While the world rushes against time to curb carbon emissions from cars, trains and airplanes, another area of transport raises concerns. Today, almost  90% of all goods traded globally are transported by water. As massive fuel guzzlers compared to other transportation methods, ships exacerbate the emissions problem. To deal with the issue of carbon pollution by ships, several companies and organizations are exploring ammonia as a possible solution. 

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In 2008, the International Maritime Organization(IMO) set a target of halving its emissions by 2050. To accomplish this, IMO intends to use ammonia as a fossil fuel alternative. Ammonia makes a great alternative since it does not contain carbon; the pungent-smelling gas can burn within an engine and power it without emitting carbon dioxide. Due to ammonia’s ability to provide clean energy, several companies are now testing the gas as an alternative fuel.

A German company, Man Energy Solutions, has announced plans to install an ammonia-ready engine on a ship. According to the company, the first model will be dual, allowing the ship to run on traditional gas with an ammonia option. Meanwhile, Eidesvik, a Norway-based company, plans to invest in ammonia-powered ships. By 2023, the company will install ammonia-powered cells on all its ships. Similar to batteries, these cells will generate energy to power the ship’s motor.

Though ammonia is less energy-rich than many other marine fuels, it proves more energy-dense than hydrogen. Hydrogen, another zero-emission gas, has been used to power cars, trains and planes. While cheaper to produce than ammonia, hydrogen presents handling difficulties due to its -253 degrees Celcius storage temperature.

“Ammonia sits very nicely in the middle,” Dr. Tristan Smith of University College London said. “It’s not too expensive to store and not too expensive to produce.” 

If the shipping industry adopts ammonia as a fuel source, there is still more work required to keep it clean. Ammonia produces nitrogen oxides, which can be toxic. Fortunately, there is a technology that can purify the oxides before they are released. 


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