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Hydrogen's Rise Fuels Global Ammonia Infrastructure Growth

  • By 2035, 62% of hydrogen exports, equivalent to 13.5 million tpa, will be in the form of ammonia.
  • Africa, North America, and Australia are anticipated to be major contributors to the clean ammonia export boom.
  • Private and public sectors support the hydrogen economy, with countries and major companies forming partnerships for ammonia production and trade.
Ammonia

As hydrogen gains prominence amid the global pursuit of decarbonization and energy security, many major infrastructure projects are considering transportation in the form of ammonia, a safer and more cost-effective method for exporting hydrogen supplies in large volumes. Rystad Energy’s projections indicate that 174 export terminals will primarily focus on converting hydrogen into ammonia by 2035, accounting for 62% of total exported volumes, or about 13.5 million tonnes per annum (tpa).

In support of the broader energy transition, a substantial upsurge in clean ammonia transportation and trade is anticipated, with traded volumes of ammonia projected to reach 76 million tonnes by 2035, four times the volume transported and traded in 2020. This surge, primarily originating from Africa and North America, will lead to a five-fold increase in ammonia exports by 2050 to 121 million tonnes.

Nations such as Japan and Germany have already adapted their respective national hydrogen strategies in anticipation of a greater role for the fuel, highlighting the pivotal role that hydrogen will play in helping reach net-zero emission targets. Despite the substantial scale of export projects and uncertainties surrounding future trade dynamics, some project developers may decide to partially convert hydrogen to ammonia or explore alternative transportation methods. In the meantime, investors are increasingly raising their confidence in the ammonia market and making significant near-term investments.

Green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy, is the cleanest but most expensive form. Blue hydrogen, produced using natural gas, is more cost-efficient and widely seen as a transition fuel that can help reduce emissions until affordable and reliable alternatives are scaled up. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is already widely used as transportation and power-generation fuel, and its facilities could be adapted to transport hydrogen as well.

Hydrogen penetration is moving quickly and globally, entering new geographies and outpacing market expectations. With the ammonia trade booming, there is an urgent need to leverage existing assets to their fullest potential. Converting LNG terminals could be a good solution, not only optimizing current infrastructure but also spurring a re-evaluation of strategies that can cope with the scale of the expected market expansion

Minh Khoi Le, Head of Hydrogen Research, Rystad Energy

Learn more with Rystad Energy’s Hydrogen Solution.

Future flows: North America, Africa and Australia feature prominently

Our estimates show global clean ammonia exports are set to surge to 121 million tpa by 2050, with Africa contributing 40.7 million tpa and Australia with 35.9 million tpa based on announced projects.

There are currently 220 ammonia infrastructure projects globally, with a combined handling capacity of more than 6 million tonnes. Australia, which is aspiring to be a top clean ammonia exporter, presently has just seven terminals with total storage capacity of approximately 173,000 tonnes. Without substantial expansion by 2040, this would be capable of accommodating just two to three days of planned clean ammonia exports.

To handle Australia’s projected monthly exports of ammonia, terminal capacity will need to increase ten-fold. This is especially important considering Australian projects, such as the Western Green Hydrogen Hub and the Australia Renewable Energy Hub, will be among the largest hydrogen projects worldwide and are considering ammonia as a transportation medium.

Public-private partnerships: government holds the key to action, matching industry enthusiasm

Although the hydrogen economy is still in its early stages of development, demand for ammonia is already on-track to outpace available infrastructure. Both private and public sectors support the development of a global hydrogen economy, with major companies signing agreements with ammonia producers and governments auctioning off import contracts.

For example, JERA, a prominent player in Japan’s power generation sector, recently initiated a tender to secure an annual supply of up to 500,000 tonnes of ammonia, starting from 2027. This move is aimed at supporting coal generation co-firing applications within Japan and has involved active negotiations with ammonia producers such as CF Industries and Yara. Meanwhile, in Germany, major energy companies E. ON, Uniper and RWE have entered ammonia-related memorandums of understanding with international firms, including EverWind (Canada), Greenko (India) and Hyphen (Namibia).

On the governmental front, auctions aimed at sourcing ammonia imports are gaining popularity. Germany’s H2Global auction, backed by €900 million ($978 million) in governmental support, will be the first of its kind globally and offer 10-year purchase agreements for green ammonia. Additionally, various government-backed initiatives are geared towards creating fresh demand for ammonia, including its use as an alternative fuel in the maritime sector (supported by the FuelEU Maritime initiative) and co-firing applications in Japan.

Industry experts are already exploring the technical feasibility of these transitions, especially considering the projected rise in ammonia utilization for power generation and shipping. We estimate that switching LNG export and import facilities to ammonia would incur estimated costs ranging from 11% to 20% of the total LNG terminal capital expenditure, depending on factors such as demand and location.

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Shipping industry growth and transition opportunities for LPG carriers

While still in its early stages, the ammonia shipping industry is expanding swiftly. Currently, just 30% of the global liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fleet can transport ammonia, with only 50 large and very large gas carriers having this capability. To meet rising demand, Eastern Pacific Shipping has commissioned four very large ammonia carriers (VLACs) from Jiangnan Shipbuilding Group. These VLACs will become the world’s largest carriers, each boasting 93,000 cubic meters of capacity.

To transport the announced 121 million tonnes of ammonia, approximately 200 VLACs will be required, necessitating an investment of approximately $20 billion in newbuilds. Beyond newbuilds, interest is growing in retrofitting LPG vessels for ammonia carriage. Given the availability of over 1,450 LPG carriers, converting these vessels into ammonia-ready carriers offers a robust transition strategy for shipowners, particularly as demand for LPG tonne-mileage is anticipated to decline amid decarbonization efforts.

By Rystad Energy 

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