Ammonia Is Taken Up by Wide-Circulation Media

In the last 12 months …

If a “meme”, in the definition of British psychology professor Susan Blackmore, “is information copied from person to person, including words, stories, technologies, fashions, and customs,” then clearly there is a meme spectrum that has “esoteric knowledge” at one end and “the common wisdom” at the other.  Where does ammonia energy fall on this spectrum?  “Esoteric knowledge” it may once have been, but this is no longer the case with the concept’s first incursions into mainstream reporting this year.

The ice was broken on June 17 when the launch of Siemens’ Green Ammonia Demonstrator, near Oxford in the United Kingdom, earned a story in the Guardian, one of the U.K.’s main broadsheets.  The item’s lead carried a certain grandeur: “A chemical compound commonly used to boost crop yields could be the answer to helping the world increase its consumption of renewable energy.”

Then, on June 28, Science magazine published a “review article” entitled “Net zero emissions energy systems” that mentions ammonia as a possible expedient for meeting the energy needs of certain transportation use cases. Admittedly, as the focus of a single paragraph, the ammonia energy concept is almost a stowaway on this great ocean liner of a paper, with its nearly 7,000 words, 32 co-authors, and 161 references and notes.

The same can not be said of another Science offering, this one a “feature article” published just two weeks later. Here ammonia energy is the sole reason for the excursion, as is made clear by the article’s title: “Liquid sunshine: Ammonia made from sun, air, and water could turn Australia into a renewable energy superpower.”  The article is a journalistic account written by one of the magazine’s staff reporters.  While Science is not on any country’s list of most popular periodicals, its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, estimates that more than 500,000 people read it every week.  (This is approximately the same number as subscribe to the daily edition of the New York Times.)  And just as important is the article’s approach, a straightforwardly factual narrative with neither skepticism nor incredulity on display.

Even the second Science paper could still be characterized as technical reporting to a parochial audience of scientists and engineers, though.  Not so the media explosion that followed the demonstration of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s high-purity ammonia-to-hydrogen conversion technology.  CSIRO’s Michael Dolan told Ammonia Energy that the demonstration drew more media attention than any event in CSIRO’s history – “by a comfortable margin.”  Much of the response was motivated by Australia’s natural interest in a “massive new export market,” as the headline of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation story had it.  But somehow it caught the interest of wide-bore media outlets in other countries.  Heavy-Duty Trucking, which claims the attention of “more than 115,000 executives at commercial truck fleets (Classes 1-8) and over 4,000 truck and trailer dealership managers” in the U.S., ran a 200-word piece entitled “Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Could Benefit from Ammonia Breakthrough.”  And Xinhua News Agency, the official state-run news agency of the People’s Republic of China, and by correspondent count the largest news agency in the world, published a 300-word article on the “major breakthrough.”

Such things are hard to predict, but from these small beginnings, ammonia energy could find itself a media star in the coming years.

Ammonia Energy reporting since last year

A year in review

To mark the second anniversary of Ammonia Energy, we are reviewing the most important stories from the last 12 months. This “top ten” list spans two areas: five are significant advances that build on activities that were already underway in 2017, and five are new developments that emerged decisively this year.

Significant advances:

New developments:

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