The world’s first ammonia-electric semi packs as much energy as the Tesla

In many aspects, ammonia holds hydrogen better than hydrogen itself, and it might help clean up some challenging sectors that require high-density energy. Amogy, a Brooklyn-based firm, has recently unveiled the world’s first ammonia-powered semi-trailer vehicle.

Ammonia has two significant benefits over hydrogen as an energy carrier. One advantage is that it is a liquid at room temperature and pressure, which makes it considerably easier to store, transport, and handle. Hydrogen must be either greatly compressed to roughly 700 bar or cryogenically chilled as a liquid to just 20.28 K (252.87 °C; 423.17 °F) – both procedures are energy-intensive. The second is the amount of energy it carries: approximately three times the volume of hydrogen gas and more than 20 times the weight of today’s lithium batteries.

It may be generated in an environmentally friendly manner and utilized as a fuel in a number of methods, many of which do not emit hazardous or climate-relevant emissions. While it has several drawbacks, green ammonia is viewed as a viable clean fuel option for sectors such as shipping, aviation, and other uses where batteries and hydrogen gas simply cannot carry enough power.

Amogy was formed in 2020 to speed the development of green ammonia as a sustainable transportation energy source. According to the business, a 5kW ammonia drone will be launched in July 2021, followed by a 100kW ammonia tractor in May 2022.

It has now upgraded its ammonia powertrain to 300kW and is showcasing it in what it calls “the world’s first ammonia-powered, zero-emission semi-trailer truck” — a 2018 Freightliner Cascadia Class 8 truck retrofitted with an ammonia fuel system slung under the cab and stacked behind, adding little bulk to the standard truck.

The 300kW ammonia powertrain, which includes tanks, crack reactors, and fuel cell stacks, appears to fit rather well on board.


It fills up in eight minutes to carry around 900kWh of “total net stored electric energy” — roughly the same amount of energy the Tesla Semi stores in its lithium battery packs. Amogy says its “zero-carbon power system…has 5 times the system-level energy density compared to lithium batteries,” so expect this cab to be significantly lighter than the Tesla.

The truck was built, filled and “tested for several hours on the Stony Brook University campus,” and is scheduled to undergo a full-scale, real-world performance evaluation at a test track later this month.

So, how does it stack up against the Tesla Semi? Is ammonia preferable than batteries in this sort of heavy transport? That is impossible to say; Amogy is not currently releasing any performance or range predictions.

We anticipate inefficiencies that do not apply to battery electric cars. The ammonia cracker in Amogy’s powertrain turns ammonia back into hydrogen. The hydrogen is then sent through a fuel cell to create electrical energy, which is subsequently used to power electric motors.

So, if Amogy’s “total net electrical energy stored” of 900kWh just indicates that there is enough ammonia on board to potentially store 900kWh, it does not imply that 900kWh reaches the engines. There will be losses in the on-board ammonia cracking reactors, further losses in the purification phases to guarantee the hydrogen is ready for use in the fuel cell, and more losses at the fuel cell stage.

We don’t know what technology Amogy employs or how efficient any of these processes is. But we can speculate. The Ammonia Energy Association estimates an ideal cracking efficiency of 76%, however this is most likely on an industrial scale; we wouldn’t expect a cracking reactor that fits on a truck or tractor to perform so well. If we apply this figure, about 684 kWh of energy will reach the fuel cell in the form of hydrogen. If we take a high-end estimate for PEM fuel cell efficiency of 65%, then 444.6 kWh of energy will get through to the motors. That’s a little less than half the original 900kWh, so the Amogy truck will go about half as far as the Tesla Semi in this optimistic scenario.

That doesn’t sound great. But on the other hand, you could easily increase the range by adding a few more ammonia tanks somewhere – and that will be a much less painful process than trying to increase the range of a lithium battery-powered semi-truck. Also, this is a retrofit; When you design a new truck around the ammonia concept, you can do all sorts of things.

We’re looking forward to seeing how this gadget works. We’ve been talking about the widely anticipated lithium resource crisis that is expected to manifest over the next decade; there is nothing near enough lithium output to fulfill estimated demand as the EV transition accelerates — much alone other battery-related metals.

Ammonia is an inefficient yet extremely compacted medium for storing energy. It contains half the energy of diesel but more than lithium or hydrogen, and it may be manufactured and utilized in an environmentally friendly manner. It’s well understood in terms of storage, shipping and handling, and is currently accessible in big numbers assuming you don’t mind working with dirty gasoline to begin with. And, being a widely available liquid fuel, it may be useful in freight transportation.

Amogy then considers the Navy. It plans to showcase a 1MW-scale ammonia-powered tug later this year, with the goal of scaling it up to more than 10MW by 2025 to provide a powertrain applicable to container ships on transoceanic excursions. Other ammonia-fueled maritime projects are in the pipeline; for example, the Australian mining corporation Fortescue plans to build a 75-meter vessel this year. However, an ammonia combustion engine is planned to be used instead of an electrical system driven by a fuel cell.

Below is a really uninformative video of the Amogy truck.

Amogy introduces the world’s first ammonia-powered semi-trailer

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