Ammonia—a renewable fuel made from sun, air, and water—could power the globe without carbon

Ammonia—a renewable fuel made from sun, air, and water—could power the globe without carbon


Could the future of renewable energy lie with a common household chemical? Ammonia might power your cleaning products and fertilize your plants, but it could soon be the carrier for moving energy around the world. Oil and gas, which make up most of our energy supply, can easily be shipped and stored. But renewable energy, which travels through the power grid as electricity, can’t, preventing it from becoming a bigger player on the world market. That’s why researchers are trying to convert solar and wind energy into liquid ammonia, which would allow renewables to be stored and shipped as easily as petroleum products. But the current process of creating ammonia is anything but green. Combining nitrogen molecules, which are pulled from the air, and hydrogen molecules, which come from either natural gas or coal, creates massive amounts of greenhouse gases, some 1% of CO2 emissions worldwide. To make truly green ammonia, scientists get their hydrogen from water by separating it from oxygen atoms using electricity. And electricity is what renewables do best. That means regions with lots of wind and sun, like Australia, are ground zero for the new kind of ammonia production. There, the world’s biggest producer of ammonia is building a pilot plant that would rely on solar electricity. The new plant will feed power from a solar array into a bank of electrolyzers, which will convert water into hydrogen. This won’t produce fully green ammonia because natural gas will still be used in other parts of the plant. But it’s a critical first step — generating hydrogen accounts for half of the CO2 emissions from a standard ammonia production plant. To succeed in creating truly “green” ammonia, the industry will have to do away with hybrid or conventional plants altogether and, instead, rely on electrochemical cells. These cells use electricity and catalysts to knit components of air and water into ammonia, all without the heat and pressure normally used to make the chemical. This isn’t easy – at normal temperaturesand pressures, you can produce ammonia quickly or efficiently. But not both. Now, researchers are trying to create a single cell that does it all. Even if they can do it, many challenges remain. For example, scientists still need to figure out the best way to extract energy from liquid ammonia once it arrives at its destination. But if they can pull it off, this new technology could be the key to sustainable energy– all without carbon.

71 thoughts on “Ammonia—a renewable fuel made from sun, air, and water—could power the globe without carbon

  1. Remember the fuel cell? I postulate this technology won't take off for pretty much the same reasons.
    Just build a DC high-voltage transmission line.

  2. Anhydrous ammonia is a poisonous gas and so volatile that it must be stored under high pressure or at low temperature to keep it liquid, so transporting it in large quantities is energy intensive in its own right. Ammonia is also highly soluble in water and toxic to aquatic life. If ammonia becomes "the carrier for moving energy around the world" we will inevitably need to deal with a lot more ammonia spills.

  3. I think hydrogen power sounds a lot more sexy than ammonia power. You can keep the nitrogen and [blah] ammonia… just get me my clean, cheap hydrogen already!

  4. Nice if you want to produce ammonia, but using electrolysis to produce hydrogen makes the whole process terribly inefficiently compared to battery storage (one of the reasons hydrogen is a very bad choice).

  5. Wooo i know some people currently holidaying near there, they already plan to visit Dampier, and this Ammonia plant is being built only 11km to the North-east. I'm forwarding this to them to see if they wanna have a sticky-beak 🙂

  6. What could possibly go wrong…?!? Ammonia is Toxic at every level….
    A spill or leak is not some gallons of oil seeping into the soil somewhere, an ammonia gas cloud will kill everyone it comes in contact with… facepalm.
    Again, this is simply another way of enslaving the human race under a cabal of ENERGY consortiums….
    Replacing Oil with Ammonia is NOT sustainable energy, It's sustainable PROFITABILITY.

  7. Hydrazine should have a higher energy density, and you don't have to waste energy cracking it bak into hydrogen. It decomposes into N2 and H2 with just a catalyst, and that step yields a lot of energy also.

  8. This new method (if efficient) is good news for fertilizer production and agriculture and world hunger as a whole, but as so many people commented ammonia is extremely TOXIC, that's the reason it was banned as a refrigeration agent back in the days.

  9. Ha, everyone in the comment section already sees the problems….Thanks powers that be…Another terrible idea brought to you be an aging power structure too suborn to adapt to change….

  10. In the end the most important question was not anwered! How convert ammonia in energy? Pointless baitclick video

  11. wwhy go the long way to combine hydrogen with nitrogen, when hydrogen itself is a fuel, and we have the technology (fuel cell) to do it without igniting the hydrogen. Electrolysis the water using solar/wind power and use the hydrogen. That will be the future.

  12. 1) ammonia spills
    2) big ship pollution – (maintains shipping jobs and the energy hierarchy which keeps us dependent.)
    3) there are not enough real problems to go around for chemists – and this will just perpetuate a whole industry of solutions for the new problems of the ammonia economy.
    4) “no way to store renewable energy”. AAAS is a science organization? What about:
    Molten Salt Storage?
    Pumped storage hydroelectricity?
    Batteries?
    Etc. etc.
    Sounds like these folks are part of the misinformation network designed to perpetuate stupidity and monopolize the energy market!

  13. I agree that making the process of producing ammonia is a great thing.
    However, your idea of using ammonia to transport energy from country to country seems inefficient to me.
    If you are using the renewable energy to produce hydrogen, then why not just transport the hydrogen?
    Why convert it to ammonia and then transport it?
    I'd be greatful if someone could share some light on this for me

  14. So, no idea how to create the Ammonia quick and efficiently.
    No idea how to use the Ammonia for fuel.

    This is a bit premature.

    Hydrogen is safer and more efficient to produce and we already know many ways to use it to produce energy.
    Producing Ammonia is just kind of silly.

  15. Ammonia is massively toxic to fish, and Ammonium is super toxic to crops. More so than gasoline and desiel by 1000s of orders of magnitude.

    There is also the intermittant high rpm and low rpm combustion issues which cause incomplete combustion, and put this stuff right into the environment.

    The most suitable use would be for the uses we already use it for in manufacturing. As a fuel source for hybrid cars, it might be able to fuction as a green or nuclear energy liquid battery.

    The problem is also the nitrous oxide waste. Nitrous oxide destroys ozone which is bad.

  16. Why not store hydrogen instead of amonia save a lot of time and money which readily burn with oxygen to produce only water

  17. Disliked. Ammonia is a toxic chemical. Also the process is inefficient and you can just store the energy in batteries.

  18. 'cuzz that worked so good for household refrigeration👌😉.

    Add a step and make high quality carbon neutral Diesel?

  19. back to fuel cells,this isn't gonna work.meanwhile batteries are better nd cheaper than this.more breakthroughs in batteries are coming.why waste time nd effort on fuel cells still

  20. Why so many inefficient steps if energy can be directly stored from sun into batteries? The best research bet right now would be increasing the energy density and charging cicles of batteries, as well as reducing it's cobalt content for environmental reasons.

  21. Read the comments and am so grateful that people still actually know their science! If ammonia leaks out into the atmosphere, it is a serious hazard. At scale it could deliver an major ecological disaster.

  22. Please get the most basic principle of all right!

    IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER WHETHER AN ENERGY TECHNOLOGY USES CARBON OR NOT!

    WHAT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT IS WHETHER IT IS >>RENEWABLE<< OR NOT.

    The problem with fossil fuels is not that they contain carbon. The problem is that they are used in a NONRENEWABLE manner: Instead of the carbon in the spent fuel being used to create more fuel, it is just dumped into the environment and ACCUMULATES. It it was reused it would not accumulate.

    Just what part of "RENEWABLE" is it that our society is so remarkably incapable of grasping?

    If any fuel (including ammonia) was used in a NON RENEWABLE way, it would INEVITABLY cause deadly environmental problems even if it did not contain a single atom of carbon.

    It's NOT the CARBON. It's the LACK OF RENEWABILITY that's killing us.

    What we desperately need to do is eject all of the religion out of schools (where it has no business) and replace it with courses on environmental management, evolution, biology etc.

  23. LOL- Lets make Energy by Using Energy. You're much further off to just use the electricity the first time. We live in an Electric World…

  24. Thanks for sharing. Ammonia is a terrible fuel. If you can burn it efficiently, you'll get nitrogen dioxide which will do terrible things to your health.

  25. What if we burn it?
    Maybe one day, we will run out of hydrogen.
    Hydrogen is a free flowing gas on air but its to lite weight.

  26. one of the most efficient fuel cells are hydrogen-oxygen, (the highest possible energy storage) unlike batteries only hydrogen must be carried, oxygen is everywhere (same as hydrocarbon fuels), the problem is the extreme pressure needed, maybe a ammonia-oxygen fuel cell could be a solution to this, unlike water ammonia has a lot of energy (water can't be used as a fuel), the problem is the triple bond in nitrogen

  27. Make ammonia. Only we don't really know how to extract energy out of it once we have it (please don't ask a terrorist). Well that makes petfect sense. And let's ignore hidrogen and oxigen that are produced in the first step.

  28. Ammonia already has an infrastructure in agricultural areas. And in those areas they are used to handling it. It could be a useful alternative in those areas.

  29. As someone from a country highly reliant on oil and seasonal rains for electricity, I'd welcome any method to store energy for our hot summers. Like, maybe ramp up production of these when we have abundant water.

  30. I am not sure why people are over-reacting to ammonia. It is time to educate people about "facts". Ammonia was a nightmare for farmers in 1950s or 1960s. How do you face ethanol and methanol in your everyday life, without even noticing them? How do you drive a car with 18 gallons of highly flammable/toxic gasoline @ 70 MPH? How do you let your teenage girl buy Acetone to remove the nail polish? These are all double-standards. Something that makes ammonia unique is the possibility of creating ammonia in small scale? If the producing unit goes wrong, then the worst would be to evacuate the house or surrounding (withing 10 meters).

  31. If you burn it under ideal conditions, you get only nitrogen and water and no formed nitrogen oxides but I fear for the word"ideal". I wonder about the exhaust of those Belgian buses that ran on ammonia in 1943 because of diesel shortages.

  32. The efficiency of Hydrogen maybe lower than battery technology but the advantages is you don't need to disturb the planet by gathering different chemicals, no mining required, the only issue that needs to be sorted is storage, it will require a lot of investment but once the infrastructure is in place its there to stay as in existing infrastructure which could possible be utilized, I think at the moment work is being carried out on converting hydrogen to hydro carbons by combining hydrogen and carbon from the environment to create clean and efficient hydrocarbons with low carbon emissions for IC engines. ideal for an alternative for people that like IC engines and don't want to change to anything that doesn't make a lot of noise. I see a lot of negative comments about ammonia gas as a fuel, I think these technologies need to be tried in a control environment and then compared
    then decisions can be made in regard to its safety, we should not jump to conclusions and create hysteria based on poorly advised information. a lot of cronies out there are against change because it may interfere with their sense of security but sometime we can be living with a completely false sense of security. change is inevitable, with every second that goes by things change, evolution is taking place, technology is no different.

  33. A lot of people don't seem to understand why this would be useful. Plain hydrogen has horrible energy density and the pressure you have to store it under to make it even reasonable to use as fuel is dangerous, and as people have pointed out, it leaks out of any container you try to store it in. Current batteries are pretty shitty for storing and transporting energy, they are expensive, and they only last a few years before they have to be replaced. One reasonable criticism people are bringing up is the toxicity of ammonia, which I agree is a huge problem, but batteries also contain toxic material so both forms of energy storage are flawed in this way. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of issues with using ammonia as fuel, but all of the people saying to "just use hydrogen" or "just charge a battery" don't seem to see the major flaws with both of these. Also an alarming number of people are also saying this is stupid because it requires energy to make the ammonia… Duh, that's why it's called "energy storage". You use extra solar power to make fuel and store energy for when the sun isn't shining, and to power cars without requiring a long recharge time and a battery replacement every 5-7 years.

  34. What does this has to do with green enery? And why just store hydrogen which is also easy to transport and burn directly into an engine?

  35. Liquid ammonia, more dangerous to manipulate and more toxic – than gasoline?
    Hold my beer…
    http://claverton-energy.com/cms4/wp-content/files/NH3_bus_1945_JInstPetrol31_Pg213.pdf
    https://www.nap.edu/read/4795/chapter/28#384

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