Ammonia as a green fuel: why it is an opportunity

The rising use of ammonia as a green fuel emerges within a broader global context characterized by a growing urgency to address climate change and transition towards sustainable energy systems. 

As nations and industries seek cleaner alternatives to traditional fossil fuels and seek to meet net zero emissions targets, new carbon-free fuels are needed to decarbonize power generation, heat, transport and industry.

In fact, the use of ammonia aligns with the global push for the decarbonization of industries. Many sectors, such as heavy industry and shipping, are reliant on fossil fuels and face challenges in reducing their carbon footprint. Green ammonia serves as a promising alternative, offering a cleaner fuel option and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In this context,  ammonia has gained prominence for several reasons as a catalyst for carbon-free fertilizers and a promising zero-emission fuel or green fuel.

Additionally, ammonia energy storage options make it an even more desirable candidate in the transition towards sustainable economies. This is because it offers a unique solution to the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. By utilizing surplus electricity from wind, solar, or hydropower to produce ammonia through electrolysis, it becomes a valuable carrier of clean energy. 

This is yet another application of ammonia in the energy sector, which is seeing promising applications such as ammonia refrigeration.

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At the same time, the role of ammonia as a hydrogen carrier amplifies its appeal. Hydrogen, as a clean and versatile energy carrier, can be effectively stored and released via ammonia, providing a practical means to integrate hydrogen into various applications.

All in all,  this multifaceted nature of ammonia adds to its appeal. Not only does it hold promise as a fuel, but it also has established applications in agriculture as a nitrogen fertilizer and in various industrial processes. This versatility positions ammonia as a key player in the transition towards a circular green economy, where resources are used more sustainably.

But why is ammonia increasingly considered as a green fuel, and why does it represent an opportunity in the new green economy? Keep reading to find out. 

What is ammonia and why it qualifies as a green fuel

Ammonia (chemical formula NH3) is a compound made up of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. A colorless gas with a characteristic pungent smell, it is commonly used in various industrial processes, including the production of fertilizers, cleaning agents and refrigerants.

In fact, ammonia can be described as the silent key element on which the world’s food production depends, as its the basis for producing fertilizers.

In its natural state, ammonia is often found in the environment, especially in soil and water, as it is produced by the decay of organic matter. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in the nitrogen cycle, where it can be converted into other nitrogen compounds by bacteria.

Great hopes are currently placed in the production of green ammonia. This involves reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced during the manufacturing process. In order for this to happen, hydrogen from water electrolysis and nitrogen separated from the air are employed.

This is particularly true in terms of its use as a green fuel, as this concept involves a fuel that is derived from renewable and environmentally friendly sources.

In such a context, ammonia is considered a green fuel for several reasons:

  • It can be produced using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, or hydropower. When electricity from these sources is used to produce ammonia through electrolysis, the overall environmental impact is reduced, making it a greener option.
  • It is carbon-free if renewable energy is used in the production process. Traditional methods of ammonia production, such as the Haber-Bosch process, involve using natural gas as a feedstock and result in carbon dioxide emissions. However, green ammonia produced through sustainable methods eliminates or significantly reduces these emissions.


Ammonia as energy storage and a green fuel: the options

As we’ve briefly mentioned above, ammonia presents diverse applications beyond being a green fuel. This makes ammonia a multifunctional compound with potential benefits across different sectors, and thus a big opportunity for the key players of the green economies of the future.

In fact, the production of green ammonia can offer the following options:

Zero-carbon or green fuel 

Ammonia can be combusted directly in an engine (similar to traditional fuels), releasing energy and producing nitrogen oxides (NOₓ) and water as byproducts, instead of polluting substances such as CO2.

Alternatively, ammonia can be used as a feedstock for fuel cells, where it undergoes electrochemical reactions to generate electricity with only water and nitrogen as byproducts.

This is a particularly interesting development for industries such as maritime transport, where the widespread commercial adoption of ammonia as fuel is forecasted to become a reality by 2037.

Long-term renewable energy storage

Another key use of ammonia in the green economies includes its use as renewable energy storage. 

In fact, it presents an energy density nine times higher than Li-ion batteries, and three times higher than that of compressed hydrogen. This has made ammonia gain attention as a promising means of renewable energy storage, providing a solution to the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. 

The process involves the production of - through a series of steps, making it a viable candidate for storing and transporting clean energy.

The fact that ammonia presents reasonable pressure and temperature values for its storage has added to the reasons behind the renewed attention for this element as an ideal chemical compound for energy storage. 

This is combined with an existing distribution network, which facilitates its implementation on a global scale.

Hydrogen carrier

Ammonia can also be used as an hydrogen carrier, which can be released later for use in fuel cells or combustion processes.  In fact, as the ammonia infrastructure for storage and transport is already in place, it is regarded as a key element to kick-start the hydrogen economy, which is naturally expensive to store in bulk compared to ammonia.

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A natural refrigerant

Another key benefit of ammonia beyond its use as a green fuel is its role in sustainable industrial refrigeration. As such, ammonia has been hailed as a natural, sustainable refrigerant offering an extra efficiency of up to 10%.

The benefits of using ammonia as a green fuel

  • A production and distribution infrastructure that is already mature 
  • Can be produced using electricity generated from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, or hydropower, thus allowing for the integration of intermittent renewable energy into a more stable and storable form.
  • It is an efficient carrier of clean energy, particularly hydrogen, as it can store and transport hydrogen in a liquid form, providing a practical solution to the storage and transportation challenges associated with gaseous hydrogen. 
  • Ammonia can be produced using a variety of energy sources, reducing dependence on a single energy type and enhancing energy security. 

All in all, ammonia holds the potential to play a vital role in the process of industrial decarbonization, including industries that heavily rely on fossil fuels, such as manufacturing and heavy transportation. 

By using ammonia as a green fuel, these sectors can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to global efforts to fight climate change.

Additionally, ammonia has diverse applications beyond its role as a green fuel. This multifunctionality enhances its economic viability and makes it a valuable resource in the transition to a more sustainable and circular economy.

At the same, the increasing interest in ammonia as a green fuel has spurred research and innovation initiatives. This creates opportunities for technological advancements and the development of new solutions to further enhance the sustainability of ammonia as a green fuel.

At ARANER, we’re part of the global efforts and shift towards sustainable energy solutions. From our role in industrial refrigeration, we’re helping companies and operators in processes such as renewable energy integration and industrial decarbonization. 

As such, we’re aware of the potential of using ammonia as a relevant refrigeration choice in the broader context of efforts to combat climate change and build a more sustainable future.

Get in touch with our team and learn more about how we can help you achieve sustainable and cost-efficient industrial refrigeration.

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