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Can Ammonia Really Be a Fuel for the Future?

Can Ammonia Really Be a Fuel for the Future?

GE and a Japanese firm partner to develop ammonia-based low-carbon gas power turbines.

On Wednesday, General Electric’s turbine manufacturing unit agreed with a Japanese firm to develop gas turbines operating on ammonia to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

GE and IHI would work to develop technology that would allow some of GE’s existing gas turbine products to safely burn 100% ammonia by 2030, the companies each said in separate, almost identical statements on Wednesday.

“We will focus our efforts on satisfying domestic and overseas demand for large-scale ammonia gas turbines, stimulating further demand for fuel ammonia and expanding the fuel ammonia value chain,” Hiroshi Ide, president of IHI Corp said.

This news caught my eye, as ammonia is a gas that can be toxic and corrosive. Under certain circumstances, ammonia can also ignite.

However, the efforts to make ammonia fuel a reality appear well underway.

Several firms are developing green ammonia, a route to ammonia in which hydrogen derived from water electrolysis powered by alternative energy replaces hydrocarbon-based hydrogen, making ammonia production virtually carbon dioxide–free. They are also investing in carbon capture and storage to minimize the carbon impact of making conventional ammonia, creating what the industry refers to as blue ammonia.

…A report compiled last August by Haldor Topsoe, an ammonia production technology firm, and other companies noted a number of those qualities. Ammonia has a higher energy density, at 12.7 MJ/L, than even liquid hydrogen, at 8.5 MJ/L. Liquid hydrogen has to be stored at cryogenic conditions of –253 °C, whereas ammonia can be stored at a much less energy-intensive –33 °C. And ammonia, though hazardous to handle, is much less flammable than hydrogen.

Furthermore, thanks to a century of ammonia use in agriculture, a vast ammonia infrastructure already exists. Worldwide, some 180 million metric tons (t) of ammonia is produced annually, and 120 ports are equipped with ammonia terminals.

Interestingly, Amogy Inc., a U.S. clean energy startup backed by a South Korean firm, has successfully conducted a test drive of a semi-truck running on its ammonia-based fuel cell platform.

Amogy tested a modified 2018 Freightliner Cascadia powered by its proprietary fuel cell system that directly turns liquid ammonia into hydrogen while on board, according to press releases by Amogy and SK on Wednesday.

The 900-kilowatt-hour truck was tested for several hours on the track at Stony Brook University in New York. The full charging of the fuel cell took about eight minutes.

…Amogy’s technology enables the on-board cracking of ammonia into hydrogen, which is sent directly into a fuel cell to power the vehicle. Liquid ammonia has an energy density about three times greater than compressed hydrogen, making it cost-effective to store and transport.

Another team is designing ammonia fuel engines for use in marine vessels. They note one of the challenges is dealing with nitrogen oxide combustion products…which are environmentally less friendly than carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

According to Foldager and Chatterjee, engine optimization and tuning will be paramount to keep in check one of the most harmful remnants of burning ammonia as fuel: nitrous oxide (N2O), which is a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The current plan is use SCR aftertreament to clean capture N2O, ammonia slip and NOx, too.

In step with effective combustion, Foldager said overall engine reliability is paramount. “It has to be reliable. There’s only one engine in the ship, it’s the heart of the ship, it has to run 24/7. Third, we have to make sure that the emissions are acceptable.”

I will point out that we need a great deal of ammonia for fertilizers if we continue to enjoy eating regularly. Focusing on replacing fossil fuels with ammonia is probably not a good bet.

However, I wish the innovators much good luck. Their products seem much less destructive and more effective than other green energy options thrust upon the public.


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Morning Sunshine | January 26, 2023 at 11:47 am

so does this mean that we could save our urine and then use that to fuel our cars?

bedpans make a come back….

Ammonia by itself is very dangerous. It is used in many refrigeration systems, especially ice rinks, and highly regulated because it is extremely lethal. I have no interest in parking an ammonia fueled car in my garage where an ammonia leak will kill everyone in the house. It is easy to find many lethal industrial accidents involving ammonia online.

    puhiawa in reply to NotCoach. | January 26, 2023 at 10:32 pm

    However a fuel cell sounds intriguing. Lead and Lithium batteries are also poisonous. And hydrogen blows up. Yet the lead acid battery has been rendered harmless, and I suspect Lithium will be also harmless soon.

Ammonia does not need to be stored at -33. It is routinely stored in cylinders and tanks at room temperature, where it has a fairly low pressure of about 110 psi. Here in farming country, there are many trucks with tanks delivering ammonia to the farmers, who fill the tanks on their fertilizing equipment and pass it into the soil. All of this is done at ambient temperature, which can be over 100 degrees in the summer.

Ammonia is toxic in high concentrations, but its odor quickly gives it away. It is lighter than air (unlike chlorine), so it does not tend to accumulate outdoors, and it does not leak as easily as hydrogen. In the past, it has been deadly when used in indoor refrigeration systems, especially where people might be sleeping. Vehicles with non-empty ammonia tanks or LP gas tanks legally must not be parked in enclosed garages or driven through most tunnels.

Farmers use millions of tons of ammonia per year outdoors, where any leaks rise and do not accumulate. Because of the extensive agricultural use, large-scale ammonia production, shipment, and use are all well-established, with appropriate safety precautions.

BierceAmbrose | January 26, 2023 at 3:55 pm

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with hypothetically burning ammonia as fuel in commercial turbines. However, “Make the turbines work burning ammonia” is the easiest problem involved in doing that. I’m not so impressed with folks picking off the easy stuff, while declaring “Then, a miracle happens.” for the rest.

The quoted stuff is full of vague, eco-weenie propaganda, n buzz-words. Like, carbon sequestration is a non sequitur re: burning ammonia fuel.

Most interesting is the line about experiments with ammonia fuel cells. FWIW, I’ve speculated for some time that fuel cells using “green-ish-ly” synthesized feeds are the sweet spot technology for motive force, and probably distributed electric power production. Conveniently, many fuel cell fuels can double as direct-combustion heating and cooking fuel.

I’d been thinking H2, methane, and maybe ethane / propane. Ammonia hadn’t occurred to me.

So either we can’t even have ammonia fertilizer, or we have to give up gasoline to use ammonia in our cars. How about they give us back our ammonia for fertilizer then see if we want to use it in place of gasoline? They can make a factory for this new way of making ammonia, and sell it in the market!

JackinSilverSpring | January 27, 2023 at 6:21 am

The climate models that blame CO2 for global warming have all overpredicted the actual warming. (There has been warming but not at the catastrophic rate the models have forecast

    JackinSilverSpring in reply to JackinSilverSpring. | January 27, 2023 at 6:33 am

    (This site is so dogey.) In any event as I was saying the models have been wrong. So CO2 is at best only a minor factor in the earth’s warming (and maybe no factor at all). Therfore, there is no need to bend ourselves out of shape to reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels. That goes double for the environmentally degrading use of ruinables (wind and solar). I would point out that the fact that ammonia is not used as a fuel today suggests it is more expensive than fossil fuels. The billionaires and the watermelons want to impoverish us. We must not let them succeed.

My dream has come true.
They will pay me to drink beer to produce ammonia.

I am a happy man.

Richard Aubrey | January 27, 2023 at 8:05 pm

One of the combustion products of burning ammonia in the atmosphere is water vapor, which is a more potent GHG than CO2