Ammonia, the second largest chemical produced in the world is mainly used for making fertilizers and a variety of chemicals. Synthesis of ammonia on industrial scale in 2013 is stated to be the biggest invention of 20th century which is helping to feed almost 40 per cent of the world’s population. It is manufactured from synthesis of hydrogen and nitrogen gases.

Hydrogen in turn is manufactured from fossil fuels viz natural gas, petroleum products and coal, natural gas remaining the dominant feed.

In order to reduce the carbon emission, now emphasis is on producing ammonia from renewable energy.

Ammonia, produced through ‘electrolysis’ is called ‘green ammonia’. Production and use of green ammonia is part of ‘National Green Hydrogen Mission’. Incentives provided for production of renewable power and green hydrogen will also help to reduce the cost of green ammonia to improve its commercial viability.

The newer development is that in addition to use of ammonia as feed for chemicals, it can also be used as fuel. Ammonia has certain advantages over hydrogen as fuel. This is a commodity being produced, stored, transported and handled on large scale for more than a century. India itself will be producing 19 million tonnes and importing another 2.5 million tonnes ammonia this year. There are production and storage facilities at more than 30 places in the country.

Research and development (R&D) efforts so far concentrated on use of hydrogen as fuel either though combustion or fuel cells. It has been demonstrated convincingly that hydrogen can be used as fuel both for transportation and as well as in stationery facilities. Efforts are on worldwide to use ammonia as marine fuel. While green ammonia is produced from green hydrogen, it can be cracked to regenerate hydrogen, thus working as carrier for green hydrogen. The Centre, through the National Green Hydrogen Mission, has targetted to produce 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030, both for domestic consumption and export.

Even if one-fourth of this is converted to green ammonia, there will be almost 7 million tonnes of ammonia production through this route by 2030.

There is of course, need to increase our focus on research and development on use of ammonia as fuel including emission control from such facilities. The government has initiated efforts to study hydrogen as marine fuel on pilot scale by way of extending financial support for such project. The government should also encourage pilot studies for use of ammonia as fuel in boilers and ships, which is key to enhancing country’s energy security and meeting our climate goals.

The writer is former Additional Director General, Fertiliser Association of India. Views expressed are personal