Denmark explores potential of ammonia as a fuel

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 22 February 2019


A new research project involving chemical specialist Haldor Topsoe and the University of Aarhus along with commercial and industrial organisations is to explore the use of ammonia as a fuel.

Today, ammonia is mostly known as an indispensable fertilizer ingredient. The new research project will now explore ammonia’s potential, both as a sustainable fuel and a good solution for “storing” green power from wind and sun. The project, SOC4NH3 (Solid Oxide Cell based production and use of ammonia) with a number of strong partners will over the next years develop and demonstrate the technology and thereby bring it a big step closer a commercial breakthrough.

Ammonia can be used as a CO2 free fuel in internal combustion engines instead of gasoline, diesel and fuel oil and also as source of hydrogen for fuel cells. Moreover, the highly energy-consuming production of ammonia for fertiliser and other purposes can be based on green power instead of natural gas. That will save large amounts of CO2 – and at the same time efficiently “store” excess power from wind turbines and solar cells.

Project Leader, Senior Principal Scientist John Bøgild Hansen at the research facility in Foulum, Denmark, where Haldor Topsoe and University of Aarhus are also demonstrating a more efficient use of biogas.

Haldor Topsoe, a world-leading within electrolysis and production of ammonia, is heading the project and is cooperating with the University of Aarhus, Technical University of Denmark, Energinet, Vestas, Equinor and Ørsted Wind Power. The Danish Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP) supports the project with DKK 15,9 million out of a total budget of DKK 26,8 million.

“We expect that ammonia can be used for transportation and efficient storage of energy. The greatest advantage of ammonia is that it has a high energy density which makes it an effective fuel and energy storage option – and it can thereby solve some of the most important challenges of creating a sustainable energy system of the future,” said project leader, Senior Principal Scientist John Bøgild Hansen, Haldor Topsoe.

“In the Foulum research facility we will demonstrate an especially efficient technology which will enable us to produce ammonia solely by using certified windpower, water and air. The method is much more climate friendly than conventional ammonia production which today makes up as much as one per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions,” said Lars D.M. Ottosen, Head of Biological and Chemical Engineering, University of Aarhus.

When ammonia is produced with power from sustainable sources, it is more or less CO2 neutral. And the ammonia has a lot more applications besides storage of green power. Ammonia today is indispensable in artificial fertilizer, which is a necessary prerequisite for feeding the world’s population. Moreover, ammonia can be used as clean fuel trains and ships which will then only emit harmless nitrogen and steam after a simple emissions treatment.

The fluctuating production of green power from wind turbines and solar cells leads to variations in price and availability of green power. That is why it is necessary to develop efficient solutions to store power to reach the target of 100% renewable energy. The project will examine how excess power can be stored in the form of ammonia.

When there is a need for power, the electricity originally used to produce the ammonia can be regenerated. This takes place by using the ammonia as fuel in fuel cells which then produce electricity without harmful emissions. That way ammonia can be used to level the fluctuations in the renewable/sustainable power supply and make it more economical, stable and flexible.

“We see an interesting potential in using ammonia for creating a more stable green energy production and one that can be stored, and at the same time start electrifying heavy transport and the chemical industry. With more than 100GW wind energy installed all over the world, Vestas has demonstrated that wind energy can deliver the large amounts of energy necessary to convert other sectors to a sustainable future,” said Bo Svoldgaard, Senior Vice President, Innovation & Concepts, Vestas.

Hopefully the project can contribute to the next big step in the green transition and thereby strengthen the international leading position of Danish industry within sustainable technology and green solutions. This will create the foundation for future growth, export and jobs.

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