Ammonia + Hydrogen: Alternative Fuel Source for Heavy Industry and Commercial Transport?

Greenhouse gases from heavy industry contribute roughly a third of all emissions. Hard-to-abate sectors like steel, aluminum, concrete, and marine shipping require intermittent high heat or power, making a conversion to batteries or electrification unfeasible.

Even if these renewable options were available, heavy industry infrastructure and processes are very established and expensive to replace, making the transition cost-prohibitive in most cases.

Hydrogen, once considered an alternative fuel, is now becoming mainstream, especially with the launch of a $7 billion hydrogen hub program funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Hydrogen is a zero-carbon molecule found in water, making it a theoretically unlimited resource.

However, hydrogen is expensive to produce from water through the electrolysis process and is prohibitively costly to store and transport, requiring compression to 700 atmospheres or liquefication to -253 C (-423 F).

A Drop-In Solution

A potential solution is to generate hydrogen from ammonia at the point of source. An ammonia-hydrogen fuel mixture is a renewable fuel source that can match combustion properties to nearly any traditional hydrocarbon fuel. This “drop-in” fuel source— interchangeable with hydrocarbon fuels—is a more cost-effective solution for heavy industry. It does not require significant infrastructure replacement, eliminates carbon emissions, and offers an economically competitive alternative to hydrocarbon fuels.

While decarbonization solutions from innovative climate tech startups exist, bringing down the cost curve and improving technologies require further research, development, funding, deployment, and investment from business leaders and the government.

What’s Needed to Scale Ammonia and Hydrogen as a Sustainable Fuel Source?

Ammonia by itself is very hard to use as a primary decarbonization fuel. That is why it is necessary to decompose ammonia back into hydrogen and nitrogen—the components ammonia is initially made of. Combining ammonia with hydrogen shows promise for decarbonizing heavy industry and commercial transportation where the “green premium” for refitting infrastructure is too great. Nonetheless, there are challenges in pushing the technology forward.

For instance, about 95% of ammonia is currently used in agriculture. Over 3000 miles of ammonia pipeline crisscross the US Midwest, spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to Minnesota. However, it is an unlikely solution to use a majority of current agriculture-serving infrastructure for large-scale fuel applications, potentially disrupting the current ammonia market. According to Dr. Rok Sitar, CEO of Blaze Energy Technologies, three major solutions are required:

  • Scale up existing production of ammonia
  • Change the source of hydrogen, a primary ammonia feedstock from natural gas, to electrolyzer units, thus generating green ammonia
  • Increase overall world infrastructure for storage and transportation of ammonia

Companies like Blaze Energy Technologies seek industrial partners to propel heavy industry into the net zero age. In working together to scale the technology, it’s possible to demonstrate that ammonia-for-fuel is not just an idea but a real decarbonization solution.

Ammonia + Hydrogen: Alternative Fuel Source for Heavy Industry? from Jesse Barlow on Vimeo.

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