China’s GAC Teams With Toyota to Develop Ammonia Engine

Liquid fertilizer is being eyed as a possible alternative to hydrogen, diesel and gasoline as an energy source for future internal-combustion models.

Greg Kable

July 12, 2023

2 Min Read
GAC introduced Empow 55 sports car at 2020 Guangzhou auto show.GAC

Chinese state-owned automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group reveals a prototype engine powered by liquid ammonia – a fuel, it claims, could provide an alternative energy source to electricity and hydrogen.

Developed in partnership with Toyota, the new internal-combustion engine takes its inspiration from the maritime and haulage industries, both of which are actively exploring ammonia as an alternative to diesel for use by container ships and trucks in goods transport.

The 2.0L 4-cyl. (pictured, below left) produces 161 hp in combination with a claimed 90% reduction in carbon emissions compared to conventional gasoline, according to GAC.

gac ammonia engine.jpg

gac ammonia engine

While it is not the first ICE developed to run on ammonia, it is the first to be proposed for possible use in a passenger car.

At an annual technology presentation, GAC says it has overcome issues with burning ammonia, including excess nitrogen emissions, through an increase in combustion pressure compared to conventional gasoline engines.

“We’ve overcome the pain point of ammonia being difficult to burn quickly and put the fuel to use in the passenger-car industry,” says Qi Hongzhong, an engineer at GAC’s R&D center in Guangzhou. “Its value to society and for commercial uses are worth anticipating.”

Used extensively as a fertilizer, ammonia is considered highly toxic. However, its combustible nature has brought it under the spotlight for future transport needs. The slow-burning fuel possesses about half of the energy density of gasoline on a per-gallon basis. 

During combustion, liquid ammonia is free of carbon, hydrocarbon and CO2 emissions. It is also free of particulate emissions. The drawback for use in ICE applications traditionally has been high nitrogen emissions, though GAC and Toyota claim to have solved this particular problem.

The traditional production method for ammonia is considered energy-intensive, though recent developments have led to small-scale production of so-called green ammonia, which uses renewable energy sources for carbon-free compatibility.

More than two-thirds of the world's production of ammonia is used in agriculture as fertilizer. It is also used as a refrigerant gas and in the manufacture of plastics, textiles, explosives and pesticides.

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