Minimizing the impacts of the ammonia economy on the nitrogen cycle and climate

Matteo B. Bertagni, Robert H. Socolow, John Mark P. Martirez, Emily Ann Carter, Chris Greig, Yiguang Ju, Tim Lieuwen, Michael E. Mueller, Sankaran Sundaresan, Rui Wang, Mark A. Zondlo, Amilcare Porporato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Ammonia (NH3) is an attractive low-carbon fuel and hydrogen carrier. However, losses and inefficiencies across the value chain could result in reactive nitrogen emissions (NH3, NOx, and N2O), negatively impacting air quality, the environment, human health, and climate. A relatively robust ammonia economy (30 EJ/y) could perturb the global nitrogen cycle by up to 65 Mt/y with a 5% nitrogen loss rate, equivalent to 50% of the current global perturbation caused by fertilizers. Moreover, the emission rate of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting molecule, determines whether ammonia combustion has a greenhouse footprint comparable to renewable energy sources or higher than coal (100 to 1,400 gCO2e/kWh). The success of the ammonia economy hence hinges on adopting optimal practices and technologies that minimize reactive nitrogen emissions. We discuss how this constraint should be included in the ongoing broad engineering research to reduce environmental concerns and prevent the lock-in of high-leakage practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2311728120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number46
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • ammonia
  • leakages
  • low-carbon energy
  • nitrogen cycle
  • nitrous oxide


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