This week, the world’s first ammonia-powered, zero-emissions semi truck was unveiled, potentially signaling the dawn of a new era for the shipping and transportation industry. Like Tesla’s semi truck, Brooklyn company Amogy’s ammonia-powered truck holds about 900 kWh of energy. Unlike the Tesla semi, it takes just about eight minutes to refuel. And, according to Amogy, their new model has five times the system-level energy density of batteries.
For some time now, hydrogen fuel cells have been touted as the future power source of the shipping industry, but ammonia has several benefits in comparison to hydrogen. For one thing, it exists as a liquid at room temperatures, making shipping and storage a whole lot easier for ammonia than hydrogen. “Hydrogen either needs to be heavily compressed to around 700 bar, or else kept cryogenically cooled as a liquid, to just 20.28 K (−252.87 °C; −423.17 °F),” a recent report by New Atlas explained, before adding that, “both of these are energy-intensive processes.”
Like hydrogen, ammonia is only as clean as the energy that’s used to make it. But green ammonia holds great promise for helping to decarbonize some of the most fuel-intensive and high emissions industries that our economy is built on. At present, transportation is the single highest emitting sector in the United States, representing 27% of overall greenhouse gas emissions according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And over a quarter of transportation emissions come from medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will require that the United States, the country with the second-most greenhouse gas emissions in the world after China, makes good on its climate pledges. That will require a major transformation of the transportation industry on a pretty short timeline. The EPA has been wrestling with how to do this.
At the beginning of last year, the EPA proposed two different pathways to drastically decreasing nitrous oxide [N2O] emissions in the trucking industry: “a two-step process with standards getting progressively tighter in model years (MY) 2027 and 2031, or a one-step standard in 2027 that would be less aggressive in cutting emissions.” N2O is a greenhouse gas that accounts for just 7% of emissions, but which stays in the atmosphere for over 100 years and has a warming impact 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide. The new EPA standards are more than 80% stronger than the 2021 iteration, and the EPA says that they will increase the lifespan of governed vehicles by 1.5 to 2.5 times, and yield emissions warranties that are from 2.8 to 4.5 times longer than current standards.
This new ruling has caused significant unease in the trucking industry, according to transportation and shipping news outlet Freight Waves. The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) President Jed Mandel says that the EPA’s new ruling “is very stringent and will be challenging to implement” and that “ultimately, the success or failure of this rule hinges on the willingness and ability of trucking fleets to invest in purchasing the new technology to replace their older, higher-emitting vehicles.”
While every advance in low-emissions trucking technology and infrastructure is an exciting and important step for the imperative of decarbonizing national and global supply chains, the Tesla Semi and the Amogy ammonia-powered truck are all but useless if they’re not affordable and accessible for truckers and trucking companies. These technologies are still in their nascency, however, and the hope is that with continued improvements and targeted policy measures they can soon be scalable enough to make a change that helps the planet without hurting the truckers that make it run.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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