Ammonia is set to play a key role in decarbonising economies throughout Asia

Shigeru Muraki has spent his career working on solutions to Japan’s energy needs.  Over that time, he has seen the country’s economic base develop and grow off the back of imported fossil fuels, largely from the Middle East.  

More recently, Muraki has been involved with the question of how Japan will transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.  Like many countries, Japan plans to decarbonise its economy by 2050.  But as Muraki explains, its path to zero carbon will be quite different to that of countries such as Aotearoa.  

Why Asia Needs Ammonia 

“Developing our own renewable sources of energy is very difficult.  We have densely populated landscapes, deep coastal waters, unfavourable wind and sun and mountainous terrain,” says Muraki.   

“So without the potential for large scale renewable generation, our best path forward is to reduce and ultimately remove carbon emissions from our existing thermal power generation infrastructure.” 

According to Muraki, this is where ammonia comes in.  As a liquid, it is widely considered to be the most promising carrier of hydrogen, especially when transported over long distances.  In Japan, the plan is for ammonia to make up 20% of the fuel in coal-fired power plants by 2030, and to have 100% ammonia-fired plants up and running by 2040.   

Muraki says this plan is an innovative and pragmatic solution to decarbonising Japan’s economy, as well as other economies in the region.  

“Asia currently has more than 1,800 GW of coal power capacity, and the average age of the infrastructure is only 12 to 13 years.  In China and some Southeast Asian countries, new coal-fired power plants are still being commissioned.  

“So we can't simply shut them down, especially here in Japan where nuclear power has reduced in recent years.  Instead, we can use ammonia as an incremental approach to decarbonisation that doesn’t sacrifice our industry or the economy.”   

 

Japanese Energy Expert Shigeru Muraki

Muraki says the transition to ammonia in power generation in Japan will begin within the next five years.  

“2027 is the start of the commercial use of ammonia for power generation market in Japan,  - followed by Korea, then other countries in Asia.  So from 2030 onwards, demand will begin to increase exponentially.”  

“Our expectation is that by 2030, demand in Japan will be between 3 to 5 million tonnes per annum, and Korea will follow.  It will take some time, but markets will be huge.”  

Why Aotearoa is an Ideal Supplier 

Muraki says Southern Green Hydrogen is highly appealing as a project for a number of reasons.  First, he says it is the most developed in terms of market readiness compared to projects in other producing countries such as Australia or Chile.   

Another key advantage is the large existing baseload of renewable energy, and the potential to scale up significantly with wind power in Southland.   

“In New Zealand, you have large potential for additional wind power capacity.   So I believe New Zealand has the excess capacity of renewable sources to support the export of ammonia to Asia for power generation.” 

And while Australia may eventually develop a larger hydrogen export industry than Aotearoa due to its sheer size, Muraki says New Zealand will always be valuable as a supplier due to its location away from the world’s geopolitical flashpoints.   

“Diversity of supply sources is very important.  Japan relies on the Middle East for energy imports, which means transportation through the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, and the South China Sea.   

“From a security of supply perspective, transportation to and from New Zealand is via open sea which means better safety and reliability.”   

About Shigeru Muraki 

Shigeru Muraki joined Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. in 1972 held the position of Chief Representative in New York from 1989 to 1994. He was appointed Executive Vice President in 2010 and Vice Chairman in 2014. Since April 2015, he has been Executive Adviser for Tokyo Gas. 

From 2014 to 2019, Muraki directed the Japanese Government's SIP Energy Carriers initiative, which helped pioneer technologies of direct combustion of ammonia in power generation.  This led him to found the Clean Fuel Ammonia Association, which advocates for the development of a global value chain for ammonia, as well as promoting international collaboration.