Alaska’s 720,000 people live in over 200 “energy islands” with no electricity grid connection to each other nor to North America. Smaller communities have no road connection to each other, the rest of Alaska, or the continent. Most energy is imported: diesel for electricity generation and heat; gasoline for transportation. All Alaskans might obtain an annually-firm supply of most of their energy, for all purposes, by converting Alaska’s diverse, stranded, renewable energy (RE) resources to liquid anhydrous ammonia (NH3) fuel, transporting and storing it at low cost in common steel propane tanks, recovering the RE via stationary combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plants, in internal combustion engine (ICE) and combustion turbine (CT) gensets, and via fuel cells, and as transportation fuel. Alaskans could achieve a significant degree of community energy independence, and perhaps export their abundant, stranded renewables as “green” liquid NH3 fuel. Solid state ammonia synthesis (SSAS) appears promising.
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The State of Alaska, via the new Emerging Energy Technology Fund, intends to grant to Alaska Applied Sciences, Inc. ~ $750,000 for a two-year project for design, build, and Alaska deployment of a transportable, proof-of-concept, kW-scale, pilot plant to demonstrate a novel anhydrous ammonia (NH3) fuel synthesis process for low-cost, annual-scale storage of renewable energy (RE) electricity. Energy is recovered from the stored NH3 fuel via CHP gensets with ICE or CT prime movers, or via direct ammonia fuel cells (DAFC), and via space heating appliances and transportation fuel. NH3 fuel may provide an alternative to electricity for transmission, annual-scale firming storage, and energy supply integration. For example, the Southeast Intertie (electricity transmission via land lines and submarine cables) long desired throughout Southeast, was declared “uneconomic” in the 2012 Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan.
Converting stranded, curtailed, or spilled RE-source electricity, at the sources, to NH3 fuel, allows harvest, transmission, and storage of this stranded RE, for a degree of community energy independence. All energy supplies may be thus conserved; costs may be thus stabilized, not necessarily reduced. A kW-scale SSAS-PP must be designed, built, and tested to discover and demonstrate at multi-SSAS-element-reactor pilot scale whether SSAS has the potential to more efficiently, reliably, and economically synthesize NH3 from electric energy, water vapor, and N2 than conventional NH3 synthesis via water electrolysis and Haber-Bosch (H-B) synthesis. This small-scale project of < 1 kWe input will discover and demonstrate whether SSAS may be technically and economically superior to EHB, and offers a path to partial energy independence for isolated Alaska communities — many of which enjoy multiple indigenous RE resources.
Solid State Ammonia Synthesis (SSAS) technique, which might provide a technically and economically attractive path to village energy sustainability via annually-firm energy storage in the same type of mild steel surface NH3 tanks used for propane (LPG) storage. SSAS converts electric energy, water, and atmospheric nitrogen to NH3 at high efficiency; indigenous renewable-source electricity is the key driver and resource. The stored NH3 may easily be reformed to hydrogen fuel, with the nitrogen (N2) byproduct returned to Earth’s atmosphere. Or, the NH3 fuel may be combusted directly in modified internal combustion engines (ICE’s), combustion turbines (CT’s), and space heaters at high efficiency. Or, it may be converted to electricity in direct-ammonia fuel cells. Figure 9 shows an NH3 fueled ICE on long-term test.
Figure 9. Ammonia-fueled internal combustion engine (ICE) operating an irrigation pump in Central Valley, California, on long-term test. 30:1 compression ratio; ~ 50% total efficiency. This ICE, or larger versions, could drive Alaska village electric generators. This ICE is not in production.
For example, the 37 MWh of energy in 1 ton of hydrogen would be stored in about 6.5 tons of NH3, which would require approximately a 10,000 liter steel tank, which would cost about $25 – 50K installed in an Alaska village. No gaseous hydrogen (GH2) would be stored, avoiding low- energy-density, high-pressure GH2 storage with the associated hydrogen embrittlement potential for steel components.
Ammonia as a hydrogen storage medium may be a promising complement to gaseous or liquid hydrogen storage, especially at the large energy quantities required for an annually-firm RE supply. A successful Alaska demonstration, preceded by the requisite SSAS research and development, could pave the way to large-scale hydrogen storage, transmission, and delivery, as NH3, in many North America and world markets. In the USA Corn Belt, the NH3 pipelines and storage tanks are already in place.
Alaska: Energy Economy, Villages, Legislation, Emerging Energy Technology
Alaska has no electricity (grid) connection to other North America electric energy systems. The “railbelt”, Anchorage and Fairbanks and the communities along the Alaska Railroad connecting them, are an isolated electricity transmission “grid”, Alaska’s largest energy “island”. This, and all other Alaska villages, towns, and cities, are energy islands. Except for hydro generation prevailing in Southeast Alaska (SE), electricity generation, heating, and transportation
fuels are primarily imported petroleum products. Indigenous firewood space heating is common in some communities. Several coal-fired generating plants serve the railbelt grid. A few communities supply a small fraction of their electricity from wind generation or other renewables; Kotzebue is perhaps the best example. The Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP; non-profit) expertly encourages increasing renewable energy production from all resources.
Power Cost Equalization (PCE) is the program designed to (1) extend power assistance to rural Alaska as a response to the development of other power around the state and (2) make power more affordable to rural Alaskans: “ Because power costs in many rural communities are approaching the $1.00 [per kilowatt-hour] range ... many rural families would simply not be able to afford to buy the electricity needed for even the basic services that we take for granted.” In FY 07, the State of Alaska, via its Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), distributed $25.4 million among 78,500 people in 183 villages and small towns, via the PCE program. FY08 cost is higher. The State would like to reduce this program’s cost.
Each Alaska community wishing energy independence via indigenous renewable energy resources must:
In 2010 the 26th Alaska legislature enacted and funded SB220, which established the Emerging Energy Technology Fund (EETF), a pool of ~ $8.5M for grants for sixteen innovative energy demonstration projects within the State of Alaska. Alaska Applied Sciences, Inc. (AASI) has been selected for a $750K EETF grant, principal funding in a $1M project to build a solid state ammonia synthesis (SSAS) proof-of-concept pilot plant (SSAS-PP).