An enormous engine that generally propels large ships across the sea is now being used by engineers for testing liquid ammonia, reports BBC.
The ground-breaking project
An enormous engine, at a test centre in Copenhagen is being supervised by engineers from a control room resembling a ship’s bridge.
Such an engine that would be propelling a large ship across the sea, is now being prepared to take part in a project where engineers want to see if it runs on liquid ammonia.
Ammonia, a foul-smelling substance that has been a key component in fertiliser, cleaning products and refrigerators has now emerged as a probable alternative fuel to power ocean-going ships.
Global GHG emissions
Around 90% of all goods traded globally are transported by sea and Marine transport contributes around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) plans a substantial shift to green technology to halve emissions by 2050, from 2008 levels.
Alternative fuels to reduce emission
Man Energy Solutions, after exploring several fuels say they believe in Ammonia followed by Methanol and biofuel.
Advantages of Ammonia
The advantage with Ammonia is that it can burn in an engine without CO2 emission as it contains no carbon.
MAN’s ammonia-ready engine
By early 2024, Man Energy Solutions plans to install an ammonia-ready engine on a ship. The first models will be dual-fuel, able to run on traditional marine gas oil as well.
For more information read our article MAN Energy To Unveil Ammonia-Powered Ship Design by 2024
For more information read our article Man Plans Retrofits To Ammonia Bunkers
Hydrogen Vs Ammonia
- Liquid ammonia is more energy-dense than the other zero-emission fuel hydrogen.
- Hydrogen is cheaper to produce than ammonia, but harder to handle.
- Hydrogen has to be stored at -253℃, while Ammonia becomes liquid below -34℃ and at higher temperatures if under pressure.
“Ammonia sits very nicely in the middle,” says Dr Tristan Smith, an expert in low carbon shipping from University College London. “It’s not too expensive to store and not too expensive to produce.”
Challenges with Ammonia
- As burning ammonia can create polluting nitrous oxides, the exhaust needs cleaning up.
- Ammonia is toxic, so requires careful handling and storage.
Handling of Ammonia
Mr Soerensen says, as ammonia is a well-established fertilizer, safety know-how and some port infrastructure are already in place.
“It’s being transported seaborne today. We know how to handle ammonia on board a ship, not as a fuel, but as a cargo.”
Ammonia fuel cells
Norwegian shipping company Eidesvik plans to install ammonia fuel cells on a vessel by late 2023.
Vermund Hjelland, vice president of technology and development at Eidesvik, says fuel cells are more efficient and cost-effective, for such short, predictable routes.
Traditional manufacturing of Ammonia
Heavy environmental footprint
- Manufacturing of around $55bn (£42bn) of ammonia leaves a heavy environmental footprint.
- It accounts for 1.8% of global CO2 emissions.
- Manufacturing ammonia requires nitrogen and hydrogen gases.
- Often this hydrogen is extracted from natural gas (methane).
- The process releases carbon and needs lots of power.
Cleaner manufacturing of Ammonia
New, cleaner ways to make ammonia are emerging.
One method is blue ammonia. In the heart of rural Jutland, western Denmark, research is under way at a brand new pilot plant in Foulum.
It involves capturing and storing the carbon. This seems a more promising green ammonia and it eliminates the use of fossil fuels altogether.
No fossil energy!
Haldor Topsoe, together with scientists from Aarhus University, is aiming to make ammonia from water, air and renewable electricity, feedstocks that are found in many places around the world.
Pat Han, Haldor Topsoe’s director of research said, “Instead of utilising fossil energy… we simply take wind and solar energy, and within minutes, we have a liquid fuel at the other end.”
Solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC)
According to a postdoctoral researcher from Aarhus University,
- Electricity is used to electrolyse water and generate hydrogen.
- Then air is used to add nitrogen to the system.
- Later these gases will be combined to make ammonia.
New technology called a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) streamlines these steps, by combining the nitrogen purification system with the hydrogen production process.
Benefits from the process
Mr Partoon says more energy will be saved and the energy intensity of ammonia production will be reduced, making the whole process much cheaper.
Haldor Topsoe expects green ammonia to be commercially available as early as 2022 or 2023.
Investment amount needed
According to a Global Maritime Forum report, meeting the IMO’s 2050 goal, by shifting primarily to green ammonia fuel, would need more than a $1 trillion of investment.
Dr Tristan Smith is confident and says that is achievable. As renewable electricity and technology costs come down, green ammonia will become more competitively priced, he says.
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