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      Gas, Hydrogen — 3 mins read

      How Incitec Pivot is balancing risk and opportunity in the transition to net zero

      As Australian companies focus on achieving net zero 2050, some industries face bigger emission challenges than others.

      The chemical and fertiliser industries, for instance, rely heavily on natural gas for their production processes.

      At the recent Industrial Net Zero Conference, Incitec Pivot Corporate Sustainability Manager Karen Durand outlined how the chemical giant is working to achieve its emission reduction goals, against the odds.

      The natural gas challenge

      Incitec Pivot uses natural gas to make the ammonia molecule, which forms the basis of production for the explosives and fertiliser markets.

      Up to 40% of the company’s global emissions currently come from splitting natural gas, and the methane molecules for hydrogen to make ammonia.

      A further 30% comes from natural gas that is burned or combusted, to produce the energy needed to drive the chemical reaction.

      This heavy dependence on natural gas makes it hard to transition to clean energy, especially when the chemical process needs to run 24/7, with no interruptions.

      The intermittent nature of solar and wind generation rules it out as a viable substitute.

      That’s why Incitec Pivot is targeting green ammonia and carbon capture, to substantially reduce emissions in their industrial processes.

      The green ammonia solution

      In Durand’s words: “Advanced planning is underway to give us a huge chunk of emission reductions before 2030.”

      Beyond that, the green ammonia projects could eliminate the use of natural gas, which forms 70% of the company’s global emissions.

      Green ammonia is made by splitting water molecules from hydrogen, using renewable electricity. This replaces the process of splitting methane molecules, using heat energy from combustion.

      While this completely decarbonises the process, it takes three times the amount of energy to split water, rather than methane.

      To be cost competitive, large amounts of reliable renewable electricity need to be available at around $20 per megawatt hour, Durand states.

      So, commercial feasibility rests on at least one of following three factors coming good.

      • Getting a premium price for green ammonia.
      • Reducing renewable energy prices.
      • Increasing available grant funding.

      Decarbonising projects now underway

      Incitec Pivot is involved in three key projects designed to decarbonise the chemical process.

      • Gibson Island, Queensland

      The company is partnering with Fortescue to develop the world’s first industrial-scale plant converting from steam-methane reforming (SMR) to green hydrogen. Final investment go-ahead is expected later this year.

      • Gladstone Green Ammonia plant, Queensland

      This is a partnership with Keppel Infrastructure, for a potential 850 ktpa green hydrogen and export facility. Still in the planning stage.

      • Waggaman Carbon Capture and Permanent Sequestration, Louisiana

      Well progressed and well mapped, this US ammonia plant is fitted with carbon capture facilities, and meets very stringent regulatory requirements.

      Balancing risk and opportunity

      “Our scenarios say green hydrogen will be competitive with natural gas around 2040,” Duran claims.

      “Yet it’s a slow process, with projects still in development.”

      As the transition from natural gas to green ammonia takes off, there will also be an enormous increase in demand for cost-effective renewable energy.

      With utility-scale renewable projects currently bottlenecked, it remains to be seen whether the supply of affordable, reliable green energy will keep up.

      Wendy Riley, Energy Insights

      Energy Monthly

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      March 25, 2024 | Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park

      Australian Domestic Gas Outlook 2024

      June 11, 2024 | Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

      Australian Energy Week 2024

      New call-to-action