A multinational consortium has today announced it will start pre-FEED (front-end engineering design) work on a 1.1 million tonnes-a-year blue ammonia plant in Texas, eyeing exports to the Asian power market.

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This project — if it moves forward to final investment decision and construction, with operations starting in 2027 — would be nearly as large as the 1.2 million tonnes-a-year Geismar complex planned by fertiliser giant Nutrien.

The $2bn Geismar project was shelved this summer due to rising costs and uncertainty around when demand would materialise, despite preliminary agreements to supply Asian fuel markets.

The Texas project’s consortium — Japanese oil and gas company Inpex (expected to be the largest investor), Houston-based terminal operator Vopak Moda, French industrial gases firm Air Liquide, and US agrichemicals producer LSB Industries — has placed similar bets on exporting the majority of ammonia volumes to Asia for use in power generation, albeit with some volumes going to Europe or used domestically.

“As we approach the achievement of our net zero target by 2050, the unveiling of our low carbon ammonia project in Texas, USA, stands as a momentous testament to Iinpex's strong commitment to environmental leadership,” the company’s CEO and president Takayuki Ueda claimed.

However, the use of ammonia in power generation, ie, co-firing with coal, is controversial, with some think-tanks arguing that this extends the lifetime of these dirty facilities with very little emissions reduction and high cost compared to rolling out wind and solar.

Nonetheless, the consortium expects that the Texas project’s preferred location on the Houston Ship Channel, the second-largest petrochemical corridor in the world, would allow it to use existing infrastructure for these exports.

This would include assets owned by Vopak Moda — a joint venture between Dutch infrastructure multinational Vopak and Enbridge-owned Moda Midstream — such as ammonia terminal, bulk liquid products storage and handling facilities, and new-build dock with multiple deep-water berths.

Air Liquide is already tapped to supply autothermal reforming (ATR) units for the plant to produce hydrogen from fossil gas, albeit with 95% of direct CO2 emissions captured.

The consortium calculates that this would result in at least 1.6 million tonnes a year of CO2 captured and permanently stored, although the exact method of sequestration has not been disclosed — potentially opening the door to carbon storage routes associated with increasing fossil fuel extraction.

Inpex and Air Liquide had previously worked together on a 700 tonnes-a-year pilot blue hydrogen and ammonia project in Niigata, Japan, which started construction this year. However, this plant’s CO2 is set to be injected into a nearby depleted gas reservoir to test whether further fossil gas can be recovered.

CO2 is also commonly injected into oilfields to increase production and extract oil that would have otherwise remained in the ground, in a process known as enhanced oil recovery.

Hydrogen Insight has reached out to confirm whether a method of carbon storage has been decided — and if not, whether the consortium would agree to enhanced oil recovery as an end-use of the CO2.

LSB, meanwhile, is set to collaborate with Inpex on design, procurement and operation of the Texas project’s ammonia synthesis loop, as well as setting up and finalising offtake agreements with parties that have already expressed interest.