Centrica unveils plan for Europe’s first ammonia-fired power plant, but does not know if it would be financially viable
The owner of British Gas also has not decided if the Irish facility would provide baseload or back-up power
British Gas owner Centrica has announced plans to develop Europe’s first ammonia-fired power plant, but confesses to Hydrogen Insight that it does not know if it would be financially viable, or indeed how it would be used.
Centrica says it wants to construct and operate the 100%-ammonia-fired facility at its existing 445MW Whitegate gas-fired power plant in Cork, southwest Ireland, owned by subsidiary Bord Gáis Energy, and has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with equipment provider Mitsubishi Power Europe to “explore” its development.
“The utilisation of low carbon ammonia as a clean and sustainable fuel source for power generation has the potential to provide security of supply while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” it said in a press release.
“Low carbon ammonia has a higher volumetric density than hydrogen, enabling the utilisation of low carbon hydrogen in a form which is easy to transport and store, resulting in a fuel that can be combusted with no carbon emissions at point of use. Its use as a fuel is a promising long-term energy solution for the transition to a low-carbon energy value chain.”
Using green ammonia to produce electricity would be very expensive, as it requires renewable power to make green hydrogen and the addition of nitrogen from the air in the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process (also requiring renewables).
There are significant energy losses at each step, including transport and combustion, meaning that if you started with 100kWh of renewable energy, you would only get 11-19kWh from burning the NH3.
As a result, it would require at least five times more renewable energy than if it wind or solar power was used directly.
And with southwest Ireland being among the windiest places on Earth, it begs the question as to whether wind power plus energy storage would be a cheaper option.
When asked why Centrica would opt for such an expensive form of power production, a spokesperson for its Business Solution units told Hydrogen Insight: “A project work plan is being put in place following the announcement of the MoU which will determine financial viability of the project.”
Hydrogen Insight also asked if the plan was to produce baseload power around the clock, or to use it as a peaker plant at times with reduced wind and solar power, the spokesperson replied: “A project work plan is being put in place following the announcement of the MoU and the project will initially focus on developing a more detailed understanding of the technology which remains in a process of development and testing.
“This scoping project will determine, among other things, if it will be a peaker plant or produce baseload power.”
Hydrogen Insight also asked if it would use blue ammonia derived from hydrogen made from fossil gas with carbon capture and storage, which would sidestep the issue of green ammonia’s terrible round-trip efficiency.
But the spokesperson replied: “It would be premature to determine which low carbon ammonia would be used at this juncture, from a technical perspective it would be able to run on both.”
They added that Mitsubishi was still developing the ammonia combustion technology, which suggests that, in addition to the comments above, any final investment decision would be a long way down the road.
Centrica group CEO Chris O’Shea suggested that the plant would use ammonia imported from overseas.
“At Centrica we believe that all energy can be green energy and that this can also improve energy security,” he said in the press statement.
“This is one of the many projects Centrica is working on to demonstrate how the hydrogen economy could work in practice. In this instance, we hope to be able to show how hydrogen could be stored and transported as low carbon ammonia, delivering cleaner energy for customers at the point of use.”
“Centrica Energy continues to be a pioneer in supporting the development of these new international value chains and we’re delighted to have the expertise of our partners in Mitsubishi Power in delivering the project.”
Centrica added: “Bord Gáis Energy’s facility at Whitegate CCGT [combined-cycle gas turbine] power station would serve as a global demonstration site for ammonia-fired power generation technology, providing insight into the feasibility and scalability of low carbon ammonia as a green fuel and shaping the future of power generation worldwide, with low carbon ammonia being sourced through Centrica Energy’s global trading network.”
“Following the signing of the MOU, the project team is being established to commence project feasibility assessments. Upon the successful outcome of this assessment, extensive local stakeholder engagement will commence.”
Only one other 100%-ammonia-fired power station has been proposed, at an existing gas-fired facility in Singapore, which has very little land and offshore acreage to host renewable-energy plants, and is also seeking to position itself as a future location for maritime ammonia refuelling.