"So why the roundabout way to ammonia," muses Angela Kruth, press secretary for Project Campfire at the Leibniz Institute for Plasma Research and Technology in Greifswald, Germany?
Kruth is referring to the process of electrolysis, a technique in chemistry and manufacturing that uses direct electric current in separating elements from naturally occurring sources. In this case a so-called cracker (just as in an oil refinery) is used to separate hydrogen and nitrogen molecules in ammonia. The hydrogen is then put into a gas motor or fuel cell in order to generate energy for ships.
Ammonia is much simpler, efficient and cheaper to store and transport than hydrogen. In order to move ammonia it has to be liquified, which happens at -33 degrees. Hydrogen on the other hand liquifies at -253 degrees. And thus the key point:
It takes a lot of effort (and money) to transport hydrogen. Scientists in Germany can solve this problem when hydrogen is "packed" in ammonia. And the longer the distance the greater the advantage of using ammonia.
Germany and the rest of the EU aim to be climate-neutral by 2050 – an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Ammonia will play a critical role in helping Germany to reach its climate goals, produced with green wind and solar energy delivered from countries that can deliver this in abundance: those in North Africa.
There is still much more research and pilot projects to be carried out. But assuming Africa can be linked to the power grids of Europe then a way will have been found to generate green energy with many applications at a reasonable price.