Summary: An important product from the chemical industry is ammonia. It's uses are varied, from explosives to smelling salts (main image) to its current primary use: nitrogen fertilisers (80%). Ammonia is treated as flammable, can be harmful to us (even fatal) and the production of it globally has a direct CO2e footprint as big as Brazil's. In terms of direct emissions, it is almost twice as emissions intensive as crude steel production and four times that of cement at approximately 2.4 t CO2 per tonne of production. What can we do to make it greener?
Why this is important: In the sustainability transition, ammonia could become even more important as a potential energy carrier too.
The big theme: The chemicals sector currently contributes more than 2 Gt CO2e per year, or close to 4% of global GHG emissions. Unlike say Oil and Gas, the demand for these products is not going to reduce materially, and we cannot just assume that better alternatives will be found quickly. As a result, transitioning the chemical sector is important, and a major challenge. There is uncertainty around the best pathway and from a financial perspective, new pathways will require very different means of production, exposing the industry to stranded assets.
What is ammonia
Ammonia is a colourless gas which is about half as heavy as air and dissolves easily in water. Whilst ammonia gas itself isn't flammable, when mixed with air it could explode if ignited and so is generally treated as flammable.
Exposure to ammonia gas or solution (ammonium hydroxide) can be quite harmful to us, causing irritation at low levels but severe pain, burning, swelling and damage to skin, lungs, stomach and heart and can be fatal. The effects are usually immediate.