UK ammonia cracking plant takes first steps in push towards hydrogen economy

Article by Adam Duckett

AN AMMONIA cracking system has started operations at the Tyseley Energy Park in the UK, as developers seek to demonstrate its use as a medium for shipping hydrogen.

There is a growing interest in using hydrogen as a clean-burning fuel to help decarbonise industry and power generation. However, the physical properties of hydrogen make it tricky to transport. It must be compressed to around 350700 times atmospheric pressure as a gas or cooled to -253°C as a liquid. Converting it to ammonia is an appealing alternative because it has a higher volumetric energy density than liquid hydrogen and its storage is well developed due to its widespread use as a feedstock for fertilisers. This could see hydrogen produced using clean energy and then traded around the world.

The Ammogen consortium behind the Tyseley Energy Park project are looking to prove the viability of using its membrane reactor technology for converting transported ammonia back into hydrogen where it’s needed. In this case, the ammonia cracking facility will produce 200 kg/d of hydrogen for a neighbouring vehicle fueling station.

Alex Goody, CEO of Gemserv, which is leading the consortium behind the work, said: “This project is about finding solutions for the transportation of hydrogen across vast distances, essential in underpinning the hydrogen economy.”

The UK government has a target for the country to produce 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen by 2030.

Jose Medrano, technical director of H2SITE which led the development of the membrane reactor technology, said the Ammogen project with help validate the technology as it seeks to scale up production to “tons per day ammonia cracking” in the next two years.

Last year, the project was awarded £6.7m (US$8.5m) of UK government funding as part of a scheme to develop low carbon hydrogen supplies. It is among a series of ammonia cracking projects planned for the UK, including a facility unveiled last year that will convert ammonia imports arriving at Stanlow terminal. There’s also a consortium led by Siemens Energy that is developing an ammonia cracker prototype in Newcastle using a metal membrane technology purification process developed by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and Fortescue Future Industries.

For more on the technology and the safety and cost challenges that engineers need to help resolve, see this article from chemical engineers Alex Howard and Jonathan Upton.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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