Saudi Arabia ships low-carbon ammonia to Japan

The Asian country plans to use more ammonia as part of its net-zero goals

An ammonia tank at a thermal power station in Hekinan, central Japan. Reuters
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A first shipment of independently certified low-carbon ammonia from Saudi Arabia has arrived in Japan for use in power generation.

The ammonia was produced by Sabic Agri-Nutrients with feedstock from top crude exporter Saudi Aramco, the companies said on Thursday.

It was classified as low-carbon because the carbon dioxide produced during the manufacturing process was collected and used in downstream applications, they said.

Mitsui OSK Lines shipped the liquid to Japan, where the low-carbon ammonia was transported to the Sodegaura Refinery for use in co-fired power generation, with technical support provided by Japan Oil Engineering.

“This is another milestone that highlights the possibilities for low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia made from Aramco feedstock, with the potential to play a role in a lower-carbon future,” said Olivier Thorel, Aramco senior vice president of chemicals.

“Not only is low-carbon ammonia a means to transport lower-carbon hydrogen, it is an important energy source in its own right that can help decarbonise key sectors — including power generation for both utilities and industries."

Ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, can be used as a low-carbon fuel across industrial applications, including transport, power generation, and industries such as steel, cement and fertiliser production.

Power plants could potentially use 100 million tonnes of low-carbon ammonia as feedstock by 2050, Wood Mackenzie said.

It is also used to transport hydrogen over long distances.

Japan, which relies heavily on imports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas, plans to harness ammonia as a fuel for power generation and for ship propulsion, as part of the country’s 2050 decarbonisation goals.

In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 88 per cent of the country’s total primary energy supply, the International Energy Agency said.

“As Japan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, low-carbon ammonia is expected to be a next-generation fuel that can contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions,” said Shigeto Yamamoto, president of Fuji Oil, which bought the shipment.

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Last year, Aramco and Sabic Agri-Nutrients received the world’s first independent certificate of accreditation for producing blue hydrogen and ammonia products.

Aramco aims to produce up to 11 million tonnes a year of blue ammonia by 2030 and is currently developing carbon capture and hydrogen capabilities.

Blue hydrogen production is expected to contribute to its target to become carbon neutral by 2050.

In 2020, Aramco and Sabic also collaborated on the world's first shipment of blue ammonia from Saudi Arabia to Japan.

Forty tonnes of high-grade blue ammonia was sent for use in low-carbon power generation in the Asian country.

The low-carbon ammonia that reached Japan is part of "broader efforts by Aramco and Sabic Agri-Nutrients to establish a global supply network for this lower-carbon fuel", the companies said on Thursday.

They aim to help other players "meet their early demand needs".

“Customers in the energy, fertiliser and chemical sectors are looking for suppliers of lower-carbon hydrogen and ammonia. And we can meet their demand by leveraging our long-standing strengths across the value chain,” said Abdulrahman Shamsaddin, chief executive of Sabic Agri-Nutrients.

Updated: April 20, 2023, 1:22 PM