In mid-June the Dutch naval architecture firm C-Job released "Safe and effective application of ammonia as a marine fuel," a thesis written by the firm’s Lead Naval Architect Niels de Vries for the Marine Technology Master of Science program at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. While the thesis delivers an extensive assessment of ammonia's potential effectiveness as a marine fuel, it breaks new ground in its consideration of ammonia's safety in this context.
In the news this week, California and four automakers (BMW, Ford, Honda and VW) signed an agreement on fuel economy standards, rising 3.7% per year to about 50 MPG in 2026. This agreement, as well as previous California and Federal standards, give automakers flexibility to meet the standards with incentives and credits for new technology such as electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles.
This month, researchers at the University of Minnesota began successful field tests of their new ammonia engine, operating a heavy-duty tractor across farmland near Morris, MN, on a dual-fuel blend of 70% diesel and 30% ammonia.
This week, Hydrofuel Inc announced a commercial demonstration project to convert diesel gensets and transport trucks to run on ammonia fuel, with the conversion work and dual-fuel operations scheduled for a three year period.
The CAD $2 million (USD $1.5 million) project will take place at TFX International, in Toronto, and involves the conversion of four existing diesel-fueled assets: two stationary power generators and two transport trucks. These will be converted using Hydrofuel's "aftermarket multi-fuels engine retrofit systems," and they will thereafter be able to operate on a dual fuel basis.
In June 2018, MAN Diesel & Turbo rebranded itself MAN Energy Solutions, reflecting the maritime engine market leader's "strategic and technological transformation" towards sustainability. The company was "taking a stand for the Paris Climate Agreement and the global pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy." According to Uwe Lauber, Chairman of the Board, "our activities have a significant impact on the global economy. In shipping, for example, we move more than half of the global stream of goods ... [and] the path to decarbonising the maritime economy starts with fuel decarbonisation, especially in container shipping."
This week, the company took a significant step towards realizing its vision, disclosing that it is "pressing ahead with developing ... an ammonia-fuelled engine." This builds on the technology development pathway that MAN ES presented at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference at Pittsburgh in October 2018. The budget and timeline are set: the €5 million (USD$5.7 million) project will last two to three years and, if the shipowners decide to deploy the finished product, "the first ammonia engine could then be in operation by early 2022."
"Ammonia for Power" is an open-access literature review that includes over 300 citations for recent and ongoing research in the use of ammonia in engines, fuel cells, and turbines, as well as providing references to decades of historical case studies and publications. The review, written by a consortium of ammonia energy experts from the University of Cardiff, University of Oxford, the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, and Tsinghua University in China, can be found in the November 2018 edition of Progress in Energy and Combustion Science.
This week, DNV GL published its annual Energy Transition Outlook, providing a long-term forecast for global energy production and consumption, and including a dedicated report describing its Maritime Forecast to 2050. This is the first forecast from a major classification society explicitly to evaluate ammonia as a maritime fuel.
By 2050, DNV GL predicts that 39% of the global shipping energy mix will consist of "carbon-neutral fuels," a category that include ammonia, hydrogen, biofuels, and other fuels produced from electricity. By 2050, these fuels will therefore have gained greater market share than oil, LNG, and battery-electric. If ammonia succeeds as the carbon-neutral fuel of choice in the shipping sector, this new demand will be roughly equivalent to 200 million tons of ammonia per year, more than today's total global production.
Last month, an important new consortium in the Netherlands announced its intention to research and demonstrate "the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of an ammonia tanker fuelled by its own cargo." This two-year project will begin with theoretical and laboratory studies, and it will conclude with a pilot-scale demonstration of zero-emission marine propulsion using ammonia fuel in either an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell.
Of all the devices that can convert the chemical energy in ammonia to electricity, gas turbines and fuel cells appear to be receiving the lion’s share of development effort, outstripping that devoted to ammonia-fueled internal combustion engines (A-ICEs). An Ammonia Energy review last year found a number of organizations with histories of work on A-ICE technology, but reports of progress have not been forthcoming.
It was good news, therefore, when a representative of a newly engaged group appeared at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference earlier this month and delivered a talk on an innovative A-ICE “combustion strategy.” Donggeun Lee from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Seoul National University (SNU) delivered the paper, entitled “Development of new combustion strategy for internal combustion engine fueled by pure ammonia,” on behalf of his co-authors, Hyungeun Min, Hyunho Park, and Han Ho Song.
In the race to place the automotive sector on a sustainable footing, the field is dominated by just two horses: battery-electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. The economic implementation of BEVs is already well underway, with motor companies on track in 2017 to sell more than a million vehicles globally for the first time. The economic implementation of FCVs is also in progress, albeit at a much earlier stage, and has the backing of major motor companies and public-sector agencies. Given the huge leads enjoyed by electricity and hydrogen, ammonia is scarcely seen as a contending fuel. Earlier this month, though, the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E unit published an interview with two of its program managers that has an intriguing implication: the race is far from over and ammonia may yet break to the front of the pack.