Tailoring the solution to the need - RINA.org

Tailoring the solution to the need

13 May 2020

Interview with Christopher Papile, Senior Advisor to Proton Ventures and recognized energy transition expert

ammonia-facility-proton-venturesWhen it comes to discussing the most promising energy vectors for the future, the common theme is greenhouse gas minimization. But there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach: different applications require different energy solutions.

There are several important energy vectors moving forward, which we believe hold promise for the future, and should facilitate a greener, more flexible future for the EU energy system:

Green Ammonia as a fuel, particularly for ocean-going vessels. Ammonia or NH3 is easily transported (as opposed to hydrogen), which means it can be produced in locations rich in solar and wind power and then sold elsewhere, particularly in areas where fuel costs are high. Proton Ventures is a leader in flexible ammonia production, including processes that do not co-emit any CO2; they term it NFUEL. And, of course, ammonia burns without carbon emissions and has flexible uses: chemical, energy storage medium or fuel.

Blue and Green Hydrogen fuel, where carbon sequestration and/or carbon reuse plays an important role. These forms of CO2-free hydrogen may be converted to power in fuel cells or hydrogen turbines, which are under development by several companies.

Green Methanol for use as transportation fuels. This is in deploymentin some countries in vehicles specifically designed for use with methanol, while some countries have also introduced specific tax advantages.

Short-time batteries and +4 hour electrochemical energy storage. Here we are referring to battery systems such as Proton Ventures’ battolyser under development with TU Delft, and, in general, redox flow batteries.

Proton Ventures’ battolyser technology produces either hydrogen or electricity in one device; thus can address several business cases in one product. This technology is quicker to return on investment because it can provide energy storage in the short or long term, as well as hydrogen gas; thus wherever the most sale value is at any given moment, the product has a revenue stream.

Innovation must work hand-in-hand with the business case. We must find a way to create more value with fewer resources, always keeping in mind the customer’s need. Proton Ventures’ approach is always to solve the customer and environmental issues simultaneously.

Proton Ventures is most known for their work with flexible ammonia production, and I am sometimes asked if the ‘ammonia economy’ or the ‘hydrogen economy’ is more viable. Such questions need to be rephrased, however.

Indeed, the ammonia economy is a subset of the hydrogen economy, since ammonia can be, amongst many things, a hydrogen vector, one that is more easily transported and offers additional applications such as fertilizer and deNOx. Proton Ventures is currently working with catalyst provider Haldor Topsøe to offer an industry-leading NOx and N2O reducing process.

But one can say that there are certain applications in which ammonia excels.

For instance, hydrogen does not perform as well when it comes to long-term storage CAPEX and OPEX, which is a necessity for inter-continental transport. Furthermore, ocean-going vessels cannot easily use hydrogen fuel, since the available space on the vessel is needed for cargo. Ammonia is therefore more suitable for energy storage of more than a week, as the loss of NH3 in storage is less than when using hydrogen or batteries.

On the other hand, we are unlikely to see ammonia used as a passenger car fuel. Here, however, hydrogen functions very well. In particular, ‘working vehicles’ such as tractors, warehouse forklifts and buses are very well suited to hydrogen. In some instances, hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) make technological and economic sense, while in other cases battery powered vehicles makes sense.

There are also some outstanding challenges for the ammonia industry to resolve. For instance, there is considerable new work developing ammonia synthesis catalysts in order to reduce the energy cost of ammonia production. Proton Ventures is comitted to R&D work for the next generation of developments.

With all these projects, the challenge is often around financing the projects: constructing a good business case, taking into account the timescale needed to engineer, procure and construct projects that run up to some billions of euros.

We need political will, but we also need all stakeholders working together, focused not only on CO2 reduction, but also on sound business cases that generate value and jobs.

We are happy to be on this journey with a highly responsive organisation such as RINA and its large contact base. Third-party certification services will become increasingly important as the EU launches it decarbonization goals. The various types of processes, projects and products will all have to be certified and verified.

The two companies also have a deep and shared history in marine: RINA has long been an expert in this area, while Proton Ventures, which is located in the port of Rotterdam, has marine applications in its DNA.