the potential as an energy carrier or “carrier” of green hydrogen. In other words, it enables more competitive and efficient transport of green hydrogen. Their role in the energy transition will therefore be crucial.