The chemical and petrochemical sector is the largest industrial energy consumer. Ammonia production is responsible for about 17% of the energy consumed in this sector. In 2004, the ammonia manufacturing industry consumed 5.6 EJ of fossil fuels, of which 2.7 EJ was for energy and 2.9 EJ for feedstock use.1 Although the energy use per tonne of ammonia has decreased by 30% over the last thirty years, adopting best available technologies (BAT) worldwide can further reduce energy use by 20-25%1, 2 and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.2

Ammonia is produced by the reaction of hydrogen and nitrogen, dubbed the "Haber-Bosch process". Depending on the feedstock that is being used, the two main hydrogen production processes used in ammonia production are:

  • Steam/air reforming process. Feedstocks include natural gas or other light carbon fuels such as natural gas liquids, liquefied petroleum gas and naphtha.
  • Partial oxidation process. Feedstocks include heavy oils and coal. 

The type of feedstock used to produce ammonia plays a significant role in the amount of energy used and CO2 produced. The production of ammonia from natural gas is the least energy intensive, and production with coal, which is predominantly used in China, generally has the highest energy consumption and CO2 emissions.  Globally about 72 percent of ammonia is produced from natural gas using the steam reforming process.4 Coal as feedstock for hydrogen production in ammonia plants is predominantly used in China and is generally characterized by high energy consumption and CO2 emissions.3 Switching from coal or oil-based ammonia production to natural gas-based production will result in major energy and greenhouse gas emission savings. Other feedstocks for hydrogen production in ammonia plants include heavy fuel oil, naphtha, coke oven gas and refinery gas. On average, about one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in natural gas-based production comes from fuel combustion and two-thirds from the use of natural gas used as feedstock. In coal-based ammonia plants, 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from fuel burning and 75 percent from the use of coal as feedstock.3

Ammonia Schematic

Use of Enhanced CO2 Removal Solvents Advanced Process Control Improved Air Compression Gas Expansion Turbines for Power Recovery Medium Pressure Process Condensate Stripper Installing Gas Turbines for Air Compression Retrofitting Gas Turbines for Higher Efficiency Retrofitting Steam Turbines for Higher Efficiency Minimizing Steam Production at Stand-by Improved Process Integration Advanced Process Control All measures for Ammonia synthesis Improve The Ammonia Synthesis Configuration Synthesis Gas Molecular Sieve Dryer And Direct Synthesis Converter Feed Installation of a Purge Gas Hydrogen Recovery Unit Waste Heat Recovery from Synthesis Gas Compressor Using Low-Pressure Ammonia Synthesis Catalysts Low Pressure Drop Synthesis Reactor in Combination with Smaller Particle Size Catalysts All measures for gas refining Two Stage Regeneration in CO2 Removal System Pressure Swing Adsorption for Purification Heat Recovery from Solvent Regeneration in CO2 Removal indirct cooling High Pressure Water Power Recovery Turbine Slagging Gasification (Limestone Addition) All measures for Shift Conversion Selectoxo Process for Final Purification Low Temperature Shift (LTS) Guard with Waste Heat Recovery Axial-radial Flow Converter Improved Catalysts for Shift Conversion Axial-radial Flow Converter Isothermal CO Converter Integrated Removal of CO2 and Sulphur Compounds All measures for steam reforming Installing a Feed Gas Saturator Improved arch seals Improved Design of Secondary Reformer Burner Using Improved Catalyst Designs for Primary Reforming Using Improved Materials for Reformer Tubes Shifting Reformer Duty Increasing Mixed Feed Preheat Temperature Lower Steam to Carbon Ratio on Reformer Increasing Reformer Operating Pressure Insulation of Reformer Furnace Heat Recovery from Reformer Flue Gas Adiabatic Pre-reformer Shift conversion gas refining ammonia synthesis steam reforming partial oxidation Heat Exchanger Reformer Motor system optimization

Ammonia Videos

Ammonia Reference Documents

Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for the Manufacture of Large Volume Inorganic Chemicals - Ammonia, Acids and Fertilisers

Prepared by the Institute for Prospective Technical Studies of European Commision, this document provides detalied information on Best Available Technologies applicable to Ammonia production – as well as on the production of Acids and Fertilizers.  

Ammonia Guidelines

Ammonia Case Studies

Ammonia Tools

Assessment to Action (A2A) Toolkit

Developed by IIP, in collaboration with energy expertsat ICF Marbek, members of the IFA and experts in China, the A2A (Assessment to Action) Toolkit is a free suite of resources on energy management and technology best practices created for ammonia companies. The A2A Toolkit provides a first-order, high-level assessment to identify and prioritize energy efficiency opportunities. It does so by drawing on various assessment modules on technical best practices, management best practices (based on ISO 50001 standard) and productivity improvements. 

In ammonia production, the type of feedstock used plays a significant role in the amount of energy that is consumed and CO2 produced. The type of technology used is another key factor. The steam reforming of natural gas produces on average 2.1 tCO2/t NH3, while in partial oxidation the emissions are about 3.3 tCO2/t NH3 when fuel oil is used and 4.6 tCO2/t NH3 when coal is used to produce hydrogen.a, b This is followed by the type of technology employed. According to a benchmarking study conducted by the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) in 2008, the average net energy efficiency in 93 ammonia plants was 36.6 GJ/t NH3. The energy efficiency of the best performers (top quartile) ranged between 28 and 33 GJ/t NH3. The Best Practice Technology (BPT) energy use for the top quartile of natural gas-based producers was 32 GJ/t NH3. This indicates that a wide adoption of BPTs can decrease energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10 percent. The energy use for Best Available Technology (BAT) is 28 t NH3. Worldwide implementation of BATs would result in 25 percent energy savings and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 30 percent. 2 Table 1 and 2 below provide information on best practice energy use, BAT energy use and CO2 emission values.

The energy use for ammonia production varies across the world. This is mainly due to the combination of the type of feedstock and technology used in different countries. Considering both the feedstock composition and the technology level, it is estimated that China is 35 percent less efficient than Western Europe, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. Ammonia production in Japan and Korea is estimated to be 5 percent more efficient than Western Europe. Compared to Western Europe, ammonia production in North America and India is estimated to be 5 percent and 15 percent less energy efficient respectively.5 Table 3 shows the estimated specific energy consumption for ammonia production in 2010 in different regions.

Further information on benchmarks on critical process parameters affecting energy efficiency in Indian plants is available here

Ammonia Benchmarks

Table 1- Best practice energy use in ammonia production for different feedstocks (IEA, 2011 p.84).


Final energy (GJ/tonne NH3)

Primary energy (GJ/tonne NH3)










Ammonia from natural gas









Schyns, 2006

Ammonia from coal









AIChE, 2008; IFA, 2009a

Ammonia from oil









IFA, 2009a

Note: Ammonia is most commonly produced from natural gas and therefore the BPT values for this feedstock are used for all countries, except for India and China, where other types of feedstock are widely used. The best practice final energy use for oil-based ammonia production is assumed to be 30% higher compared to natural gas-based ammonia production (AIChE, 2008; IFA, 2009a). The best practice final energy use for coal-based ammonia production is assumed to be 50% higher than natural gas-based ammonia production (IFA, 2009a).

Table 2 - Best available technology energy use and CO2 emissions for different feedstock types (IFA, 2009b pg. 4)

Energy Source



GJ/tonne NH3

CO2 emissions

t/tonne NH3

GHG index

Natural Gas

Steam reforming





Steam reforming




Heavy Fuel Oil

Partial oxidation





Partial oxidation




Table 3 - Energy use and CO2 emissions for ammonia production in different world regions in 2010 (Based on IEA, 2007. p.83)

Region Production
Mt NH3/yc
Share of feedtsock type (%) Specific Energy Use (GJ/t NH3)

Total Fuel Use

CO2 Emissionsd
(Mt CO2/y)
Natural Gas Oil Nahta Coal Natural Gas Oil Naphta Coal Average
Western Europe 11.0 90 10     35.0 42.5e     35.8 393 23.0
North America 14.7 100       37.9       37.9 557 31.3
CIS 21.0 100       39.9       39.9 838 47.0
Central Europe 5.2 95 5     43.6 42.5e     43.5 226 12.9
China 49.7 24f 1f 0 75f 34 42.0   54.0 49.1 2440 220.1
India 14.0 80g 10g 9g   36.5 50.0 39.0   37.7 528 31.9
Other Asia 10.9 100       37.0       37.0 403 22.6
Latin America 9.9 100       36.0       36.0 356 20.0
Africa 6.3 100       36.0       36.0 227 12.7
Middle East 12.7 100       36.0       36.0 457 25.6
Oceania 1.9 100       36.0       36.0 68 3.8
World 157.3 72.4 4.3 0.8 22.4         41.3 6495 451


Benchmark Footnotes: 


IPCC (2006). 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Chapter 3 – Chemical Industry Emissions (Available here).


Zhou, W., Zhu, B., Qiang, L., Ma, T., Hu., S., Griffy-Brown, C. (2010). CO2 emissions and mitigation potential in China’s ammonia industry. Energy Policy 38, pp.3701-3709.


International Fertilizers Association (IFA) (2012). Production and Trade Statistics. Paris, France.


The values refer to the amount of CO2 produced in ammonia production and do not account for possible use of CO2 in other industrial processes (e.g. urea production). CO2 emissions are calculated based on carbon content of 15.3 kg/GJ for natural gas, 21 kg/GJ for fuel oil, 19.6 kg/GJ for fuel oil, and 26.5 kg/GJ for coal (IPCC, 2006 p.3.15; Zhou et al., 2010; U.S. EPA, 2012 p.32).


Average value for European plants (IPCC, 2006 p.3.15)


China Chemical Energy Conservation Technology Association –CCECT (2011) China Petrochemical Energy Report.


The Fertilizer Association of India (2012).


International Energy Agency (IEA), 2007. Tracking Industrial Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions. p.85

About 80 percent of ammonia produced is used as fertilizer and is applied either directly or converted to solid fertilizers before application (e.g. urea, ammonia nitrate). The remaining 20 percent is used in a variety of industrial applications, such as in the manufacture of plastics, fibers, explosives, amines, amides and other organic nitrogen compounds (IPTS/EC, 2007 p.35). Nitric acid, urea and sodium cyanide are the main products derived from ammonia. The fertilizer industry is a major energy consumer, responsible for about 2-3 percent of global energy consumption (IPTS/EC, 2007 p.3). Production of ammonia accounts for about 80-90 percent of the energy used in the manufacture of fertilizers (IEA, 2007 p.60).

Between 2000 and 2011, global ammonia production increased by 25 percent, from 131 million tonnes ammonia to 164 million tonnes. This represents an annual increase of about 2 percent on average (USGS, 2012). Over the past 15 years the largest (absolute) growth has been in China, where overall production increased by 65 percent. Trinidad and Tobago, India and Russia have also experienced large (absolute) growths in ammonia production over the past 15 years. In the United States, the production capacity of ammonia significantly decreased over this period by about 30 percent. Figure 1 shows the historical ammonia production trends since 1996.

Ammonia Production Trends

Figure 1: Historical ammonia production trends (USGS, 2012)

Natural gas, naphta, heavy fuel oil, coal, coke oven gas and refinery gas can be used as feedstock in ammonia production. Globally, 72 percent of ammonia is produced using steam reforming of natural gas (IEA, 2012 p.329) and is the least energy intensive option. Coal is predominantly used in China and is generally characterized by high energy intensities. The table below provides the estimated distribution of feedstock use in selected countries. 

Estimated distribution of feedstock use for the production of ammonia in selected countries, 2006 (based on IEA, 2009b p.48)













Saudi Arabia


Natural gas




























































a: Based on Table 3 under benchmarks section; b: China Chemical Energy Conservation Technology Association (CCECT), 2011; c: Fertilizer Association of India (2013)

Developments in Energy Use in Ammonia Plants

Increasing feedstock and energy prices in combination with increased competitiveness have forced many ammonia producers to revamp or modernize older and inefficient plants. Most of the revamp projects that have taken place were combined with a moderate increase in capacity (IPTS/EC, 2007 p.35).

The first single-train ammonia plant had an energy use of about 45 GJ/t NH3 (Ullmann’s, 2011 p.229). An energy efficient ammonia plant is characterized by an energy use of less than 29 GJ/t NH3. Significant developments that contributed to the major reduction in energy use were improvements in the steam reforming section, such as heat recovery from the primary reformer flue-gases, the installation of a pre-reformer, increased reformer operating pressure, lower steam to carbon ratios and shifting the primary reformer duty to the secondary reformer. Improvements have also taken place in other aspects of ammonia manufacture. For example, in shift conversion with the use of improved catalysts, in CO2 removal with the use of new solvents, and in ammonia synthesis with the use of improved catalysts and improved reactor designs. More developments consist of higher efficiency turbines and compressors, improved process control and process optimization.

The applicability rate of energy efficiency improving technologies for different countries is hard to determine as it strongly depends on the level of technology currently adopted. An estimate of the share of plants to which several revamps can be applied in the European Union, the United States and in India are given in the table below (Rafiqul et al., 2005).

Applicability rates for revamps in ammonia plants (Rafiqul et al., 2005)
Type of Energy Efficiency Improvement Applicability Rate (share of plants in percentage)
Euoropean Union United States India
Reforming (large improvements) 10 15 10
Reforming (moderate improvements)  20 25 20
CO2 removal section 30 30 30
Low pressure ammonia synthesis 90 90 90
Hydrogen recovery 0 10 10
Improved process control 30 50 30
Proces Integration 10 25 20


Chinese Flag

China is the largest and most energy intensive ammonia producer in the world. In 2011, China produced 51 Mt of ammonia, accounting for 31 percent of world production. In 2010, Chinese ammonia plants had an estimated average energy intensity of 49.1 t NH3. Although the Chinese gas-based ammonia production process is amongst the most energy efficient in the world, it only accounts for 24 percent of Chinese ammonia production. In 2010, about 75 percent of the ammonia in China was produced with the coal-based process. The average energy intensity of the Chinese coal-based ammonia producing plants is 54 t NH3. Oil-based production in China accounts for only 8 percent of total production.

The energy efficiency of ammonia production depends on the feedstock type that is being used and the plant production scale (IEA, 2007 p.84). Coal-based ammonia production in China takes place primarily in small-scale plants (90%). The remaining 10 percent is produced in medium-scale plants. The energy intensity of these medium-scale coal-based plants is about 55 GJ/t NH3, while small-scale coal-based plants consume about 53 GJ/t NH3. It is not clear why small-scale plants consume slightly less energy than medium-scale ones. In China, a shift to natural gas is not foreseeable due to recent major investments in coal-based processing plants (IEA, 2009b p.19). On the contrary, higher future natural gas prices may result in a wider uptake of coal-based processes (IEA, 2007 p.84). 

Indian flag

India is currently the second-largest ammonia producer. Ammonia production is responsible for more than 50 percent of the Indian chemical and petrochemical industry's energy use. About 10 percent of ammonia is produced with oil-based processes (see Table 3). In 2010, the average energy use for Indian ammonia production was estimated at 37.7 GJ/tonne of ammonia, while the energy use for the best available technology using natural gas was 28 GJ/tonne of ammonia. The use of oil as feedstock is responsible for half of the gap in these energy intensities (IEA, 2011 p.43). In India, gas-based ammonia-producing plants consume on average 36.5 t NH3, while naphtha-based plants consume 39 t NH3 and fuel oil-based plants 48-87 t NH3 (IEA, 2007 p.85). Further information on the historical developments and future projections regarding energy intensity and CO2 emissions of Indian ammonia plants can be found here

A shift to natural gas along with the implementation of the best available technology would result in around 25 percent reduction in energy use. In recent years, the increase in oil prices resulted in the rapid decline of oil shares in favor of natural gas. A switch from oil-based to natural-gas based ammonia production in India may also be favored in the future with the recent discoveries of offshore natural gas reserves (IEA, 2011 p.43). 

General Industry Characteristics

Top Ammonia Producing Countries in 2011

See Source Data

2012 [1]

Name Thousand metric tons
China 50779
India 14355
Russia 12774
United States 11375
Trinidad and Tobago 6691
Indonesia 6083
Ukraine 5231
Canada 4800
TOTAL 112088
Back to Chart

2012 [1]


[1] United States Geological Survey:

Information on some of the international and national organizations who work with improving productivity and resource efficiency in ammonia industry is provided in this section.

Ammonia Organizations Global

Ammonia Organizations Middle East

Ammonia Organizations South Africa

Ammonia Organizations Canada

Ammonia Organizations China

Ammonia Organizations Europe

Ammonia Organizations India

Ammonia Organizations Japan

Ammonia Organizations United States

Programs Description: 

Information on international and national programs with relevance to energy efficiency and CO2 emissions in ammonia industry will be provided in this section.

Energy Management System Structure

Industrial energy efficiency can be greatly enhanced by more effectively managing plant operations and processes. Experience shows that companies and sites with stronger energy management programs gain greater improvements in energy efficiency than those that lack good procedures and management practices focused on the continuous improvement of energy performance.
An energy management system (EnMS) provides a framework for managing energy use and promoting continuous improvement. It helps with assessment, planning, and evaluation procedures, all of which are critical to realizing and sustaining the potential energy efficiency gains of new technologies or operational changes.
A sound energy management program is required to create a foundation for positive change and provide guidance on managing energy throughout an organization. Continuous improvements to energy efficiency therefore typically only occur where there is strong organizational commitment. The key elements of a strategic EnMS are depicted in the figure on the right. 
There are a number of guidelines aimed at helping companies to establish an effective EnMS - including from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the recent ISO 50000 series by the International Standards Organization. Although the details differ, these guidelines promote continuous improvement of energy efficiency through: 
  • organizational practices and policies;
  • team development;
  • planning and evaluation;
  • tracking and measurement;
  • communication and employee engagement and;
  • evaluation and corrective measures (US EPA, 2010).

While an EnMS can help organizations achieve greater savings through a focus on continuous improvement in energy efficiency, it does not guarantee energy savings or carbon dioxide reductions. To achieve cost savings, an EnMS must be combined with effective plant energy benchmarking and appropriate plant improvements. 

This page will soon be updated with examples of EnMS implementation in the ammonia industry. 


International Energy Agency (IEA), 2007. Tracking Industrial Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions. 


International Fertilizers Association (IFA), 2009. Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions in Ammonia Production, 2008-2009 Summary Report. 


International Fertilizers Association (IFA) (2009). Fertilizers, Climate Change and Enhancing Agricultural Productivity Sustainably. Paris, France.


International Energy Agency (IEA) (2012). Energy Technology Perspectives 2012, Pathways to a Clean Energy System. Paris, France. p.329.


International Energy Agency (IEA) (2009). Chemical and Petrochemical Sector: Potential of Best Practice Technology and Other Measures for Improving Energy Efficiency. IEA Information Paper on energy efficiency indicators. Paris, France.