First ammonia cracker prototype turns zero-emission shipping into a reality

Helbio, a subsidiary of Sweden-based energy system developer Metacon, has delivered the first “ammonia cracker” prototype to the Norwegian maritime technology company Pherousa Green Technologies.


At the same time, Metacon through Helbio decided to increase its shareholding from 5% to 10% in Pherousa.

As explained, ammonia-to-hydrogen conversion rates greater than 99,3% were achieved irrespectively of load and the hydrogen purification unit was able to remove 100% of the ammonia traces, enabling feed of a PEM fuel cell with fuel quality according to ISO 14687:2019.

Pherousa has received exclusive licensed rights to market the ammonia-to-hydrogen cracker in the maritime sector worldwide, as well as rights to the required Helbio intellectual property for the ammonia cracking technology for use in the sector worldwide.

Metacon holds rights to serve as the supplier of the core reactor (cracking) modules to Pherousa. Metacon also retains exclusive rights to this technology for the production of hydrogen from ammonia in all other applications outside the maritime market including on-land hydrogen storage.

The need to rapidly clean up all parts of the transport sector is huge and urgent in order to limit increased global warming. Calculations have shown that if the global shipping industry would be treated as a country, it would occupy place number six among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. Therefore, the shipping industry in many places of the world is facing rapidly increased regulatory-, tax- and market-driven pressure to decarbonise.

Ammonia is interesting in the context of green fuels as it is a very capable, highly available, easily liquified, and non-explosive carrier of hydrogen. The ammonia molecule consists of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms (NH3) and is thus, free from carbon. For this reason, ammonia is commonly referred to as the key to enabling a “carbon free economy”.

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Furthermore, ammonia contains over four times as much hydrogen per volume unit as highly compressed hydrogen gas. It has however not been very easy chemically to find a suitable technical solution for splitting the ammonia molecule effectively to yield usable hydrogen.

Pherousa therefore initiated collaboration with Helbio for constructing and manufacturing an effective cracker proof-of-concept system. It is this first prototype under the partnership that has now been delivered with very promising results. This breakthrough could allow the shipping industry to use ammonia as a hydrogen storage medium within the global shipping market, providing the industry with a long sought-after zero-emission propulsion technology.

“We are excited about our collaboration and our participation in Pherousa as well as about the emerging green ammonia market. The ammonia-based hydrogen economy holds great potential both for decarbonising shipping and for energy storage in general. We are looking forward to taking the next step in the scale-up towards commercialisation together with Pherousa,” Christer Wikner, President and CEO of Metacon, commented.

“Pherousa’s technology for emission-free shipping based on ammonia and hydrogen could present the first truly zero emission and viable solution in the world for the maritime sector. We are very happy to see the results and promising performance of the first cracker developed together with Helbio and we are looking forward to the next steps in the collaboration,” Vasilis Besikiotis, CEO Pherousa Green Technologies, said.