Brooklyn start-up to launch world’s first ammonia-powered vessel down Hudson River in bid to reduce maritime carbon emissions

ammonia-powered tugboat
A rendering of the tugboat Amogy is hopefully will sail down the Hudson later this year

The bustling maritime industry in the New York Harbor may soon be getting a little more eco-friendly as Amogy, a Brooklyn-based clean energy start-up, works to create the first-ever ammonia-powered tugboat.

The team say they are confident that they will be able to launch the tugboat later this year and are in ongoing discussion with the Coast Guard about a possible maiden voyage down the Hudson River.

“It’s not yet finalized but we’re very excited about sailing down the Hudson River and showing it in the real operating environment,” Maciek Luwaski, Amogy’s head of strategy and business development, told Brooklyn Paper.

The tugboat, which was originally built in 1957 and uses diesel generators and electric motors, is being retrofitted using Amogy’s ammonia-to-power system.

“We’re effectively taking an older vessel and retrofitting it with a new drivetrain that provides emission-free propulsion and auxiliary power using ammonia as fuel,” Luwaski said of the tug boat which will be outfitted with a 1-megawatt version of Amogy’s unique system.

Once installed, the system will feed liquid ammonia through its cracking modules integrated into a hybrid fuel cell system, which powers the electric motors for zero-carbon shipping. The field-testing of the tugboat will be the latest in a series of milestones for the company as its scalable zero-emissions energy system has also been demonstrated with success in a drone, heavy-duty tractor, and semi truck.

Emissions ahoy! 

Globally, the maritime shipping sector emits close to 1 billion tons of greenhouse gasses a year, about 3% of global emissions. And in the New York Harbor, emissions are only increasing. 

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reported a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from ocean-going vessels and smaller harbor crafts across its four container terminals — including Brooklyn’s Red Hook Marine terminal. 

The report, published in December 2022, claims that emissions were 20% higher in 2021 as in 2020, and 27% higher when compared to 2006.

Rising emissions comes as cargo volumes increase, with a record number of containers passing through the New York harbor last year. In 2022 alone, the Port Authority handled close to 9.5 million 20ft containers – a 5.7% increase on 2021, which in turn was up 18% from 2020. At the same time, the city is looking to maritime freight to decrease carbon emissions from large trucks that handle deliveries. In 2021, the city announced a plan to overhaul a number of ports — including the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal and the Red Hook Piers — so they could handle more of the city’s deliveries.

tugboat in new york harbor
The city has increasingly looked to maritime freight as a way to decrease carbon emissions from large trucks, and in 2021 announced a plan to overhaul a number of the city’s ports, including two in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

Efforts have been made to offset these emissions in recent years, most notably the plan to turn the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into an offshore wind energy port facility.  But in an industry heavily reliant on fossil fuels, an alternative fuel source like ammonia would help achieve the goal set by International Maritime Organization to reduce maritime emissions by 40% by 2030.

Amogy is confident that they can help the industry achieve this given the familiarity of ammonia in the sector already.  

“Ammonia is actually the second most commonly produced chemical in the world, and is already transported by vessels to about 200 ports around the world,” Luwaski said. “It hasn’t been used as a fuel, it’s moved around as cargo. It’s used as a fertilizer. But the availability of fuel is one of the reasons why the maritime industry is moving so quickly towards that.”

The company, which was founded in 2020 by four friends who met at MIT, most recently raised $139 million from global investors to scale its emission free-technology for commercialization with plans to bring its first product to market in 2024.

“We are working from a place where we have no doubt that our technology will change the world,” Seonghoon Woo, CEO of Amogy said in a statement.

“This funding will help us to see our mission of forging a path toward net-zero 2050 through and in turn, make the world more sustainable. We greatly appreciate the investors sharing our bold mission, and we are laser-focused to bring our technology to market.”