How Idemitsu’s Ammonia-Fueled Naphtha Cracker Impacts Net Zero

April 17, 2024|Ammonia / Naphtha

In the past two years, Japan’s interest and demand for ammonia as a clean-burning fuel has been squarely focused on the power generation sector. But another significant user of ammonia in Japan may have recently emerged.

In February, oil refining major Idemitsu Kosan announced the country’s first success at running a commercial naphtha cracker facility with a fuel mix that was 20% based on ammonia. The development was largely unexpected. Such a use case is years ahead of the government’s net-zero roadmap for the sector that’s vital for the chemicals industry.

Now that one industrial facility that requires very high temperatures has been shown to work on an alternative to fossil fuel-derived gases, what’s stopping other industrial furnaces from making the switch? High heat is usually produced by burning methane, and other hydrocarbons. But Idemitsu’s trial shows that ‘hard-to-abate’ industries may not be as far away from decarbonization solutions as their moniker suggests.

More importantly, the result positions Japan among the leaders in cleaning up the chemicals and plastics sector, which accounts for a significant part of the economy and is one of the nation’s top employers. Although domestic consumption of petrochemicals has declined, Japan’s refining companies have long since expanded into regional markets and have plants all over Southeast Asia. Thus, the reach of the solution – and the impact on ammonia demand – could be significant.

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