Green ammonia from Finland – a synergy of water, wind and land


Jussi Ylinen
Master of Science (Tech.), CEO of Green North Energy

A derivative of green hydrogen produced from renewable energy, green ammonia has the potential to become a new source of energy and revenue for the Finnish national economy. It allows the country to break its dependence on natural gas imports and provides self-sufficiency to secure agricultural production, power vessels in the future or to be a carrier of green hydrogen. Finland has the ideal mix of resources to produce green ammonia for both its own domestic use and for global distribution.

Throughout history, Finns have used their resourcefulness to survive some of the harshest circumstances. When life looked bleak, they turned to nature for sources of inspiration, sustenance and energy.

Only a few years ago, Finland was known mostly as a country living from the forests with its world-class pulp and paper manufacturing, machinery and wood-based products. Now facing climate change and the energy crisis, Finland is ready to leap ahead in another sector – producing green ammonia for its own self-sufficiency and to share with other markets globally.

The most critical resource needed is electricity from a renewable source

Finland has been lavishly endowed with all the natural resources it takes to produce carbon-free green ammonia that can be further used mainly as the essential ingredient in fertilizers, marine vessel fuel or a hydrogen carrier. The most important one is electricity from a renewable source.

Finland is currently in the process of building up its offshore and onshore wind power production in the region of North Ostrobothnia, thanks to the region’s excellent wind conditions. Today, there are approximately 80 wind power projects at different planning and permitting stages in this area alone – with strong connections for transmitting electricity to the national grid.

Onshore wind in Finland has been experiencing explosive growth in 2022, driving the green energy transition. In the coming years, wind power will more than double from the current 3.8 GW to 9 GW. By 2027, wind power will have even surpassed the amount of nuclear power produced in the country.

Finland also has plenty of water – another essential natural raw material for producing green hydrogen and green ammonia – and sufficient land for ports from which ships can be loaded and unloaded. From a logistics point of view, the country can be considered an island – fully dependent on exports and imports. Yet, that same reason makes Finland’s use of shipping a key security factor for its national welfare.

Three growing ammonia markets

First, ammonia (NH3) is used for agricultural food production. Ammonia has always had an essential role in the agricultural industry in the production of fertilizers. It releases nitrogen as a nutrient for plants, crops and lawns. At the moment, 80% of all ammonia is used to produce fertilizer.

Second, ammonia is expected to soon be used as marine fuel for deep-sea vessels, cargo ships and tankers. This may happen faster than expected since Elomatic has already designed several ammonia-fueled ships destined for Japan. Such a green ammonia application also enables Finland to break away from its island-like status and become independent in the production of marine energy.

Third is to use ammonia as a hydrogen carrier. Combining hydrogen with nitrogen forms ammonia, which unlike hydrogen can be efficiently transported in large volumes over long distances, after which it can be returned to hydrogen gas again. For example, Central Europe has arranged to buy ammonia from Canada and the United States for this purpose.

Ammonia can also be used to produce industrial urea products, manufacture textile dyes and recover carbon dioxide. Forecasts in market demand for existing and new ammonia will double or even triple in the next few years. Fertilizer demand is estimated to grow fastest, but marine fuel demand will also grow roughly twofold. Demand for ammonia as an energy carrier is estimated to increase at a similar pace.

Finland’s abundance of clean water, favorable wind power conditions and an ambitious roadmap to build twice the total capacity of the country’s current electricity production make it eligible to spearhead the green hydrogen economy.

Zero CO2 emissions – the great advantage of green ammonia

Surprisingly as it sounds, fetid ammonia is considered to be one of the fastest routes to a carbon-neutral Europe. Green ammonia is also the closest to compete pricewise with any synthetic fuel.

Grey ammonia production is based on natural gas, while future green ammonia production eliminates methane completely. The only inputs needed for ammonia synthesis are water and green electricity for electrolysis. And the only emission is excess heat, oxygen and clean water. Electrolyzing water dissociates H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Once nitrogen is added to green hydrogen, it can then be converted into green ammonia, which is ready for further processing.

Green ammonia, like green hydrogen, emits no CO2 in its production process. It is capable of storing energy economically for long periods without any energy losses. Its stored energy can be transported over long distances without significant losses. It is far cheaper to store than hydrogen and takes up about half the space.

Self-sufficiency for Finland

Finland now has the opportunity to proactively build a market for hydrogen as a raw material that can be further refined to create a Finnish gross domestic product. This is the start to a sustainable green transition that will increase the national economy and create new jobs.

The idea that Finland no longer needs to import ammonia from abroad but can instead produce sufficient amounts of ammonia from its own green resources is a promising opportunity to improve the reliability of food production.

The vision is to shift the industry from the countries that currently export natural gas, like Russia, China, the US and India, to countries where green electricity is available, so that green hydrogen or its derivative green ammonia can be produced from it. And Finland has what it takes for such a transition.

Putting potential electricity production capacity to good use

With Finland’s renewable energy resources and abundance of water, producing green hydrogen is one application that is worthwhile to pursue. The process of making green hydrogen needs a lot of electricity and can be flexibly operated within Finland’s strong and stable electricity market. In that sense, the most efficient is to situate production close to the wind power farms.

Areas such as North Ostrobothnia or the Åland Islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea are interesting for hydrogen production where they can also take advantage of the natural cyclicality of wind power generation. Thus, hydrogen production increases when more wind blows and especially when the electricity is not needed elsewhere.

Finland’s advantages also include predictable regulations. To limit safety risks, a closed process is used to produce both green hydrogen and green ammonia. Environmental safety authorities in Finland issue permits, supervise operations and collaborate closely to ensure that green ammonia will be a safe and reliable source of carbon-free energy for the future.

As long as green hydrogen has good potential to replace natural gas applications, it is perfect timing for Finland to create a hydrogen market of its own.

Global green ammonia opportunities ahead

Finland’s green ammonia market can easily be made available to all other countries that need additional green ammonia resources. Most of the EU is already very familiar with the benefits of green ammonia. The EU aims to wean its demand off Russian natural gas and make the switch to green hydrogen, where the ammonia serves as its transport carrier between continents. So, why not consider green ammonia from Finland?

As ships power the Finnish market, they are ready to go. Offshore wind farm cables will come to shore close to production facilities and shipping ports. When the country’s first green ammonia facilities are ready in approximately four years, green ammonia can be shipped abroad.

Green ammonia can just as easily be shipped from the port of Naantali to Helsinki as it can across the Atlantic or to almost any other port, since shipping costs are a minor share of the total costs.

Start for two-way potential

 To tackle climate change, break away from dependence on Russian natural gas and offer something of value to other countries globally, Finns can take pride of looking at their own natural resources as a starting point.

Finland’s abundance of clean water, favorable wind power conditions and an ambitious roadmap to build twice the total capacity of the country’s current electricity production make it eligible to spearhead the green hydrogen economy. Its further refining potential can bring huge benefits to Finland’s national economy, while simultaneously enables the country to spread the advantages of the green hydrogen economy to other regions.

 Soon, the results of Finland’s natural resource synergies will be ready to roll out to the world.

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