11 June 2023 |

Going carbon free with NH3


There’s a wide range of fuel sources that folks are interested in when it comes to decarbonizing heavy transport. Options vary considerably based on what type of vehicle you’re talking about: 

  • Trucking: Batteries seem like they’ll be a big winner. But some folks are still excited about hydrogen, and, as we’ll see today, ammonia is relevant, too.
  • Shipping: This field is currently stratified; developers are considering fuels ranging from ammonia to methanol and even batteries.
  • Aviation: While sustainable aviation fuels seem like a frontrunner, others are working on hydrogen and battery-powered flight, depending on the aircraft type.

This week, Amogy, a Brooklyn-based transportation decarbonization company, raised $11M in Series B-2 funding to top up $139M in Series B funding for a hefty, comprehensive $150M Series B.

The company hypothesizes that ammonia will play a significant role in decarbonization transportation across different types of vehicles. For reference, while battery chemistries are improving, ammonia is 5x more energy dense than batteries by volume and 10x denser by volume (about half as energy-dense as conventionally used fossil fuels).

And importantly, ammonia burns clean (when completely combusted) – it’s NH3, no carbon!

As noted Maciek Lukawski, VP of Strategy and Business Development at Amogy, in Q&A we exchanged,

Ammonia is the second most produced chemical in the world and has been used as a fertilizer for a century. Due to its high energy density, it has been recognized as a potential alternative fuel for a while now, but the technology just hasn’t been there. 

Amogy’s NH3-powered truck

Amogy has created technology that uses ammonia as a more efficient hydrogen carrier. Amogy’s tech splits ammonia into nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, after which the hydrogen can be combusted. 

Amogy has demonstrated its technology in progressively larger vehicles, ranging from tractors to trucks. Importantly, their design allows for retrofitting; it doesn’t require ground-up vehicle redesigns.

With their $150M Series B complete, the company is ready to go whole hog on commercialization. As they do, I wanted to offer the rest of my Q&A with Maciek to get us up to speed on ammonia, a relatively under-discussed potential fuel source for decarbonization, and how Amogy wants to use it.

A ‘cracking’ Q&A on ammonia for transport decarbonization

Q: Ammonia hasn’t been used as a fuel much before. What past blockers discouraged folks who saw this as a viable climate solution? What’s changed?

Ammonia is the second most produced chemical in the world and has been used as a fertilizer for a century. Due to its high energy density, it has been recognized as a potential alternative fuel for a while now, but the technology just hasn’t been there. That is, until Amogy came around!

We’ve developed a proprietary ammonia-cracking technology that’s more efficient and cost-effective than alternative designs and have used it to demonstrate zero-emission ammonia power on a 5 kw drone, a 100 kw tractor, and a 300 kw semi-truck. We’re now working to be the first to use ammonia to power a 1 mw tugboat by the end of the year.

As stated above, ammonia is a prominent fertilizer, with over 200M produced and transported yearly. So while there’s definitely work to be done regarding infrastructure to adopt it as a fuel, the use of ammonia is something that many organizations will already be familiar with.

This is why Amogy is focused on the use of ammonia as a fuel in industrial and transportation settings. The maritime industry in particular is scrambling to replace diesel fuel with cleaner alternatives. International shipping accounted for about 3% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions — a percentage expected to climb as more vessels deliver more goods and other sectors reduce their share of global emissions.

Q: Walk us through the solution itself. How would you paint a picture for folks hearing about Amogy for the first time?

Amogy’s technology allows us to use ammonia as a clean energy source by splitting it into hydrogen and nitrogen. We then use the hydrogen to generate power through a fuel cell, which can be used to power electric motors. This process releases no carbon into the atmosphere. Using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier in this way reduces the challenges of storing and transporting hydrogen.

Q: There are several fuels that folks are focused on to decarbonize trucking, shipping, aviation, etc… ranging from electric motors to hydrogen to methanol. What makes ammonia the most compelling solution from Amogy’s perspective?

Using ammonia as a fuel in the way Amogy does leverages the superior physical characteristics of liquid ammonia with the performance advantages of hydrogen. This is because ammonia is easier and cheaper to store and is more energy dense than hydrogen or lithium batteries.

Weight and volume constraints are particularly important when it comes to heavy-duty ground, sea, and air transportation which is where we see most of the applications for ammonia as a fuel. However, we do believe that batteries and hydrogen fuel cells offer part of the solution to decarbonizing global transportation. 

Q: Will green ammonia supply ever be a constraint at scale?

We are working with several partners, including Yara Clean Ammonia, which produces green and blue ammonia, to ensure the entire supply chain remains carbon-free. As acceptance of ammonia as a fuel continues to grow from regulatory bodies and governments, we will see more companies enter this space to meet this demand.

Q: What’s happening on the regulatory front that could act as a tailwind for the business?

The International Maritime Organization and many marine organizations have set ambitious decarbonization targets to reduce global fleets’ greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and pursue efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. The American Bureau of Shipping has also projected ammonia/hydrogen-based fuels to be the leading alternatives to oil by 2050. This means there must be a large push on the regulatory front to allow vessels to be powered by these alternative fuels.

Renewable energy legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act will also help renewable energy companies like ours immensely. At the same time, governments in Asia and Europe, such as Norway and Japan, take significant steps towards adopting ammonia as a fuel.

Q: What are there environmental risks inherent to using ammonia as a fuel?

Ammonia is a toxic substance, so safety is important, and it is necessary for protocols and practices to be in place so we can safely transport the ammonia. That being said, due to the ubiquity of ammonia, ammonia has been used in industries like agriculture for nearly 100 years, and, because it has been in use for so long, ammonia safety protocols and infrastructure are common and currently in place.

Amogy is deeply committed to safety and compliance and is working with the United States Coast Guard and partnering with the leading classification society DNV to ensure close alignment with all maritime safety standards.

Q: CTA: Who are you most interested in hearing from? E.g., what roles are you hiring for?

Amogy is experiencing tremendous growth! Please check out our website at www.amogy.co/careers/ to explore our many open positions. We have positions open in Brooklyn, Houston, and a few fully remote roles. Whether you’re interested in R&D, business development, operations, or product, we have something for everyone. Join our passionate team and contribute to our mission-driven organization!

Oddly aesthetic ammonia infrastructure (Shutterstock)

The net-net

I’m glad companies like Amogy are getting alternative “shots on goal” in sectors like road transport; even as other technologies like batteries feel like they’re ‘pulling’ ahead, it’s ultimately very hard to know what cost, energy efficiency, and infrastructure dynamics will look like ten years down the road.

We’re at a phase in the energy transition and climate tech development where taking options off the table is irresponsible. Plus, ammonia is definitely a frontrunner as far as solutions for global shipping are concerned. 

As it pertains to Amogy, interestingly, some of the biggest challenges over the next decade might lie less in their tech and more in the broader ammonia industry. For one, ammonia as a fuel is not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuels for maritime shipping. As noted by an anonymous ship owner for a report on shipping decarbonization:

It will be at least a decade before [ammonia] production will be cost-effective, so in the meantime, we are using LNG.

The question around the availability of supply is also a big one. Ammonia is a massively produced chemical, as noted in the Q&A, but a lot of that is created with fossil fuels, not without.

Finally, the questions around safety are ones that the shipping industry people think about a lot. Nitrogen leakage from ammonia, as well as direct ammonia leakage, can be significantly damaging to any environment. 

Add the steep hill of commercialization to the mix, and Amogy has its work cut out for them. Many early-stage companies have raised impressive funding rounds. As they transition to later stages, the spectrum of challenges changes completely. And few have exited with resounding success to public markets. Hopefully, we’ll count companies like Amogy as winners in 5-10 years.