With a 15% share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the transport sector is one of the most polluting in the world. While batteries can’t store enough energy to power long-range trucks and transoceanic ships, which are utilised in other types of global transportation, electric vehicles will reduce those emissions in the coming decades.
Young Suk Jo, 34, discovered a potential remedy in the unexpected chemical ammonia. Building methods to utilise ammonia, generally a component of fertiliser, as a fuel to power trucks and ships, Jo cofounded the business Amogy in 2020.
The ability to store a lot of energy in a relatively small area is one of ammonia’s most appealing qualities. Comparatively, compressed hydrogen, a popular clean fuel today, can carry nearly three times as much energy as liquid ammonia.
Pulling apart ammonia is the key to utilising it in transportation, according to Amogy. The startup’s ammonia-to-power system uses a chemical reactor known as a cracker as one of its key technologies. In this reactor, ammonia is converted to hydrogen and nitrogen, both of which can be safely discharged into the environment. After that, a fuel cell can utilise that hydrogen to generate power.
Although the technique of ammonia cracking is not novel, Jo and his co-inventors created a chemical catalyst that can enable the reaction to proceed at a lower temperature, enabling the process to be carried out inside of cars. The team also created a reactor that can operate more effectively than the industry norm, converting about 40% of the ammonia’s energy into electricity.
Amogy has tested their technology in a variety of vehicles, beginning in 2021 with a small drone whose total power requirement was only 5 kW and working its way up to a semi truck in January 2023, which consumed an average of roughly 300 kW. Jo has been in charge of scaling the conversion of each vehicle to run on ammonia fuel.
Jo expressed her excitement when she was given a tour of the Amogy headquarters in New York. “It’s really exciting to see it coming along,” she added. The demonstration vehicles were parked in a row, and a tractor in a bright green colour was positioned between the drone and the truck. Jo walked through all the different components and described in great detail the adjustments needed to make each vehicle work on ammonia.
The development of Amogy’s demonstration vehicles has been “remarkably rapid,” according to John Heywoood, a retired MIT professor of mechanical engineering and Jo’s graduate advisor. To put your idea into a real vehicle in the real world and then test it, he continues, “there are many pragmatic issues you have to work out.”
Jo is focused on developing maritime applications moving future. Over 80% of global trade is carried by ocean-going ships, thus employing Amogy’s ammonia-to-electricity system to power big ships could help reduce emissions without slowing down global transportation.
The business intends to create a production plant for power modules that can be joined together to feed huge ships shortly after demonstrating a larger version of their technology in a tugboat in late 2023.
The supply of ammonia will present a possible obstacle for Amogy. Although the chemical is manufactured in hundreds of millions of tonnes annually, a technology that relies on fossil fuels is used to create the great bulk of it. Pilot and early-stage commercial ammonia production projects powered by renewable energy sources or carbon capture technologies are currently under way, but they will need to pick up speed fast to supply Amogy with the low-carbon fuel required to create a network of climate-friendly transport.