Three researchers in a lab with a lot of equipment. Photolab at NTNU.

Karl Oskar Pires Bjørgen (SINTEF), David Emberson (NTNU) og Terese Løvås (NTNU) in the motor lab at NTNU campus Gløshaugen in Trondheim. Photo: Maren Agdestein/NTNU

Ammonia as fuel represents a green transition for the marine industry, and NTNU and SINTEF have now received funding to research some well-known issues within the ignition and combustion process.

When the new research project starts in 2021, it will make way for groundbreaking research. Hence the name of the grant programme from the Norwegian Research Council: Radical innovative research projects. The key words for the new project led by NTNU are ammonia, marine engines and green fuel.

Ammonia is a clean fuel, but has issues

Ammonia is considered a clean fuel, as it can be made from natural gas applying carbon capture and storage (aka blue ammonia), or from electricity in a renewable grid (aka green ammonia). But when it is applied in combustion engines, there is a problem with ignition and combustion.

Dr. David Emberson is a researcher at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering. He states that there are a number of manufacturers constructing ammonia fuelled marine engines today, but there remain considerable technical issues to be solved. These issues are primarily concerned with the ignition and combustion of ammonia in the engine.

— The current state-of-the-art is to use an additional fuel that is more reactive than the ammonia, to help promote ignition; usually a liquid fossil fuel which is of course not clean, explains Dr. Emberson.

Suggested solution: Ignition with photosensitive nanomaterial

Professor Terese Løvås is the Project Manager for the radical innovative research project. She claims that NanoIgnite will provide a radically new technology to solve these issues with ammonia fuel allowing the practical utilization of neat ammonia in an engine. This will provide a new route for the maritime industry to undertake the clean energy transition.

Research partner in the project is SINTEF Energy Research, where Dr. Karl Oskar Pires Bjørgen works as researcher.

— To sum up the radical part of the project: We will inject a photosensitive nanomaterial that ignites upon light exposure into the engine, thereby igniting ammonia more efficiently, says Dr. Pires Bjørgen.

NTNU and SINTEF combine long experience

The project is a cooperation between NTNU (coordinator) and SINTEF. Together the two institutions combine long experience with research on fundamental combustion processes, engine research, engine modelling, optical measurements and emissions characterization, and ignition mechanisms. The project is funded by RCN’s ENERGIX Programme (Radikalt nyskapende forskningsprosjekt).

Nordic cooperation on clean fuel

Highly relevant for this project is another recent Nordic-based project where NTNU cooperates with partners from Lund University in Sweden (project lead), World Maritime Industry in Sweden, and Aalto University in Finland. This project with the self-explaining title Concepts of Ammonia and Hydrogen Engines for Marine Applications (CAHEMA), is funded by the Nordic Energy Research’s Nordic Maritime Transport and Energy Research Programme (NMTEP).

Contact persons

Dr. David Emberson, researcher, NTNU – Department of Energy and Process Engineering

Dr. Karl Oskar Pires Bjørgen, SINTEF Energy Research