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Europe Hunts for Clean Energy in the Middle East, but How Clean Is It?

Blue ammonia is being billed as a climate-friendly fuel of the future but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used the production process to extract more oil  

Blue ammonia production facility in Abu Dhabi, the energy-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Blue ammonia production facility in Abu Dhabi, the energy-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Source: Adnoc

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On September 10, a ship docked at the German port of Hamburg carrying a little-known fuel that’s being billed as a potential clean answer to Europe’s energy woes: blue ammonia. Made from hydrogen, it can also be burned without producing any emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide and has the advantage of being easier to transport. 

Europe’s first test cargo is destined for the continent’s largest copper producer, Aurubis AG, under a deal struck with the United Arab Emirates just three weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended global energy markets. The second shipment will depart within weeks, Mariam Almheiri, the UAE's Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said last week.

If all works as planned, blue ammonia could offer a solution to European nations looking to wean themselves off Russian gas without undermining commitments to combat climate change. It could also herald a new era for Gulf Arab nations, which are vying to dominate the nascent but fast-growing market for “future fuels” as the world shifts away from unrestricted burning of oil and gas.

So far, blue ammonia has only been shipped in small quantities to countries including Germany, South Korea and Japan, almost all of it from the oil- and gas-rich Middle East. But when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the region this weekend to secure more gas supplies, he also discussed future supplies of hydrogen and ammonia — as part of Germany’s broader transition toward cleaner energy.

The trouble is, the blue ammonia that’s been shipped to Europe so far isn’t nearly as clean as it seems, according to multiple insiders who spoke to Bloomberg Green on condition of anonymity. The C02 captured in its production has been used by some of the world’s biggest oil  producers to extract fossil fuels that are difficult to reach.