Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, has long been touted as a promising renewable energy source for the vehicles of the future. Dr. XiaoYu Wu, a mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, firmly believes in hydrogen’s potential, but he also recognizes the significant challenges associated with its storage and transportation.
As the global demand for hydrogen skyrockets, particularly in the transportation sector where it can power vehicles without harmful emissions, finding efficient and cost-effective storage methods becomes imperative. Traditional hydrogen storage methods, involving high-pressure compression or liquefaction, are energy-intensive and economically burdensome. Dr. Wu and his team of graduate and post-doctoral students are on a mission to revolutionize hydrogen storage by exploring the use of ammonia as a safe and efficient carrier.
Dr. Wu explains the urgency of the situation: “Hydrogen production is currently energy-intensive, and the scaling of its development, distribution, and storage infrastructure is costly. Using ammonia as a hydrogen carrier offers a much safer and more cost-effective approach that will help realize hydrogen’s potential as an alternative fuel source and, consequently, reduce the carbon footprint.”
Ammonia possesses several advantages. Not only can it efficiently store and transport hydrogen energy, but it is also relatively inexpensive to produce, store, and deliver. In fact, ammonia is the second most traded chemical globally, with an annual production exceeding 230 million tonnes. Currently, approximately 80 percent of this colorless, low-carbon gas is used in the agricultural industry for fertilizer production.
Canada, recognized as one of the top 10 hydrogen producers globally, is not only acknowledging the potential of hydrogen but actively pursuing it as an alternative fuel. In 2022, Canada entered into a ‘hydrogen alliance’ with Germany to export its abundant hydrogen supply to Europe. The Canadian government’s Hydrogen Strategy outlines objectives and strategies aimed at helping the nation achieve its net-zero emissions goal by 2050, all while boosting the economy and creating jobs.
Dr. Wu is deeply involved in these efforts. He recently secured $250,000 in federal funding for a project investigating ammonia’s role as an energy “currency” connecting the food, energy, and trade sectors. His research extends beyond academia, with collaborations ranging from local partnerships with the City of Kitchener to explore hydrogen’s use in decarbonizing transportation fleets to international collaborations with universities and countries.
Dr. Wu emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration: “Academics cannot work in silos. I’m really interested in how these different sectors can work together, how we can involve economists, politicians, and industry to understand what tools, policies, and taxes we need to implement for alternative fuel sources’ maximum benefits.”
Besides ground transportation, the potential applications for hydrogen and ammonia as fuel carriers are vast. Dr. Wu is also engaged with the University’s Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA), where he explores the use of these alternative fuels to potentially decarbonize the aviation and aerospace industries.
With a relentless drive to innovate and a commitment to educating the next generation of industry leaders, Dr. Wu’s work is not only transforming the energy landscape but also shaping the future of clean energy across various sectors. His interdisciplinary approach positions his research group uniquely to tackle complex energy challenges, a testament to the potential of ammonia as a game-changing solution in the world of hydrogen energy.