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Ammonia must be green and powerful

05 March 2020

According to a new report from British Royal Society, ammonia can make shipping climate neutral. But first it has to become more like the hulk. Ammonia is still pretty weak as a fuel and the production of it accounts for about as much of the world's carbon dioxide emissions as shipping.

Ammonia is the new black in shipping. The industry hopes ammonia will help it tackle climate change, because it burns without CO2 emissions, and a report
By the British The Royal Society, shows that the chemical could replace diesel in long-haul freighters. But there are some major challenges.

Firstly, ammonia is inefficient as fuel compared to energy-dense diesel, secondly it is toxic and thirdly, today's production causes large carbon dioxide emissions. Ammonia production accounts for 1.8 percent of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than any other chemical industry and almost in par with shipping.

Nevertheless, researchers see that there is potential in ammonia to play a significant role in the transition away from fossil fuels in the coming decades. But besides the fact that it must develop into an efficient and safe fuel, the manufacturing process must also be green.

- Ammonia is the only fossil-free fuel that will get you across the oceans, but In terms of emissions from industrial processes, ammonia comes only after cement and steel, so we need to decarbonise the production of ammonia”, the report's lead author Professor Bill David told the BBC.

The researchers behind another recent report from the University of Cambridge are skeptical as to whether the ammonia industry can both convert and provide shipping with as much fuel as is required quickly enough. And besides, if ammonia were to be produced on a sufficiently large scale with the help of green electricity it would suck too much power out of the electricity grid. Bill David disagrees:

"Ammonia is the only way to store zero-carbon fuel from renewables for days, months and years."

The engine designer Man Energy Solutions is also positive. The firm’s spokesman Peter Kirkeby tells the BBC he hopes their two-stroke ammonia-powered engine it will be ready by 2024.

“We expect the first ships fuelled with ammonia will be existing tankers that are already transporting ammonia for fertiliser. They know how to handle it.”

Read the report

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