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Saudi Arabia sends blue ammonia to South Korea

Saudi-South Korean energy and economic cooperation is increasing. Other Gulf states are also exploring blue ammonia, and the energy source has both benefits and downsides.
A picture taken on Nov. 3, 2019, shows a sign of Saudi Aramco's initial public offering.

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned energy company announced Tuesday a major blue ammonia shipment to South Korea.

Aramco and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) said they shipped 25,000 metric tons of blue ammonia to South Korea’s Lotte Fine Chemicals. The shipment left Jubail Saudi Arabia back in November, SABIC said in a press release. 

What it means: Blue ammonia is an energy source that is created by separating hydrogen from carbon dioxide via carbon capture. The separated hydrogen is then combined with methane to produce blue ammonia. 

For comparison, blue hydrogen is also made by using carbon capture to separate hydrogen from carbon dioxide. Blue hydrogen is not combined with methane.  

Both blue ammonia and blue hydrogen can be made from natural gas. 

Blue ammonia has a lot of potential cost and environmental benefits due to the decarbonization aspect of producing it. On the other hand, producing blue ammonia requires a significant amount of energy, and carbon emissions are still released, Cornell University professor Robert Howarth said last year. Ammonia is also toxic. 

Why it matters: Saudi-South Korea relations have strengthened this year. In January, Aramco signed memorandums of understanding with several South Korean companies, among them Lotte Fine Chemicals. Some of the agreements were related to ammonia. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also visited South Korea in November. Aramco announced a $7 billion investment in a South Korean petrochemical facility at the time. 

Saudi Arabian exports to South Korea increased significantly last year, though Saudi Arabia's imports from the East Asian country have decreased over the last few years. The following is a graphic showing trade between Saudi Arabia and South Korea over the past five years, per Trading Economics. 

Fuel, oil and related materials were the biggest Saudi exports to South Korea in 2021, while vehicles were the main South Korean export to Saudi Arabia that year, according to Trading Economics. 

Saudi Arabia is not new to blue ammonia. In 2020, Aramco sent blue ammonia to Japan

Know more: Other Gulf countries are also exploring blue ammonia. In August, the state-owned QatarEnergy announced it would build a major blue ammonia production facility. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company also shipped blue ammonia to Japan in June. 

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