Fuel or Fertilizer: Green Ammonia

A fledgling ammonia-for-fuel industry is sparking interest in an electrically powered, carbon-free infrastructure that could rewrite ledger books for anhydrous ammonia fertilizer.

When anhydrous ammonia jumped to over $1,400 per ton in late 2021, growers intensified their scramble to find black ink on 2022’s farm spreadsheets — a long-term challenge, considering natural gas, the main feedstock for NH3 fertilizer, entered the new year trading at nearly record-high prices.

While short-term alternatives to cut fertilizer bills are scarce, farmers need to be aware of some industrial changes tied to the clean-air movement that theoretically could offer NH3 in the $200-450 per ton range in the form of carbon-free ammonia production using renewable energy.

So-called “Green Ammonia” has captured the imagination of many as a hydrogen-rich fuel which is just now being incorporated into maritime applications to help shipping companies meet carbon-free emission standards by 2050. When ammonia is burned properly as fuel, its “exhaust” contains only water and nitrogen gas, and it can be used in boilers, gas turbines and internal combustion engines.

A number of international shippers have contracted for ammonia-burning freighters to be delivered over the next several years, and large-scale production facilities are being built in Australia, Europe and the Middle East to meet the growing demand for the zero-carbon fuel for transportation.

What’s With the Colors?

Ammonia (NH3) — the familiar farm fertilizer and the smelly, acrid stuff in disinfectants — is actually a colorless gas that can be stored relatively easily in tanks and is currently handled daily by existing transportation infrastructure such as pipelines, over-the-road trucks and rail cars.

In engineering circles, the processes used to produce…

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Dan crummett 0618

Dan Crummett

Dan Crummett has more than 35 years in regional and national agricultural journalism including editing state farm magazines, web-based machinery reporting and has an interest in no-till and conservation tillage. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Oklahoma State Univ.

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