P2X, Ammonia Highlighted for Long-Haul Road Transport, Shipping

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in partnership with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), released a report earlier this month entitled Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition. The 112-page document is a comprehensive survey of technologies, policies, and programs that have current or prospective roles in the global transition to a sustainable energy economy. 

The chapter on transport recommends that global policies focus on ammonia as the best option for decarbonization of the ocean freight and long-haul road transport industries. The ocean freight alignment is consistent with an on-going narrative that Ammonia Energy has been covering in detail. The highlighting of ammonia for long-haul road transport would appear to be a first from a major agency in the sustainable energy space.

The report’s transport chapter starts with a rundown of vital statistics:

Click to enlarge. Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, Fig 3.1: The role of transport in total final energy consumption. IRENA, April 2018

Transport is the second largest energy end-use sector, accounting for 29% of final global energy consumption in 2015.  Over 75% of this is for road transport, two-thirds of which pertains to passenger mobility and only one-third to freight.  International and national aviation accounts for 10.7% and shipping for 9.5% of final energy demand for transport.
Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, IRENA, April 2018

Given these numbers, the report continues, “Decarbonising the transport sector is key to decarbonising the energy sector. It is a huge task that requires a fundamental change in the nature and structure of transport demand, improvements in efficiency and changes in the energy mix.”

And whereas transportation demand reduction and efficiency improvements can make important contributions, “to fully decarbonise the transport sector and transform it into a net-zero emitter, renewables must meet the remaining energy demand.”  This is problematic because “out of the 152 countries that refer to transport in their nationally determined contributions [under the Paris Agreement], only 14% mention the use of renewable energy and alternative fuels.”

The report then implicitly works through a topical matrix formed by assessing salient renewable fuels against the listed transportation modes. The fuel list includes “liquid biofuels, biomethane, renewable electricity, and renewable electricity-derived hydrogen, [and] ammonia and synthetic fuels (power-to-X or P2X).”

Over-the-road freight is singled out within the matrix as a problem area: “However, the use of renewable energy is very limited in long-distance road transport, particularly of longhaul road freight (currently 30% of global transport related energy demand). This is despite the existence of technically mature freight vehicles and high-energy-density biofuels that include biodiesel (in blends up to 20%), hydrotreated vegetable oil, biomethane and ED95 ethanol.”

The report cites “barriers” to the transition to sustainable transport technologies “such as the immaturity or high cost of some technologies, the lack of energy infrastructure, sustainability considerations and low rates of acceptance among users.”

Conclusions and recommendations are presented at the end of the chapter:

Developing P2X is crucial because it plays a key role in decarbonising long haul road transport, aviation and shipping sectors that are difficult to decarbonize . . . The overall recommendation for developing P2X is to focus on the development of ammonia for the shipping sector as well as long haul road transport, where few or no competing low carbon technologies exist and P2X is expected to be economically viable.
Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, IRENA, April 2018

It is worth noting that this statement is recommending a policy direction for 156 countries around the world. If heeded, it could lead to a massive increase in international funding for ammonia fuel R&D.

It should also be noted, though, that the suggestion that P2X will encounter little low-carbon competition in long-haul road transport may be challenged.  In fact, battery-electric trucks are the latest “hot topic” in the world of transportation electrification.  Tesla’s unveiling of its Semi vehicle in November 2017 may have garnered the most press coverage, but it was just one entry in a season of announcements from established motor industry players including Cummins, Daimler, and Volkswagen, and Chinese wild card BYD.  The companies will be offering battery-electric trucks of varying sizes (class 7 “semi” delivery trucks and class 8 “18-wheelers”) and ranges (160 km to 800 km).  Tesla claims that between fuel and maintenance savings, Semi purchasers will recover the vehicle’s up-front price premium in two years.  The company reportedly has 500 reservations in hand even though production is not scheduled to start until late 2019.

The “Renewable Energy Policies” transport chapter offers two recommendations with great relevance for ammonia fuel development under a P2X regime:

The link between the energy and transport sectors needs to be strengthened to further exploit existing synergies. This is critical to integrated planning and policy design, especially for the deployment of electric vehicles …

Technologically less mature renewable fuels (e.g. advanced biofuels and power to X) are expected to be essential in some transport sub sectors, including long haul transport, aviation and shipping, where less alternatives are available.  Financial instruments for research and development, and demonstration as well as specific fuel targets are important policy tools.
Renewable Energy Policies in a Time of Transition, IRENA, April 2018

In the first case, there is great promise in the idea of the transport sector as the primary consumer of fuels produced at times when renewable generation produces electricity beyond current demand.  The relatively high price per unit of energy that can be realized for transport fuels will bolster the investment case for renewable generation assets.  The concept of new financial instruments mentioned in the second case could also feed this dynamic.

IRENA is an intergovernmental organization that was launched in 2010 to support “countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future,” according to the group’s mission statement. It has 156 member nations and enjoys United Nations “Observer” (affiliate) status. The IEA is also an intergovernmental organization, albeit one whose 29-country membership is drawn exclusively from the 35-country membership of the OECD. It too is a United Nations “Observer.” REN21, according to its Web site, is “an international non-profit association and is based at the United Nations Environment Programme.” The group “brings together governments, nongovernmental organisations, research and academic institutions, international organisations and industry to learn from one another and build on successes that advance renewable energy.”


  1. John Hopmans says:

    I think Ammonia for marine transport is the only logical solution at this moment if you compare it to anything which contains captured carbon. However Ammonia (or Hydrogen) in heavy road transport can never beat batteries if that really takes off. The difference in efficiency and the steep increase in infrastructure give batteries the advantage.
    What about Ammonia in aviation? Anybody working on that?

  2. Joe Beach says:

    I do not believe that batteries have an advantage in long haul trucking. Independent analysts have said that they cannot corroborate the performance and cost saving claims that are being made by Tesla in particular. It is important to remember that companies like Tesla make lots of press releases designed to discourage investment in other technologies. They typically underestimate their time to market and overestimate their product performance. Analysts have noted that Tesla has made overpromising and underdelivering into an art form.

    Third party estimates are that recharging a 400 mile range semi in 20 minutes will require a 1 MEGAWATT charging station. So if you want to have a dozen trucks recharging it will require a 12 MW upgrade to the power supply to every fueling station. On the other hand, using NH3 fuel will require no power upgrades. Fuel-based transportation has a lot of practical advantages compared to batteries (refuel in a few minutes, no tank capacity degradation over time, longer range, engine heat available for use in cold weather without impacting range, lower cost of manufacture).

    We can electrify transportation via the fuel. Clean NH3 fuel can be made when power is available and then stored for future use. By contrast, batteries must be recharged when they are depleted, requiring an overbuilt electricity generation capacity to handle the transportation needs in low-wind and low-sun times of the year. That combined with battery-based transportation’s need for tremendous increases in transmission and distribution capacity make NH3 fuel a better option.

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