Ammonia: The Fuel of the Future

A growing theme around the globe is to implement more sustainable measures to help curb climate change. Can you blame people? It seems every week more and more studies are being released about the negative effects that can arise as a result of global warming. Many governments, corporations, and researchers are looking to do their part to mitigate these negative outcomes.

Ammonia: The Fuel of the Future

One of the quickest ways to cut emissions is through the phasing out of fossil fuels and the adoption of alternative energy options. The main reason that we haven’t seen this implemented fully yet is due to costs. Since a lot of the technology is still relatively new, the initial cost of manufacturing and switching from the current fossil fuels is high. Though the overall costs are lower and can actually result in saving money, it is the upfront price that usually deters many potential customers. As we saw with solar energy, the continuous implementation of alternative energy will increase the demand and therefore lower the costs even more, eventually making these options more attainable to the public.

Lately, there has been an unlikely player looking to break into the world of green energy - ammonia.

In the early 1900s, two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, created what is known as the Haber-Bosch process. The Haber-Bosch process produces ammonia from the air that can then be converted into a fertilizer for agricultural purposes. This process is still used today, and roughly 90% of all global production of ammonia is used in fertilizer. The two men eventually won Nobel prizes and have recently inspired many other researchers to utilize their method for the sake of clean energy.

For instances such as with solar or wind, the energy harvested needs to be stored somewhere for use when the source isn’t available (i.e. evening or low wind days). Many scientists believe that using ammonia as a way to store this energy could be the key to a decarbonized future. In theory, it sounds great, but not so much in practice. Figuring out a way to do this without emissions is tricky to do.

The University of Minnesota & Alternative Energy

In 2013, the University of Minnesota made headlines when they used wind energy in correlation with ammonia to produce fertilizer for agricultural purposes. They have also used ammonia as an alternative energy to help power tractors. Today, the lab is focused on taking their developments to newer and better realms and looking for a solution to the burning question of carbon-free energy.

What We Know about Ammonia

Ammonia is composed of one nitrogen atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms and has the potential to be used in correlation with other forms of green energy. Ammonia is cheaper, lighter, and easier to transport, and it can also be utilized at any time during the day or night.

Researchers currently believe that utilizing ammonia with hydrogen energy is the most effective way to maximize ammonia’s potential. A professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, Prodromos Daoutidis, says “Combined with hydrogen, ammonia provides the most efficient way to store renewable energy seasonably over long periods of time.”

What’s There To Hate?

Though ammonia seems to have a large potential for good, there are still downsides. When combusted - such as with a generator - ammonia can still emit nitrous oxidize, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Though this is believed to be still less than that of traditional fossil fuels, it has turned some people off from the potential of this energy. Ammonia is also hazardous and can even burn the skin or eyes if someone comes into direct contact with it. Scientists aren’t showing any concern in regard to these effects since, in comparison with the energy source used currently, these downsides are negligible.

In regard to decarbonizing ammonia, an inventor in Ontario might just have found an answer to produce ammonia without fossil fuels. If, in fact, this invention works as promised, then it may just make ammonia the alternative fuel option of the future.

Ammonia has gained immense interest around the globe as a potential alternative energy option. Governments have been looking into funding research, and independent labs have taken it upon themselves to delve deeper into the understanding of this potential energy. With the growing awareness of climate change and the push to move toward sustainable energy, ammonia shows great potential and provides hope to those who care about the future of the planet.


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