Ammonia should only be labelled as “green” if the production process emits less than 300g of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per kilogram of NH3, according to a new standard from Swiss non-profit Green Hydrogen Organisation (GH2).

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The GH2 Green Ammonia Protocol — the first industry definition for “green ammonia” — is designed to ensure that all renewable NH3 produced around the world follows the same rules, effectively enabling it to become a greenwash-free tradeable commodity.

The new protocol states: “Green ammonia is ammonia produced using green hydrogen with 100% or near 100% renewable energy with close to zero greenhouse gas emissions (less than or equal to 0.3 kg CO2e per kg NH3 taken as an average over a 12-month period.”

This means that every step of the production process — including the separation of nitrogen from the air, the production of hydrogen, and the synthesis of the two elements in the century-old Haber-Bosch process — must all be powered by renewable energy.

However, emissions from the construction of green ammonia production facilities and storage, conversion and delivery infrastructure will not count towards the total.

Jonas Moberg, CEO of the Green Hydrogen Organisation. Photo: Green Hydrogen Organisation

“The majority of early export-oriented green hydrogen projects plan to ship ammonia,” explained GH2 CEO Jonas Moberg.

This is due to its relative ease of transportation and higher volumetric energy density compared to compressed or liquid H2, and the fact that it is in high demand as a fertiliser and chemical, especially as the natural gas it is usually made from is currently very expensive in many parts of the world.

“We are delighted that the Green Hydrogen Standard now defines green ammonia which is key to decarbonising our food and energy system,” Moberg adds. “This Standard is essential to establishing the global rules for the production, trade and use of sustainable zero-carbon fuels like green hydrogen and green ammonia.”

The green hydrogen used in the ammonia manufacturing process must also be produced according to GH2’s Green Hydrogen Standard, which allows up to 1kg of CO2 per kg of H2 over a 12-month period.

That definition was issued in May last year after a lengthy industry-wide consultation, giving some leeway for producers to use non-renewable electricity for back-up systems and for associated processes such as water treatment and desalination.

GH2 has also launched a new a new committee — including stakeholders from the H2 industry, academia and key think tanks — to advise the GH2 Board on future implementation and elaboration of the Green Hydrogen Standard.

The scheme is entirely voluntary, but allows accredited projects to obtain and trade GH2 certificates of origin for green hydrogen and ammonia.