This startup plans to energy a tugboat with ammonia later this yr

Younger Suk Jo is one in every of MIT Know-how Assessment’s 2023 Innovators Below 35. 

Transportation is without doubt one of the world’s most polluting industries, accounting for roughly 15% of world greenhouse-gas emissions. Electrical autos will make a dent in these emissions within the coming many years, however batteries can’t maintain sufficient power to energy autos utilized in different types of international transit, like long-range vans and transoceanic ships.

Younger Suk Jo, 34, got here up with a attainable resolution in an unlikely chemical: ammonia. Amogy, a startup Jo cofounded in 2020, is constructing programs that may use ammonia, usually a part of fertilizer, as a gasoline to energy vans and ships. 

Certainly one of ammonia’s most engaging attributes is its power density, that means it will possibly pack plenty of power into a comparatively small house. Liquid ammonia can carry about thrice extra power than compressed hydrogen, a number one clear gasoline as we speak. 

For Amogy, the important thing to utilizing ammonia in transportation is pulling it aside. One of many core applied sciences within the startup’s ammonia-to-power system is a chemical reactor known as a cracker. This reactor breaks ammonia down into nitrogen, which may be safely launched into the environment, and hydrogen. That hydrogen can then be utilized in a gasoline cell to supply electrical energy.

Ammonia cracking isn’t a brand new course of, however Jo and his co-inventors developed a chemical catalyst that may assist the response run at a decrease temperature, permitting the method to be completed onboard autos. The staff additionally developed a reactor that may run extra effectively than the present normal, turning roughly 40% of the power within the ammonia into electrical energy.

Amogy has demonstrated its expertise in a variety of autos, beginning in 2021 with a small drone whose complete energy demand was about 5 kilowatts and progressing to a semi truck, which ran on the corporate’s expertise in January 2023 and used about 300 kW on common. Jo has overseen this scaling course of, retrofitting every car to run utilizing ammonia gasoline.

Young Suk Jo crouches on the workroom floor next to a drone
top down view of the Amogy drone

“It’s actually thrilling to see it coming alongside,” Jo mentioned throughout a tour of Amogy’s New York headquarters. The demonstration autos have been lined up within the car parking zone; in between the drone and truck sat a vivid inexperienced tractor. Jo defined intimately the tweaks required to make every car run utilizing ammonia, unscrewing panels and strolling by way of all the varied elements. 

Amogy’s progress on demonstration autos has been “remarkably fast,” says John Heywoood, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at MIT and Jo’s graduate advisor. “There are plenty of pragmatic points you need to kind out to suit your thought into an actual car in the actual world after which take a look at it,” he provides.

Shifting ahead, Jo has his sights set on maritime purposes. Oceangoing ships carry greater than 80% of the world’s commerce, and powering giant ships utilizing Amogy’s ammonia-to-power system might assist reduce emissions with out slowing world transport.

The startup plans to reveal a bigger model of its system in a tugboat in late 2023, and shortly after that it hopes to open a producing facility for energy modules that may be linked collectively to gasoline giant ships.

One potential problem for Amogy would be the availability of ammonia. Whereas a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of tons of the chemical are produced every year, the overwhelming majority is made utilizing a course of powered by fossil fuels. Pilot and early-stage business tasks to supply ammonia utilizing renewable electrical energy or carbon seize programs are underway, however they might want to ramp up rapidly to offer the low-carbon gasoline Amogy must construct a climate-friendly transportation community.

Younger Suk Jo is one in every of MIT Know-how Assessment’s 2023 Innovators Below 35. Meet the remainder of this yr’s honorees.

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