Is Ammonia the Next Big Thing?

by Ellia Chiang ’21

An ever-growing population serves as a reminder that there are a variety of demands in terms of natural resources that must be met. These requirements often prove to be challenges to not only the community but the environment as well. Since the industrial revolution, humans have relied on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gases. In turn, non-renewable energy dependency coupled with industrial pursuit has created significant issues such as global warming and climate change. In order for change, scientists have developed ways to apply hydrogen energy in fuel cell cars, but all production manufacturing costs are high. Starting from the mid of 2018, however, the idea of using ammonia as a potential energy source and a hydrogen carrier has opened a brand new pathway for generating green energy due to its relatively cheap manufacturing costs. Due to its effectiveness on an economic scale, a new hope that ammonia will be the renewable energy source and hydrogen carrier. 

Ammonia refrigeration

Ammonia is present in everyday life and can be commonly found in household cleaning solutions, from bottles of stain remover to surface shining liquid. The constituents of Ammonia are nitrogen and hydrogen, and it is a colorless gas that serves as one of the most fundamental building blocks in life. What’s the most exciting about ammonia is that the synthesis process does not contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. This can be seen in ammonia’s synthesis, which is a reversible chemical equation: N2 + 3H2 2NH3.

Figure 1. Graphical A

During the production process, ammonia is first synthesized and turned into a liquid. The liquefied ammonia is then shipped to the destined place and cracked into its two constituents, nitrogen and hydrogen, by using heat and pressure. The handlers will release the nitrogen back into the air and contain the hydrogen for later use, whether for the fuel cell cars or energy. In addition, the cost of creating, shipping, and separating the ammonia will cost less than the transportation of hydrogen. Therefore, ammonia as a hydrogen carrier benefits and supports both the environment and population. 

  It is important to understand that the hydrogen in ammonia plays a significant role in the creation of an ammonia economy. Ammonia in the liquid form is considered to be a hydrogen carrier and would greatly benefit the environment. When transporting only hydrogen, there can be extremely difficult issues in terms of complex technology storage, little existing distribution infrastructures, and easy contamination from catalyst poisoning. There is also danger in handling the hydrogen because a leak could lead to combustion or detonation. All in all, this adds up and quickly becomes a financial and health problem. Relative to hydrogen, ammonia can be easily liquefied and stored under modest conditions. It does not need complex storage technology like hydrogen since it requires less pressure and temperature for transportation. In addition, there are existing infrastructures and systems of transporting and creating ammonia. Therefore, it is much simpler to achieve an ammonia economy. 

Overall, it is vital that there is a green alternative that will decrease the issue of climate change and respond to the growing demand of energy. With new technologies and innovations for a green and earth friendly solution, ammonia is definite the potential key to protect the population, society, or environment. 


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