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INTERVIEW: GenCell targets remote power applications with ammonia fuel cells


Bypasses issue of limited hydrogen infrastructure

Total cost of ownership competitive with diesel

Catalyst strips hydrogen from ammonia

  • Author
  • James Burgess
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  • Kshitiz Goliya
  • Commodity
  • Energy Transition Natural Gas Oil Petrochemicals

Ammonia use in fuel cells could spur the early development of low-carbon distributed power generation as hydrogen infrastructure develops, GenCell CEO Rami Reshef told S&P Global Platts in an interview Feb. 8.

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Israel-based GenCell is manufacturing alkaline fuel cells that run on ammonia, using a catalyst to strip the hydrogen from the ammonia, for off-grid and backup power generation.

This approach means customers can tap a ready supply of fuel for low-carbon distributed generation that already competes with diesel on a total cost of ownership basis, Reshef said.

"Ammonia is a fantastic hydrogen carrier," Reshef said. "If you have the technologies that allow you to extract the hydrogen from ammonia in a very efficient way, which means the economics are there, you do have a real alternative to diesel generators."

Reshef said 1 cu m of ammonia could store around 2 MWh of power.

GenCell plans commercial launch of its FOX ammonia fuel cell in 2023, with deployment to a limited number of operators in 2022. This follows the commercial launch of its BOX long-duration hydrogen generator in September.

Hydrogen limitations

Non-conventional hydrogen production is very limited at present.

Electrolysis-based hydrogen production was around 80,000 mt in 2021, with around half of this in Europe, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. That compares with global hydrogen demand of 73.8 million mt in 2021.

Current EU industrial sector hydrogen demand is around 8 million-10 million mt/year, with 45% for refining, 38% for ammonia production and 8% for methanol.

Renewable hydrogen production is seen reaching 16.7 million mt/year globally by 2030, Platts Analytics said in its December Hydrogen Market Monitor.

Ammonia is readily available now and a globally traded liquid market already exists, Reshef said.

"It's not only that you are cleaner, but also the economics compete versus the mainstream technology today," he said. "This is really needed in order to transform the industry. You need to come with an alternative that can beat the existing technology.

"We have developed this special catalyst that allows us to extract hydrogen from ammonia without the support of the grid," he said. "It's like a nano-power plant, something that is completely isolated, with no connection to the grid."

Competitive with diesel

Reshef said ammonia was already competitive with diesel for power generation in many locations.

"You can beat the running cost of diesel generators today in most places in the world," he said. "When diesel is two times more expensive than ammonia, then you can present a running cost that can beat diesel generators."

Diesel prices on the US Gulf Coast averaged $492/mt in 2016-2020, according to S&P Global price assessments, while ammonia prices averaged $275/mt in the same period, according to data from the US Geological Survey.

However, ammonia prices rose sharply on the back of surging natural gas prices in late 2021, with Platts assessing Gulf Coast CFR prices at $1,110/mt Feb. 8, compared with $665/mt when the assessment launched in October. US Gulf Coast diesel was $813.88/mt on Feb. 8, by contrast.

GenCell said the current price dynamic was likely temporary, while seeing potential in green ammonia production using renewable hydrogen as a feedstock along with nitrogen.

Fuel cell power

GenCell's fuel cell has an output of 5 kW, making it a good fit for its target markets such as telecoms towers where demand is in the region of 2-8 kW per site. But the technology could be used in applications up to 100 kW, Reshef said.

The company recently bolstered its finances with a funding round in January, raising around Shekel 112.5 million ($35.5 million) to support the expansion of its business activities.

The company said it expects to reach "commercial maturity" in 2022, building several strategic cooperation agreements in 2021. GenCell's FOX ammonia fuel cell went through beta testing in 2021, carrying out 1,500 hours of field testing at a telecommunications site in Iceland.