Amogy, Inc., a Brooklyn, New York-based startup, demonstrated a zero-emissions, ammonia-fueled tractor in late May 2022. For the demonstration, Amogy blended its ammonia-to-power technology into a standard mid-size John Deere tractor, giving it a 100 kW capacity. The technology uses ammonia cracking modules with a hybrid fuel cell system combined with a liquid storage tank. During the demonstration, the ammonia-fueled tractor was operated for several periods and there was a refueling. The demonstration took place at Stony Brook University in New York. (In 2021, the startup demonstrated an ammonia-powered, zero-emissions 1 kW drone.) Amogy has received funding from AP Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Change Fund; it was founded in 2020. The company’s CEO, Seonghoon Woo, answered some questions about the tractor demonstration and technology for CleanTechnica.
Why use ammonia as a fuel?
Ammonia is attracting increasing attention as an enabler of emissions reductions in hard-to-abate transportation sectors like long haul trucking, locomotives, aviation, and shipping. Produced by combining hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen, ammonia has been used by various industries for more than a century, primarily as a chemical precursor to nitrogen fertilizers. However, ammonia also possesses a relatively high volumetric energy density compared with hydrogen and existing battery chemistries, which makes it an attractive energy carrier.
Technological advances in recent years have presented new opportunities for using ammonia within the transportation sector. These include more efficient methods of cracking ammonia to generate hydrogen for use in fuel cells or combustion engines; propulsion systems optimized for the direct use of ammonia; or combined approaches that can include blending ammonia or hydrogen with conventional fuels.
At Amogy, we’ve developed a compact, high efficiency reactor that cracks ammonia and uses the hydrogen to generate power through a fuel cell. The design leverages the superior physical characteristics of liquid ammonia to carry the performance advantages of hydrogen far from the supply source and does so at lower operating temperatures and higher efficiency levels than alternative designs.
How safe is it? Is it flammable or explosive?
Ammonia is not a flammable or explosive chemical, but it is a toxic substance. However, despite its toxicity, the material has been adopted and used in the industry-setting for nearly a century, which provided enough experiences, infrastructures, and protocols to handle ammonia in a safe way. The same practice is being applied to transportation areas that wish to use ammonia as a fuel. For example, the regulators in the shipping industry (called Classification Societies) recently announced “guideline for ammonia as a fuel” as can be found here. Amogy has pledged to follow strict safety guidelines as the company products its technology in the future.
However, it should be mentioned that, because of its toxicity, ammonia is not viable for consumer vehicles, which is why Amogy is targeting commercial vehicles only. We do not envision ammonia being an active fuel for consumer markets, where the strict safety training and protocol implementation is much harder to achieve.
What is the ammonia source and cost? Is it cost-competitive with gasoline and diesel fuel?
Per dollar-per-energy basis, ammonia presents about 2x larger cost compared to conventional fuels (eg gasoline or diesel). However, this cost is substantially cheaper than other potential alternative fuels, eg hydrogen. Ammonia is produced today from natural gas, and there is a large pipeline of “blue” & “green” ammonia projects that have been announced to make ammonia in a more sustainable way as technology advances and demand increases from adoption of zero-emissions technologies such as Amogy’s.
We expect that the cost of “green” ammonia will be in parity with diesel by 2035, or potentially sooner if carbon taxes are enacted by then.
Is it safe to store and handle?
Ammonia is already a globally traded commodity, with 20 million tons of the chemical shipped each year among almost 200 ports. The presence of existing transportation and storage infrastructure provides a ready foundation for a future zero-carbon fuel value chain in shipping. Ammonia also presents greater prospects for scalability than alternative options such as methanol and biofuels, where constraints on CO2 and sustainable biomass supplies pose barriers to widespread uptake.
Does a conventional tractor that runs on gas or diesel need to be converted to run on ammonia? If so, what is the process and cost?
Yes, the tractor had to be converted to an all-electric powertrain from a diesel powertrain so that the electricity produced by the ammonia could power the tractor directly. While it may be difficult or costly to retrofit diesel vehicles as electric vehicles, the increasing 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 easily be fueled by ammonia.
Does running a conventional tractor on ammonia require extra maintenance or repairs? Does it impact the tractor’s longevity?
A conventional tractor model outfitted with Amogy’s technology will require not extra, but different types of maintenance given largely different internal structures. However, we don’t expect it would impact on the overall longevity of the tractor. Amogy system’s durability is mainly limited by the embedded fuel cell, which presented market-comparable longevity in the automotive industry.
Is there a warranty for the technology that makes it possible to convert a gas or diesel tractor to run on ammonia?
This isn’t really applicable here, as our technology is currently in the prototype phase.
How long can you run a tractor on ammonia before it needs a refill?
At mild operating conditions, this tractor equipped with Amogy’s power system will operate 6+ hours per single fill-up. The range per refill is about half of diesel, but it is about 3x as energy-dense as a hydrogen-powered system and 5x as energy-dense as a battery. These are the key competitors when it comes to zero-emissions transportation. Moreover, the recharging of liquid ammonia is another key differentiator being that it is a liquid-based refill, similar to what we would normally do at a gas station, which takes under 5 minutes while hydrogen/battery systems require 30min (hydrogen) to several hours (battery) of recharging.
When might your technology be available commercially?
We are anticipating the deployment of a commercial Amogy product in 2024 – 2025, with a target to apply this technology in the maritime sector. The maritime sector has already begun drafting guidelines around ammonia’s use as a fuel and supporting pilot projects in this area to comply with upcoming regulations around shipping emissions.
However, the timeline towards the commercialization can be accelerated via collaborations with OEMs and other suppliers.
How could it work with large cargo ships and tractor trailers?
As countries around the world aim to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, the success of global decarbonization efforts depends upon technological developments in the transportation industry. Together, passenger and freight transportation account for more than one-third of global CO2 emissions from end-use sectors. Progress on emissions reductions to date has been focused mainly on the electrification of the passenger vehicle segment. However, other forms of transportation — especially long-haul trucking, locomotives, aviation, and shipping — have proven much more difficult to decarbonize.
To secure compliance with global emissions targets, there is a broad consensus that the shipping industry needs to transition to a new suite of fuels and propulsion technologies. The suitability of individual zero-carbon technologies depends on the size and operational profile of a given vessel. For small and midsize vessels that make regular short voyages, such as passenger ferries, energy density requirements for fuels and propulsion systems are relatively lenient. In contrast, energy density is a critical performance indicator for large ocean-going vessels such as container ships, bulk carriers, and oil and chemical tankers. These vessel categories account for 85% of the shipping sector’s net GHG emissions, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Besides its high volumetric energy density and manageable boiling point, ammonia has several key advantages that make it a suitable choice for ocean-going vessels as well as smaller ships. For instance, it is already a globally traded commodity, with 20 million tons3 of the chemical shipped each year among almost 200 ports. The presence of existing transportation and storage infrastructure provides a ready foundation for a future zero-carbon fuel value chain in shipping. Ammonia also presents greater prospects for scalability than alternative options such as methanol and biofuels, where constraints on CO2 and sustainable biomass supplies pose barriers to widespread uptake.
Reducing carbon emissions from the trucking sector requires a transition from diesel-powered engines to alternative fuel and drivetrain technologies. As with the shipping sector, the optimal choice of technology depends on the size and weight of the vehicle and its intended purpose and expected traveling profile. Vehicles that travel set, short routes in limited areas are more amenable to being powered by batteries. Urban delivery vehicles and city buses are prime examples as both vehicle types can be charged at predetermined stations along their routes. However, for long-range heavy duty vehicles, the weight of electric batteries and their associated charging times may present 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 drivetrains. As a result, fuel cell trucks share many of the advantages of battery electric systems without incurring additional weight or longer refueling times. Furthermore, fuel cell trucks show higher performance than battery-powered vehicles in inclement weather conditions.
Video credit: Anna Andersen
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