Green groups warn Japan-PH cooperation for ammonia co-firing, hydrogen a threat to energy transition

Clean energy advocacy groups on Tuesday said the ongoing push to explore and integrate ammonia and hydrogen in the Philippines’ power sector through collaboration with Japanese firms is a risky distraction from a genuinely beneficial energy transition for Filipinos and goes against the country’s sustainability and energy affordability interests.

During the official visit of President Bongbong Marcos in Tokyo, Japan’s Energy for a New Era Co. Inc. (JERA) announced that it is partnering with Aboitiz Power Corporation to develop ammonia co-firing in its coal-fired power plants, and to develop hydrogen and ammonia value chains in the country. The Japanese power firm also pledged to help contribute to the Philippines’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply.

“We won’t be giving JERA fanfare for these so-called green solutions. With this deal, Japan is merely exporting polluting and costly energy technologies to a climate-vulnerable and poverty-stricken country. JERA’s pledge to contribute to our LNG supply is also a curse guised as a favor – far from helping the Philippines transition, it will tie us to decades more of dirty, costly, and volatile energy that goes against climate imperatives,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of sustainability think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development.

Concerned groups around the world have been raising alarm over the promotion of ammonia as a clean energy solution, as the fossil fuel-intensive processes used to produce ammonia negate potential carbon dioxide emissions reductions from co-firing it with coal. It also has low flammability, therefore needing massive amounts of fuel to produce energy relative to coal and other traditional fuels, and its combustion emits other greenhouse gasses including high amounts of poisonous nitrogen oxides.

For Japan to genuinely support the Philippines’ move to low-carbon energy, it would be better off promoting renewable energy systems, the clean energy advocates said.

“This plan to develop ammonia co-firing would only help Aboitiz and other developers stick their coal plants around for longer, prolonging the suffering of communities from health impacts and an increasingly polluted environment. The Philippines needs to keep its eyes on the goal of a swift transition to a renewable energy-powered future. At a time of an ecological and climate crisis, ammonia and hydrogen for power generation are a fossil fuel-promoting distraction that risks our hope of ever getting there,” said Aryanne De Ocampo, Advocacy Officer of CEED.

JERA is Japan’s biggest power producer, accounting for 30% of the country’s total power requirements. It pioneers ammonia co-firing generation in the country – an endeavor that has been subject to critique due to its observed economic unviability, as power generation costs with 20% ammonia in a plant’s mix are estimated to be a full 24% above the cost with 100% coal.

“JERA’s push for LNG and ammonia co-firing is nothing but an attempt to keep relying on fossil fuels. We urge JERA to stop undermining affordable energy access to the Filipino people by pretending to help decarbonize the Philippines through gas expansion. JERA should also immediately stop promoting ammonia co-firing, which is an uncertain technology and useless for emission reduction,” said Hiroki Osada, Development Finance and Environment Campaigner of Friends of the Earth Japan.