The South Korean government has announced plans to burn vast amounts of hydrogen and ammonia for power production in the 2030s.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (Motie) said it wants to use a fuel mix of 30% hydrogen at all its gas-fired power plants by 2035, and 20% ammonia (NH3) at more than half of its coal power stations as early as 2030, as part of its plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to Accelerate Hydrogen, powered by Recharge and Upstream, and get the market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market.

The country currently has 60 coal-fired power plants adding up to 35.4GW of capacity, but plans to shutter half of them by 2034. And it had 43.1GW of gas-fired power facilities at the end of 2020, fuelled using mainly imported liquefied natural gas, with plans to increase this capacity to 59.1GW in 2034.

The plans therefore roughly equate to 17.7GW and 3.5GW of hydrogen and ammonia-fired power, respectively.

Based on the higher heating values of hydrogen and ammonia, and average capacity factors of gas- and coal-fired power plants of 50% and 77%, respectively, Recharge calculates that this would require a minimum of roughly 1.4 million tonnes of hydrogen and 3.8 million tonnes of ammonia (derived from 670,000 tonnes of H2) annually. So about two million tonnes of mainly imported hydrogen would go up in smoke each year.

That’s how much Europe’s two 10GW offshore wind-to-hydrogen projects, NortH2 and AquaVentus, are planning to produce each year, combined.

While the statement from Motie did not reveal if the hydrogen and ammonia would be green, blue or grey, it did say that the “zero-carbon fuel” would be used to reduce greenhouse gases as a way to achieve carbon neutrality.

Due to limited available land for renewable energy generation, and a lack of interconnection with neighbouring states, South Korea believes that it can only reach net-zero emissions by importing vast quantities of clean hydrogen. Consequently, the country wants to provide 13.8-21.5% of its power generation from H2 and ammonia by 2050 — even though both fuels, in their green form, are derived from electricity in the first place.

To help achieve the government’s new goals, it has set up a public-private council to lead research into H2 and NH3-fired power in order to ensure that the necessary technologies will be in place, including the development of new power-generating turbines that can work with the aforementioned fuel mixes.

Motie will simultaneously work on establishing the ammonia supply chain, from procurement to delivery to the power plants, including ammonia storage facilities.

“Introduction of hydrogen and ammonia at local thermal power plants will reduce stranded assets of those power plants and provide them with flexibility to cope with the variability and uncertainty that renewable energy transition will deliver,” said Kang Kyung-sung, director of Motie’s material component industry division.