An Amazon-backed startup demonstrates a novel tractor powered by ammonia

Amogy Inc., a startup backed by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, has achieved a major milestone by powering the world’s first tractor with ammonia, reported. The tractor uses ammonia as fuel and then splits the chemical on demand to power a 100kW hydrogen fuel cell. 

Even as the automotive sector has focused on battery-powered electric vehicles to decarbonize transportation, the technology has severe limitations when it comes to long-haul transportation as well as heavy-duty vehicles like tractors. The lack of charging infrastructure in remote locations where these vehicles operate and the pain of long charging times, make batteries highly unattractive.  

What these energy-intensive applications need is an energy-dense source of power, and Amogy Inc. is confident that ammonia matches this requirement perfectly. 

Ammonia as a fuel 

Founded in 2020 by Ph.D. alumni from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Amogy Inc. wants to tap into ammonia, the second-most produced chemical in the world. With applications in agriculture as well as industrial cooling, ammonia production facilities are ubiquitous across the globe. 

Each molecule of ammonia is made up of one atom of nitrogen and three atoms of hydrogen. The molecule packs twice the amount of energy when compared to a molecule of hydrogen and up to five times a conventional battery. 

Ammonia is naturally found in a gaseous state but can also be liquified, making refueling vehicles powered by the chemical no different from how most cars are fueled today. Most importantly, burning ammonia releases no carbon dioxide, an important consideration when countries have pledged to go carbon neutral in the next few decades. 

The technology demonstrator

Amogy Inc. has previously demonstrated its technology on a 5kW drone, it says in a press release. Last month, the company demonstrated its technology in a modified 100kW John Deere tractor at the Advanced Energy Center of Stony Brook University in New York. 

The standard-sized tractor was fitted with a standard liquid storage fuel tank and a hybrid fuel cell system that can split the ammonia into hydrogen. Newly freed hydrogen was then used to drive the tractor and in a farm setting, would go about performing its regular tasks. During the demonstration, the fuel tank was refilled with liquid ammonia, a fast and simple process, the press release states. 

With this successful demonstration, Amogy’s technology has achieved a 20-fold increase in its power capacity in a period of just one year. “Amogy is at the forefront of efforts to establish zero-carbon ammonia as a leading fuel for these vehicles,” Seonghoon Woo, CEO said in the press release. “Ammonia offers a high energy density and there are plentiful existing infrastructures, such as pipelines, terminals and storage methods, in the U.S. and globally, to support such a transition.”