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  • Writer's pictureBy The Financial District

$4-B South Africa Plant To Make 'Fuel Of The Future

In Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, thousands of hectares of land could one day become the world’s largest green ammonia plant, Jacopo Prisco and Adrian Lydon reported for Reuters.

Photo Insert: By using renewable energy, “green” ammonia can be manufactured, slashing the carbon footprint of agricultural production and using the compound for other purposes.

Ammonia, which is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, is commonly used as a fertilizer. In the early 1910s scientists devised a way to synthesize it, but before then, the main agricultural fertilizer was guano, bat, or bird excrement, which had to be obtained from tropical islands and was in short supply.

Production of ammonia at an industrial scale allowed agriculture to boom, and according to a study from the University of Manitoba, without it, we wouldn’t be able to produce roughly half of the world’s food today.

Ammonia is also used to manufacture explosives for the mining industry and is a key ingredient in many pharmaceutical and cleaning products. Currently, its production mainly involves fossil fuels and is responsible for 1.8% of global CO2 emissions.

But, by using renewable energy, “green” ammonia can be manufactured, slashing the carbon footprint of agricultural production and using the compound for other purposes.

All the news: Business man in suit and tie smiling and reading a newspaper near the financial district.

Prominent among them is the use of ammonia as fuel, which could help decarbonize the shipping sector. It is what the Mandela Bay plant will focus on.

“It’ll start replacing heavy fuel oils on ships and it’ll replace diesel. That will become the fuel of the future, particularly in the maritime industry,” says Colin Loubser, managing director of Hive Energy Africa, which is building the plant.

Market & economy: Market economist in suit and tie reading reports and analysing charts in the office located in the financial district.

The process to make green ammonia is quite simple, Loubser says, requiring just water, air, and energy. Electrolysis is used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, and an air separation unit extracts nitrogen from the air. The hydrogen and nitrogen are then combined to produce ammonia.

“The process of making it green is that you’re using renewable energy for this. You’re not using fossil fuels, coal, or gas to make it. It’s a completely green process,” says Loubser.

Science & technology: Scientist using a microscope in laboratory in the financial district.

Projected to start operations in 2026, the plant will cost $4.6 billion. It will be powered by a nearby solar farm and will get its water — of which vast amounts are needed to make ammonia — from a local table salt factory that desalinates seawater. At least 20,000 jobs will be created in the region over the lifespan of the project, according to Loubser.

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