Not only cars and planes emit a lot of CO2, shipping also contributes to the climate crisis. Fortunately, scientists have a solution: green ammonia. It could reduce ship emissions by 60 percent.

And it doesn’t even have to be that complicated, discovered researchers from Oxford. If ships can refuel with green ammonia at ten strategic locations, this enormous CO2 reduction will already be achieved. The production costs of ammonia are also comparable to those of other fuels. So it would be a great way to ensure that international shipping is a lot more sustainable by 2050.

Where is the gas station?
Small detail: around 2 trillion dollars are still needed for the transition to green ammonia, mainly to build the right infrastructure, such as pipes and refueling locations. The largest investments are needed in Australia to serve the Asian market. Other strategic points include Chile for the South American market, California for western US shipping, North West Africa for European shipping and Saudi Arabia for the South Asian market. So by making refueling with green ammonia possible in a few convenient places, you cover a large part of the world.

Greening shipping is more important than you might think. About 90 percent of all goods worldwide are transported by ships. They burn heavy fuel oil and emit a mountain of nasty greenhouse gases. Total shipping even accounts for almost 3 percent of total CO2 emissions. This should be less, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In 2018, it already committed to the goal of halving emissions by 2050. This was recently adjusted to net zero by then.

Practical objections
After research into the possibility of installing gas scrubbers on diesel ships yielded no results, green ammonia came into the picture as an alternative. To make that, water must be electrolyzed with sustainable electricity. But that’s easier said than done. The idea has even been mooted before, but it has been bogged down by practical concerns, especially around how and where to invest to build the necessary infrastructure for an efficient fuel supply chain.

“Shipping is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize because it requires fuel with a high energy density and it is difficult to coordinate different companies and countries to produce, finance and deploy the fuel,” explains René Bañares-Alcántara, professor of Chemical Engineering at Oxford.

Regional industry
The researchers wanted to find a solution to this, so to put investors on the right track they developed a model containing scenarios for an efficient, global supply chain for green ammonia. This takes into account the demand for fuel, as well as future trade scenarios and the optimal production, storage and transport of green ammonia. This is how they ultimately arrived at the best locations where ships can fill their tanks with sustainable fuel.

“The implications of our work are tremendous. Our model can replace the current dependence on oil-producing countries with a more regionalized industry. Green ammonia can be produced near the equator in countries with plenty of land and solar energy potential. The fuel is then transported to regional centers where fuel is in high demand,” concludes Professor Bañares-Alcántara.

What is green ammonia?
Green ammonia is made by splitting water. This creates hydrogen and oxygen. This hydrogen can be used to produce ammonia, or NH3, through nitrogen from the air after heating and under high pressure. Green ammonia has many benefits. It’s super clean like that. Only water vapor and nitrogen are released. It has a high energy density, making it easier to transport than, for example, liquefied natural gas and can be easily stored in large tanks. It also produces half as much energy as a cubic meter of LNG.

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