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Decarbonizing Global Shipping Lanes through Green Ammonia



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Green Ammonia To Solve Shipping Emissions

When we talk about carbon emissions, the first things that come to mind are cars & trucks, as well as coal and gas power plants. A lesser thought about major energy consumer and carbon emitter is the shipping industry.

90% of the world’s trade is carried on ships, often crossing entire oceans. This makes for no less than 36% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a sector that is for now virtually impossible to electrify, as batteries are not energy-dense enough to propel a ship for thousands of miles at sea.

Carbon pollution is not the only issue here, as the shipping industry has historically relied on the lowest grade of oil, a tar-like thick liquid called “bunker fuel”, or heavy fuel oil/residual fuel oil.

Source: Wikipedia

And the shipping industry might, for a while, produce even more pollution, as it now has to avoid the Red Sea/Suez Canal sea lanes amidst the escalating conflict in Gaza and Yemen. This will add thousands of extra miles of travel for all trade between Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile, an El Niño-induced drought in the Panama Canal is also forcing Asia-North America trade to reroute for longer trade routes.

Something we had warned our readers early on December 21, 2023, in our article “Fossil Fuel Supplies Troubles – Looming Shipping And Energy Crisis”.

Source: BBC


Slowly Improving Shipping Pollution

Reducing Sulphur Emissions

The use of bunker oil, the most polluting form of oil, has made the shipping industry responsible for the production of 18-30% of global nitrogen oxide and 9% of sulfur oxide. This problem can be even worse in localized areas, with, for example, only cruise ships producing 3x more sulfur pollution in Barcelona than all the cars in the city combined.

New regulations looked to solve this issue. Since January 2020, new International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations have radically cut the authorized sulfur emissions in the atmosphere.

In response, the shipping industry had to adopt low-sulfur fuels or keep using heavy fuel oil with scrubbers. Still, these scrubbers often just remove the sulphur from the air emissions, only to put it in water and dump it into the ocean.

Alternative fuels

Another option is to switch to LNG (Liquid Natural Gas), as natural gas burns with much lower sulfur emissions and slightly lower carbon emissions than oil. The problem is one of infrastructure, as most ships are not equipped with engines able to burn LNG instead of low-sulfur oil or bunker oil.

In any case, low sulfur oil and scrubber of LNG are not significantly reducing carbon emissions.

This is why experts are now looking toward alternative fuels as a potential solution. A top candidate for such green fuel is green ammonia.

A Primer On Green Ammonia

Ammonia, or NH3, is the second most highly produced chemical in the world. It is a fertilizer and can be burned or oxidized to produce nitrogen and water.

NH3 +O2 → N2 + H2O

So, it is somewhat similar to hydrogen combustion in that it only produces harmless byproducts, at least in ideal conditions.

The difference with hydrogen is that ammonia is a much larger molecule than H2 and much more stable. This makes its transportation and storage a lot easier. Ammonia is also almost 50% more energy-dense than liquid hydrogen.

Ideally, an ammonia economy would rely on so-called green ammonia generated from renewable energy. This distinguishes it from other types of ammonia:

  • Grey/brown ammonia: produced from fossil fuels.
  • Blue ammonia: produced from fossil fuels but with carbon capture.
  • Pink ammonia (sometimes also called yellow ammonia): produced from nuclear energy.
  • Turquoise ammonia: produced from the pyrolysis of methane. This breaks down methane into hydrogen and solid carbon, with the hydrogen later converted to ammonia. The solid carbon can be stored or used for applications like carbon fibers.

A Shipping Friendly Green Fuel

What makes ammonia a good candidate to replace bunker oil and other fossil fuels in shipping are its logistics qualities.

Hydrogen is too volatile and not dense enough to be used for trans-oceanic trips. Biofuels are either not carbon-neutral enough or produced in too small a quantity to satisfy the massive energy usage of the shipping industry.

In contrast, ammonia can be stored either in liquid form at -33°C (at atmospheric pressure) or pressurized above 7.5 bar (at 20°C). This greatly limits the energy losses and makes the capital expenditures to store and transport ammonia possible.

Also, due to the easiness of storage, including long-term storage, it can be produced with intermittent renewable energy production like solar or wind and consumed at a later date.

Lastly, using liquid ammonia allows harbors to reuse existing infrastructure, such as storage tanks and piping, that is currently used for oil.

Leveraging Shipping Centralized Structure

A new study has brought to light another fact that might help speed up the adoption of ammonia as a green shipping fuel. Researchers at Oxford, working at the Oxford Programme for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (OPSIS) and the Oxford Green Ammonia Technology (OXGATE), have examined the infrastructure requirement for decarbonizing the shipping industry.

They found that targeting the top 10, 50, and 100 ports globally in terms of fuel demand would meet 21.3% (21.8%), 45.7% (46.7%), and 62.0% (62.6%) of the cumulative green ammonia fuel demand.

This can be even more true in some regions, for example:

“in Oceania, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, over 60% of fuel demand can be met by targeting the top 10 regional ports as measured by fuel demand”

“Optimal fuel supply of green ammonia to decarbonise global shipping”

Jasper Verschuur et al 2024 Environ. Res.: Infrastruct. Sustain. 4 015001

This is because while there are thousands of harbors in the world, the largest ones drive most of the traffic and service the largest (and most fuel-consuming) ships.

moderately ambitious (MOD-AMB) future scenario & highly ambitious (HIGH-AMB) – Source: ERIS

The researchers also found that in their scenario, most of the production could be clustered around the Equator and tropical latitudes, where solar energy production is the most efficient, with “less than 10% of ammonia made at an absolute latitude greater than 30 (40) degrees”.

Source: IOP Science

Investments Needed

The Oxford researchers also tried to quantify the required investment to decarbonize shipping lanes with green ammonia.  They found that most of the costs would come from the infrastructure to produce the ammonia, mostly solar farms in the tropics and deserts of Australia and the Middle East, replacing fossil fuel sources.  The total estimated cost? ~ $2 trillion.

While this might seem like a lot, a not-dissimilar capex will be needed to find and refine the oil that the industry would consume in a business-as-usual scenario. So, this is more about changing the source of energy than increasing the costs of shipping.

A Revolution In Shipping

Shipping has for a long time been an industry mostly reliant on manual labor and outdated technologies like bunker fuel-powered engines.

This is quickly changing, notably with the arrival of AI in the industry (something we covered in depth in our article “Securing Shipping Lanes Through the Use of Artificial Intelligence”), which will:

  • Make sea travel safer.
  • Allow for unmanned navigation.
  • Optimize routes and fuel consumption.

The other revolution coming for the shipping industry is switching to renewables and non-polluting fuels. For now, the most likely candidate is green ammonia, as this is mostly a question of policy and investment, with all the key technologies (large-scale solar + ammonia production & storage) already mastered.

Truly, the only possible alternative would be a revolution in biofuel production, potentially with algal biofuels, something we investigate in our article “Algal Biofuel: The Next Energy Revolution?

But considering that 3rd generation biofuels (often chemically identical to oil-based fuels) will most likely be needed in large amounts by the air travel industry to decarbonize, it is likely that ammonia will stay at the center of shipping and maybe even trucking decarbonization efforts.

Ammonia For Fuel Stocks

This list looks to focus on green ammonia companies involved in deploying it in the shipping industry. Leaders in ammonia generation, like for example CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (CF) or Yara International ASA (YAR.OL) are mostly producing ammonia from natural gas currently. But they are likely to turn to green ammonia in due time and might be an option for investors as well.

1. Aker Horizons ASA

Aker Horizons is a subsidiary of the Aker group, which is centered around green energy. The Aker group is an important Norwegian conglomerate focusing on renewables and marine/offshore businesses.  Aker Horizon is the holding company for several subsidiaries, including carbon capture, green hydrogen, and renewable energies.

Source: Aker

The company is notably very active in hydrogen and green ammonia generation, with a goal to decarbonize Arctic shipping.

So, Aker is not a purely green ammonia company but can handle the entire vertical integration of green ammonia, from offshore windmills to hydrogen generation to green ammonia production. It is also working on projects like waste-to-energy in France, a biomass plant in Germany, and carbon capture in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and UAE).

This makes it a good stock for investors looking for exposure to the green energy sector at large, with a strong positioning on green ammonia & shipping, but also other green energies, and some geographical diversification.

2. AmmPower Corp.

AmmPower is similar to FuelPositive in that it provides modular ammonia generation systems, but at a larger scale, with its base module able to produce 4 tons/day. This puts the company's clients more into the range of very large farms (10,000+ acres) or industrial operations like textiles, refrigeration, mining, pharmaceuticals, or semiconductors.

This modular system based on standard containers could also be right at home in harbors looking to progressively scale up their on-site ammonia production capacities.

Source: AmmPower

The company is in the process of building its order book, with the near-term booking potential estimated at $30M, and sale prospects for 690 units from 52 countries. The company estimates the electricity cost to be around $360/ton of ammonia.

The modularity of the system allows for a quick turnaround and deliveries, with less than a year compared to the 3-4 years of similar projects without the modular approach.

It is also working on technology to transform waste into ammonia, in a joint venture with CTEC Energy Sales USA.

To further the progress of ammonia into a hydrogen-ammonia economy, it is creating a dedicated subsidiary dedicated to cracking ammonia into hydrogen, which will look for additional funding separately.

By striking the scale that might fit most industrial usage, as well as shipping, AmmPower is aiming for clients and companies with deeper access to capital than most. Combined with ammonia cracking technology, this could allow it to scale up quickly following policies to push for the development of hydrogen & ammonia as an energy carrier.

Private Companies

First Ammonia is a developer of ammonia production for shipping, electricity, and other transportation.

Solydera is another fuel cell company with activity in green ammonia. Notably, it signed a  Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with KBR in October 2023.

You can also find other green hydrogen and green ammonia-related stocks, as well as an in-depth discussion of the technical advantages and limitations of ammonia, in our article “The Other Hydrogen Fuel – Top 5 Green Ammonia Stocks”.

Jonathan is a former biochemist researcher who worked in genetic analysis and clinical trials. He is now a stock analyst and finance writer with a focus on innovation, market cycles and geopolitics in his publication 'The Eurasian Century".