Good ReadsGreen Ammonia  

Green Ammonia  

Green Ammonia  

The United States, Mexico and Canada declared at the June 29 Three Amigos Summit in Ottawa that 50 percent of North America's electricity will come from clean power sources by 2025.

Given this international objective, the importance of developing alternative fuels and energy storage mediums increases daily.

Renewable ammonia (NH3), which is a carbon-free fuel, refrigerant and working fluid; and storage media of hydrogen, are unique solutions to Canada’s energy and environmental challenges. Renewable ammonia and hydrogen can serve almost all economic sectors, ranging from transportation to residential, industrial to commercial, public to utility, and agricultural to chemical.

Ammonia as a potential fuel for vehicles or power generation can also be economically produced using conventional hydrocarbons in a cleaner manner by implying current technologies and developments.

The 200 million metric tonnes of ammonia produced globally each year comes from combining nitrogen from air with the hydrogen in coal and natural gas. The carbon in these hydrocarbons is usually emitted as carbon dioxide (CO2), but about 40 percent of the ammonia produced is combined with CO2 sequestered in the a well-known Haber-Bosch synthesis process to make urea.

Electricity production in a diesel cogeneration plant emits more than twice as much greenhouse gas than ammonia. Heat energy production from natural gas has triple the emissions of hydropower-based ammonia.

When ammonia is produced using renewable energy such as wind (versus conventional unleaded gasoline), a further 30 percent greenhouse gas reduction is possible. When compared to propane, greenhouse gas emissions decrease about 18 percent. An ammonia-driven passenger vehicle emits less greenhouse gas than compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), diesel, gasoline, and even hybrid electric vehicles.

Depletion of abiotic resources is moderately lower for conventional ammonia production originated from natural gas, than liquefied natural gas, diesel, petrol and propane fuels.

Ammonia has significant environmental advantages. Even if ammonia is produced from hydrocarbons, it has similar greenhouse gas emissions with a solar energy based route.

Dissociation of hydrocarbons such as methane and oil sand bitumen into hydrogen which can be then converted to ammonia is a promising option for oil sand and natural gas reserves in Western Canada and stranded gas reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Canada’s high hydroelectric, wind, and solar energy source potential sources makes on-site ammonia production for energy storage attractive.

Newfoundland and Labrador have significant potential for renewable resources such as hydropower and wind power. The new Muskrat Falls hydroelectric power plant in Labrador offers a promising way to produce ammonia from excess power. Ontario has potential for on-site low-cost ammonia production from existing excess hydro, nuclear and renewable generating capacity and new hydropower, especially in the province’s Northwestern region.

A 2016 University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) - Hydrofuel Inc. study concludes it will cost four times more to build a proposed 1,500 kilometre electricity transmission line to twelve Northern Ontario First Nations communities to provide interruptible power backed by locally produced diesel fuel generated power than it would cost to convert those same diesel generators to run on ammonia over a 40-year period.

High-efficiency ammonia/urea plants using natural gas and other brown and/or green hydrocarbon feed stocks could be built beside natural gas power plants, utilizing the waste and low-grade heat and excess oxygen to reduce costs and emissions by half or more.

Ammonia engines have been patented by UOIT, Toyota and others. Dozens of commercial applications already exist for NH3-fueled cars in Canada, the United States, Italy and South Korea; NH3-fuelled buses in China; solar-ammonia, wind-to-ammonia, and waste-to-ammonia fuel and fertilizer plants in the U.S. and UK.

Canadian companies and universities have developed viable ways to make and use ammonia. Governments should take the lead to help implement NH3-related production and utilization technologies now.

Second in a series of four articles for OLM by Greg Vezina, Chairman, Hydrofuel Inc. and current issue guest contributor Dr. Ibrahim Dincer, Professor, University of Ontario Institute of Technology. 

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