Amogy, Inc., a startup based in Brooklyn, New York, demonstrated a zero-emission, ammonia-powered tractor in late May 2022. To demonstrate, Amogy incorporated its ammonia-converting technology into a standard John Deere mid-size tractor, making it gives a capacity of 100 kW. The technology uses ammonia cracking modules with a hybrid fuel cell system in combination with a liquid tank. During the demonstration, the ammonia tractor worked for several periods and there was refueling. Demonstrations were held at Stony Brook University in New York. (In 2021, the startup demonstrated an ammonia-powered drone with zero emissions of 1 kW.) Amogy received funding from AP Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Change Fund; was founded in 2020. General Manager of the company, Seonghoon Woo, answered some questions about tractor demonstration and technology for CleanTechnica.
Why use ammonia as a fuel?
Ammonia is attracting increasing attention as a means of reducing emissions in transport sectors that are difficult to reduce, such as long-haul trucks, locomotives, aviation and shipping. Produced by combining hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen, ammonia has been used in various industries for more than a century, primarily as a chemical precursor to nitrogen fertilizers. However, ammonia also has a relatively high volume density of energy compared to hydrogen and existing battery chemistry, which makes it an attractive energy carrier.
Technological advances in recent years have presented new opportunities for the use of ammonia in the transport sector. These include more efficient methods of cracking ammonia to produce hydrogen for use in fuel cells or internal combustion engines; propulsion systems optimized for direct use of ammonia; or combined approaches that may involve mixing ammonia or hydrogen with conventional fuels.
At Amogy, we have developed a high-efficiency compact reactor that breaks down ammonia and uses hydrogen to produce energy through the fuel cell. The design uses the superior physical characteristics of liquid ammonia to transfer the performance benefits of hydrogen away from the supply source at lower operating temperatures and higher levels of efficiency than alternative designs.
How safe is it? Is it flammable or explosive?
Ammonia is not a flammable or explosive chemical, but it is a poisonous substance. However, despite its toxicity, the material has been adopted and used in an industrial environment for almost a century, providing enough experience, infrastructure and protocols to handle ammonia safely. The same practice applies to transport areas that want to use ammonia as a fuel. For example, regulators in the shipping industry (called the Classification Society) recently published “guidelines for ammonia as a fuel” on how to find here. Amogy is committed to following strict safety guidelines as the company produces its technology in the future.
However, it should be noted that due to its toxicity, ammonia is not sustainable for consumer vehicles, which is why Amogy targets only commercial vehicles. We do not imagine ammonia to be an active fuel for consumer markets, where rigorous safety training and protocol implementation is much harder to achieve.
What is the source and price of ammonia? Is it price competitive with gasoline and diesel fuel?
Per dollar per energy, ammonia represents about 2x the cost compared to conventional fuels (e.g. gasoline or diesel). However, this cost is significantly cheaper than other potential alternative fuels, e.g. hydrogen. Ammonia is now produced from natural gas, and there is a large pipeline of “blue” and “green” ammonia projects that have been announced to produce ammonia in a more sustainable way as technology advances and demand grows by adopting zero-emission technologies such as Amogy’s.
We expect the price of “green” ammonia to be on par with diesel by 2035, or potentially sooner if carbon taxes are introduced by then.
Is it safe to store and handle?
Ammonia is already a commodity traded globally, with 20 million tons of the chemical delivered every year to nearly 200 ports. The presence of existing transport and storage infrastructure provides a ready basis for the future value chain of carbon-free marine fuels. Ammonia also poses a greater chance of scalability than alternative options such as methanol and biofuels, where constraints on CO2 and sustainable biomass supplies pose barriers to widespread adoption.
Should a conventional gas or diesel tractor be converted to ammonia? If so, what is the process and cost?
Yes, the tractor had to be converted to a fully electric drive from a diesel drive so that the electricity produced by the ammonia could drive the tractor directly. Although it may be difficult or expensive to convert diesel vehicles to electric vehicles, the growing development and prevalence of electric vehicles means that the automotive industry already has the capacity and knowledge to design and build electric powertrains that could be easily powered by ammonia.
Does the operation of a conventional tractor on ammonia require additional maintenance or repairs? Does this affect the longevity of the tractor?
A conventional model of tractor equipped with Amogy technology will not require additional, but different types of maintenance due to greatly different internal structures. However, we do not expect this to affect the overall longevity of the tractor. The durability of the Amogy system is largely limited by the built-in fuel cell, which has presented a longevity comparable to the market in the automotive industry.
Is there a guarantee for technology that allows a gas or diesel tractor to be converted to ammonia?
This is not really applicable here, as our technology is currently in the prototype phase.
How long can you run a tractor on ammonia before refilling it?
In mild operating conditions, this tractor equipped with the Amogy power system will run for 6+ hours on a single charge. The range after charging is about half the diesel, but it is about 3x more energy dense than a hydrogen-powered system and 5x more energy dense than a battery. These are key competitors when it comes to zero-emission transport. Moreover, filling with liquid ammonia is another key difference in that it is a liquid-based refill, similar to what we would normally do at a gas station, which takes less than 5 minutes, while hydrogen / battery systems require 30 minutes (hydrogen) up to several hours (battery) charging.
When could your technology be commercially available?
We expect the implementation of a commercial Amogy product in the period from 2024 to 2025, with the aim of applying this technology in the maritime sector. The maritime sector has already started drafting guidelines on the use of ammonia as a fuel and supporting pilot projects in this area to comply with upcoming regulations on emissions from ships.
However, the time frame towards commercialization can be accelerated through collaboration with OEMs and other suppliers.
How could this work with large cargo ships and tractor trailers?
As countries around the world aim to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century, the success of global decarbonisation efforts depends on technological developments in the transportation industry. Passenger and freight transport together account for more than one third of global CO2 emissions from the end-use sector. Progress to date in reducing emissions has focused mainly on electrifying the passenger car segment. However, other forms of transport – especially long-haul trucks, locomotives, aviation and shipping – have proved much more difficult to decarbonise.
To ensure compliance with global emission targets, there is a broad consensus that the shipping industry needs to move to a new set of fuels and propulsion technologies. The suitability of individual carbon-free technologies depends on the size and operational profile of the given vessel. For small and medium-sized vessels engaged in regular short voyages, such as passenger ferries, the energy density requirements for fuels and propulsion systems are relatively mild. In contrast, energy density is a critical performance indicator for large ocean-going ships such as container ships, bulk carriers and oil and chemical tankers. These categories of vessels account for 85% of net greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime sector, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
In addition to its high volumetric energy density and manageable boiling point, ammonia has several key advantages that make it a suitable choice for ocean-going ships as well as smaller ships. For example, it is already a commodity that is traded globally, with 20 million tons3 of chemicals that are delivered every year to almost 200 ports. The presence of existing transport and storage infrastructure provides a ready basis for the future value chain of carbon-free marine fuels. Ammonia also poses a greater chance of scalability than alternative options such as methanol and biofuels, where constraints on CO2 and sustainable biomass supplies pose barriers to widespread adoption.
Reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector requires a shift from diesel engines to alternative fuels and propulsion technologies. As in the transport sector, the optimal choice of technology depends on the size and weight of the vehicle and its purpose and expected travel profile. Vehicles traveling set up, short routes in limited areas are more susceptible to battery power. City vans and city buses are the best examples because both types of vehicles can be charged at pre-determined stations along their routes. However, for heavy-duty heavy vehicles, the weight of electric batteries and their associated charging times can be significant limitations. This scenario provides an opportunity for fuel cell-based propulsion systems as a potential solution.
Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity to power electric drives. As a result, fuel cell trucks share many of the benefits of battery-powered electrical systems without the extra weight or length of refueling. Furthermore, fuel cell trucks show better performance than battery powered vehicles in bad weather.
Video credit: Anna Andersen
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