Ammonia as an Essential Energy Carrier: Essential for the Energy Transition

In order to meet global climate targets, alternative fuels must start to expand and replace the current mix of fossil fuels. While the passenger vehicle segment has made progress with electrification, other industries, like maritime shipping, present a more complex range of challenges such as lengthy travel times, high power output demands, trade-offs with cargo storage space. 

One thing they all require: an energy-dense fuel. 

In this blog, we look at the use of ammonia as an essential energy carrier to support the energy transition. But what is ammonia and how feasible is it? For a full report, read the white paper here 

What is ammonia? 

Ammonia consists of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. Although found in nature, the production of ammonia is a global industry. In a typical ammonia plant, a steam methane reformer is used to produce hydrogen from natural gas. This hydrogen is combined with atmospheric nitrogen via the Haber-Bosch process, which occurs at elevated temperatures and pressures. The use of fossil fuel feedstocks means that the process is highly carbon intensive. 

However, most new ammonia plants will employ one of two low-carbon production pathways. Clean ammonia produced with carbon capture and storage (CCS) or renewable energy will help to decarbonize existing applications in the fertilizer and chemical industries. It will also enable ammonia to replace carbon-intensive energy sources in hard-to-abate sectors. 

An Internationally Traded Commodity 

Ammonia is also the second-largest chemical produced globally. 18 million tons of ammonia are currently stored and transported each year. Additionally, more than 200 gas carriers capable of shipping ammonia and liquid petroleum gas are currently in operation around the world. And, 150-200 ports are equipped with terminals for unloading and storing traded ammonia. 

As an internationally traded commodity, ammonia already has a well-developed distribution network available to support its use as an alternative fuel. 

A Key Long-Distance Energy Carrier 

There’s an emerging consensus that ammonia will be the most economic option for transporting hydrogen over long distances. Many developers intend to convert hydrogen into green ammonia before shipping it to international markets.  

Why? Because traditional methods of hydrogen production rely on fossil fuel feedstocks, whereas green ammonia acts as an affordable hydrogen carrier. With readily available infrastructure and an existing distribution network, it’s also easier to store and transport than other alternative fuels. 

A Carbon-Free Fuel for Maritime Shipping and More 

Alongside other fuels, ammonia can be used directly as a fuel for many hard-to-abate sectors. One industry that is facing decarbonization challenges is the maritime industry, which currently accounts for approximately 3% of global emissions. 

In 2023, 94% of the fuel used by the shipping sector was petroleum-based. A clean solution for this sector is both necessary and urgent. 

Ammonia has the potential to be a critical carbon-free fuel for various maritime applications, including onboard propulsion and auxiliary power for various vessel classes. With a vast network of existing production, distribution, and storage infrastructure, it provides a solid foundation for the future value chain in shipping.  

Download the ammonia as an essential energy carrier for the energy transition white paper. Learn more about how ammonia can be produced at very low carbon intensities, why it’s viewed as the key carbon-free energy carrier to unlock net-zero, and how ammonia compares with alternative fuels on the market.