Today, Japanese and South Korean leaders are expected to announce a joint supply network for hydrogen and ammonia at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.
The initial announcement did not restrict the supply chain to renewable energy-based green hydrogen and ammonia, according to the Nikkei report of the development.
Without clear guardrails, experts say this may lead to fossil fuel-based blue hydrogen and ammonia expansion, which would prolong the use of coal and gas and delay the transition to renewable energy in the Asia region. Blue hydrogen and ammonia rely on the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which has historically failed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The world’s top LNG importers have been pushing for the expansion of fossil fuel-based blue hydrogen and ammonia domestically and abroad.
Japan’s “Green Transformation” (GX) strategy directs 150 trillion yen ($1 trillion) in public-private investments including nuclear and fossil fuel-based technologies such as LNG, carbon capture storage (CCS), ammonia and hydrogen co-firing at thermal plants as part of its strategy for Asia’s energy transition.
South Korea also aims to expand hydrogen and ammonia including the conversion of 24 coal plants to ammonia co-firing plants by 2030, which experts say will likely prolong the use of coal. While South Korea plans on establishing a clean hydrogen certification system next year, lawmakers are continuing to debate over whether to include fossil fuel-based blue hydrogen in the definition.
Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation, Korea’s Lotte Chemical, and Germany’s RWE signed an agreement in February to develop an ammonia production and export project in the U.S. that would produce up to 10 million tons of blue ammonia per year. Japan’s Mitsui & Co. and South Korea’s GS Energy are also planning on producing up to 1 million tons of blue hydrogen per year in the United Arab Emirates with UAE’s oil major ADNOC.
In response to the announcement, experts have shared their reactions:
Susanne Wong, Asia program manager at Oil Change International said:
“Ammonia and hydrogen co-firing are dangerous distractions that are wasting valuable time and resources in mitigating the climate crisis. These fossil-based technologies are ineffective and will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to reach our climate goals. Japan and Korea must stop prioritizing corporate profits over the safety and well-being of our planet and our communities.”
Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, and co-author of the peer-reviewed paper “How green is blue hydrogen“ said:
“The science is clear: blue hydrogen is not ‘clean’, and burning it can be worse for climate change than simply burning fossil fuels outright. By committing to create supply chains that may push for the expansion of blue hydrogen and blue ammonia, Japan and South Korea are paving the way for fossil fuel companies to continue polluting under the misleading banner of being ‘clean’. The energy transition must prioritize renewable energy and direct electrification. Only where there is no other sector solution, green hydrogen should be used as the sole form of ‘clean’ hydrogen.”
Dongjae Oh, Oil and Gas Program Lead at Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC) said:
“In Japan and South Korea, the fossil fuel industry is strongly behind hydrogen and ammonia as a way to prolong the use of coal and gas under the guise of clean energy. Both countries are pushing to add hydrogen and ammonia co-firing to existing fossil fuel power plants rather than prioritizing cheaper and more efficient alternatives, such as direct electrification and renewable energy. Given the current trajectory, we have every reason to be cautious of their joint announcement as a way to greenwash fossil fuels.”
Katrine Petersen, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G said:
“Japan and South Korea’s fixation on hydrogen and ammonia are slowing down their clean energy transitions. Both countries strongly promote ammonia co-firing with coal, a largely unproven, expensive and inefficient technology. This approach will only prolong the era of polluting coal power, deepen their reliance on costly resource imports, and divert ammonia supply away from the heavy industry sectors where it’s genuinely necessary for decarbonisation.
On top of this, Japan and South Korea are lagging behind their peers in establishing robust policies to ensure investment flows to hydrogen and ammonia produced from renewables rather than from fossil fuels. For real climate gains and competitive advantage, Japan and South Korea should abandon their pipedream of co-firing and universal hydrogen and ammonia use. They would benefit from ramping up renewables instead, and saving green hydrogen and ammonia for the few heavy industry sectors such as steel, fertiliser and shipping where it may actually be needed.”
Ayumi Fukakusa, Deputy Executive Director at Friends of the Earth Japan said:
“Japan and Korea are wasting precious time and resources to address the climate crisis. Japan has financed fossil fuel projects for its own energy security and is now trying to prolong their use by promoting “false solutions” such as CCS, hydrogen and ammonia. Despite Japan’s claims, these technologies will only prolong dependence on fossil fuels and will not contribute to decarbonization in the region. Japan and South Korea must cooperate instead on real solutions such as renewable energy or energy efficiency. Japan must stop pretending to be a climate leader by pushing the GX strategy which serves corporate interests over our people and planet.”
Kurt Metzger, Energy Transition Director, Asia Research and Engagement (ARE) said:
“ARE remains concerned about the Japanese and South Korean governments investing and supporting the infrastructure for ammonia and hydrogen as a fuel for co-firing in fossil fuel power plants. It is crucial for these governments to prioritise investments in grid infrastructure and actively support the transition to renewable energy sources in the power sector. Government policies must align with phasing out the use of fossil fuels in the power industry, and support for ammonia and hydrogen should be limited to hard-to-abate industries.”
Katherine Hahn, Fossil Fuel Exports Organizer, Texas Campaign for the Environment said:
“Here on the Texas Gulf Coast, we are overburdened with fossil fuel infrastructure and are on the frontlines not only of industrial pollution, but also of severe weather events fueled by the climate crisis. We are sick of seeing the same companies and financiers who have caused so much harm now trying to greenwash their operations. We need to finance the real solutions that already exist, not these hydrogen and ammonia projects that will only continue the use of fossil fuels and the sacrifice of our communities for profit to be made by international investors and governments.”
Yuna Chang, Korea Country Manager at InfluenceMap, said:
“Major Japanese and Korean companies have been advocating to governments for several years to increase policy support for hydrogen and ammonia. However, industry demands which call for the expanded use of fossil-based hydrogen and ammonia, as well as co-firing of these fuels with LNG and coal, are largely misaligned with the IPCC’s guidance on the Science Based Policy needed to deliver Paris Agreement goals. The IPCC clearly outlines scientific studies showing that hydrogen and ammonia can be key decarbonization technologies, but only when produced with low-carbon methods and deployed for specific use cases in hard-to-abate sectors. In all cases, the IPCC urges countries to adopt renewables as a priority over prolonging the use of fossil fuel-based infrastructure. Industry advocacy has contradicted climate science on this issue, and it is concerning that we are beginning to see the same positions reflected in regional policy.”
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