Ammonia Cracker of Reaction Engines Promises Zero-Carbon Fuel - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Ammonia Cracker of Reaction Engines Promises Zero-Carbon Fuel

Here’s an article in The Engineer that addresses the Ammonia cracker joint venture of reaction engines which promises zero-carbon fuel for aviation and shipping.

According to the article,

  • Reaction Engines launched a joint venture to design and bring to market ammonia cracker reactors for use in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation and marine shipping.
  • The joint venture aims to catalytically ‘crack’ ammonia into an easy-to-combust fuel for gas turbines and internal combustion engines, enabling the use of ammonia as a zero-carbon fuel for transport applications.
  • The technology will also provide a decarbonization solution for power generation, particularly in ‘stranded grids’ or ‘off-grid’ applications.

More information related to the post:

Overview of Ammonia Cracking

Ammonia (NH3) is composed of nitrogen and hydrogen. “Cracking” ammonia refers to the process of breaking down ammonia into its constituent hydrogen and nitrogen. The primary purpose of this is to produce hydrogen for use as a clean fuel, which emits only water when burned, thus offering a potential zero carbon solution.

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Process of Ammonia Cracking

  1. Thermal Cracking: Ammonia is decomposed into nitrogen and hydrogen gases by heating it to high temperatures (typically above 850°C) in the presence of a catalyst. This high temperature is usually achieved using energy from renewable sources to maintain the zero-carbon credentials of the process.
  2. Catalytic Cracking: In this method, a catalyst is used to lower the required temperature for ammonia decomposition, making the process more energy-efficient. Common catalysts include metals like ruthenium or iron.

Specific Data Points and Statistics

  • Efficiency: Modern ammonia crackers can achieve conversion efficiencies (the percentage of ammonia successfully converted into hydrogen and nitrogen) of over 98%.
  • Energy Requirement: Decomposing 1 kg of ammonia requires approximately 3.7 kWh of thermal energy, which is quite energy-intensive. However, using efficient catalysts can reduce this energy demand.
  • Hydrogen Production: From 1 ton of ammonia, about 480 kg of hydrogen can be produced. Given that the global hydrogen demand was about 70 million tons in 2020, leveraging ammonia as a hydrogen source could significantly meet this demand.

Environmental Impact and Zero Carbon Potential

  • Carbon Footprint: If the energy used in the ammonia cracking process is sourced from renewable energy, the entire lifecycle of hydrogen production can be close to carbon-neutral.
  • Application: Hydrogen produced from ammonia cracking can be used in fuel cells for vehicles, in power generation, or in industrial processes, all with minimal environmental impact compared to fossil fuels.

Example of Usage

An illustrative example is the use of ammonia-cracked hydrogen in the transportation sector, such as in buses or trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Cities like Aberdeen in Scotland and Hamburg in Germany have started deploying hydrogen-powered buses that utilize hydrogen generated through such environmentally friendly processes.

Challenges and Considerations

  • Ammonia Production: Currently, most ammonia is produced from natural gas through the Haber-Bosch process, which itself is carbon-intensive. Advances in “green ammonia” production, using hydrogen from electrolysis powered by renewable energy, are necessary to fully realize the zero-carbon potential.
  • Safety and Handling: Ammonia is toxic and needs careful handling and infrastructure, which adds to the complexity and cost of using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier.

Future Outlook

As technology and catalyst efficiency improve, and as renewable energy becomes more prevalent and less expensive, the scalability of ammonia as a zero-carbon hydrogen source looks promising. Ongoing research and pilot projects continue to optimize both the production of green ammonia and its subsequent cracking, making this a key technology in the transition to a zero-carbon energy landscape.

Interestingly, we have some other posts related to this content:

Shipping with Green Hydrogen: Ammonia Cracking Technology by Pherousa: Pherousa Green Shipping offers pure hydrogen fuel for ships, addressing storage challenges with their innovative ammonia cracker technology, a potential game changer.

About Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi)

Narsi, a Director at EAI, Co-founded one of India's first climate tech consulting firm in 2008.

Since then, he has assisted over 250 Indian and International firms, across many climate tech domain Solar, Bio-energy, Green hydrogen, E-Mobility, Green Chemicals.

Narsi works closely with senior and top management corporates and helps then devise strategy and go-to-market plans to benefit from the fast growing Indian Climate tech market.


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