Breakthrough plant to enable long term storage of renewable energy using ammonia

A massive plant that will produce ammonia from renewable energy is scheduled to be operating in Saudi Arabia in 2025. This will enable renewable energy to be stored long term and thus dispenses with any need for so-called ‘baseload power’ from fossil fuels or nuclear power.

The Saudi facility will produce 1.2 million tonnes of ammonia a year using electricity generated by 4GW solar and wind farms.

The new ammonia plant is hoping to capitalise on markets for hydrogen, ammonia being a good way to store hydrogen. However another market could be countries that opt to produce all their energy from renewable energy sources. Spain has a target of 100 per cent of its energy from renewable energy by 2050.

In fact, in the case of Spain, and even more so in the case of the UK it would make sense to build our own ammonia producing plant linked to domestically based renewable energy schemes. Then renewable energy generated when there was surplus renewable energy (and thus zero cost) could be used to produce the ammonia. This is done by electrolysing water and, at the same time,  mixing the hydrogen that is produced with nitrogen from the atmosphere. The resulting ammonia could then be used in gas engines, gas turbines or possibly adapted fuel cells to generate electricity.

This would be a much cheaper system to produce 100 per cent zero carbon energy than having so-called ‘baseload’ plant, whether nuclear or fossil fuel carbon capture and storage (CCS) generate electricity. That is because renewable energy is a great deal cheaper than nuclear or CCS plant and gas engines or turbines cost around £300 per kW compared to the £8000 per kW cost of Hinkley C nuclear power station.

Of course there are a wide range of options emerging to store renewable energy, ranging from batteries (including batteries in electric vehicles), and also liquid air and phase change materials which we blogged about earlier.

But the UK Government continues to ignore all these options and instead plans for a nuclear future, regarding nuclear as being superior to renewables despite all of the evidence. You can see this from the ‘Head of Energy Policy’ job recently advertised at the Treasury which seems to regard renewables as requiring subsidies while nuclear power does not, apparently.  However we can eventually rely on countries like Spain to show us the way.

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