The AmVeh – an ammonia fueled car from South Korea

South Korean researchers have successfully road-tested a dual fuel passenger car that runs on a mixture of ammonia and gasoline. It is called the AmVeh and was developed by members of the Ammonia Research Group at the Korean Institute for Energy Research (KIER).

Ammonia-gasoline dual fuel, and pure ammonia engines
AmVeh, Korean Institute for Energy ResearchThe prototype vehicle uses a fuel ratio of 70% ammonia to 30% gasoline to power a spark ignition engine. As ammonia contains no carbon, this fuel ratio results in a corresponding 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to pure gasoline.

The AmVeh team is now focused on improving the fuel system and the exhaust after-treatment system. Once these are optimized, they aim to develop an engine system that runs on ammonia alone, without any support from gasoline. The emissions from this carbon-free vehicle would be pure water and nitrogen.

The engine system demonstrated in the AmVeh would enable conventional vehicles to be converted to ammonia fuel.

Fleet Conversion
By developing economically viable technology to convert an existing fleet to low- or zero-emission fuels, the Green Transportation Technology Group at KIER is addressing a slate of major domestic concerns. South Korea, the world’s fifth largest producer of automobiles, is also one of the most heavily motorized nations, with an ownership rate of 3.79 vehicles per person in 2011. This, combined with industrial and cross-border pollution, has led to serious problems with air quality [case study and map], and exposes the nation to economic risk from its almost total dependence on imported oil.

According to Youngmin Woo, one of the AmVeh developers at KIER:

“Demand for transport energy is growing and it is forecast that the number of vehicles in 2040 will be double what it is now. On the other hand, we are confronted with the need to reduce green house gas emissions from vehicles more and more to mitigate climate change. In the transportation sector, an ammonia fueled vehicle is definitely one of the promising solutions to deal with both demands together.”

While newly purchased vehicles could be powered by electric batteries and fuel cells, the AmVeh’s system can be installed in the existing fleet, significantly increasing the speed at which South Korea could reduce its fossil fuel consumption and national emissions.

For the prototype vehicle, the AmVeh developers converted an LPG-gasoline bi-fuel engine, giving it separate ammonia and gasoline fuel systems and a dual fuel engine control unit (ECU).

AmVeh fuel system
Ammonia is corrosive to certain materials, including copper, zinc, and their alloys, so the team also performed a series of tests to identify which parts would need to be replaced during a fuel conversion, immersing fuel injectors, pump, tank, and other parts and sealants in a tank of liquid ammonia.

Youngmin Woo from KIER presented initial engine test results, as well as conclusions from the corrosion tests [PDF], at the annual NH3 Fuel Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2012, before the system had been installed in the vehicle.

Korean news agency Yonhap was the first to report on the AmVeh, in May 2013:

“Ammonia can be used to fuel any conventional vehicle with only a few modifications to the vehicle’s existing system.

According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning … if the technology was applied to only 20 percent of all vehicles in the country, it would cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 million tons, or 15 percent of the total [transport sector emissions], per year.

The only existing difficulty is the relatively high price of ammonia, KIER noted, but said its developers were already coming up with ways to produce ammonia through faster and cheaper means.”

Sustainable Production of Ammonia Fuel
This “faster and cheaper” ammonia synthesis process, in development at KIER, was the subject of another presentation at the 2012 NH3 Fuel Conference, given by Jong Hoon Joo. As described in the presentation [PDF], the process involves passing water vapor and nitrogen through a solid oxide electrolysis cell, which is conceptually similar to a fuel cell running in reverse.

The attraction of this emerging ammonia synthesis method is that it does not  consume hydrogen. The most expensive part of traditional ammonia synthesis is the production of hydrogen, whether through electrolysis of water or reformation of fossil fuels, like natural gas or coal – a process that emits ~2 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of ammonia produced. If this new electrochemical process were powered by renewable energy, it would enable completely sustainable production of carbon free fuel on a potentially massive scale.

South Korea: Policy, Economics, and Commercial Opportunity
South Korea is now preparing to launch its emissions trading scheme in 2015. The scheme’s current design, which is still in development and may yet be altered, aims to reduce emissions to 30% below “business as usual” levels by 2020. It sets a penalty price on excess emissions – which may become the default cost of carbon in Korea – at $90 per ton carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This would be the highest carbon price in the world, so far.

However, according to a white paper published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in cooperation with Ernst and Young [press releasefull report], power and energy-intensive industries in Korea may not be able to reduce their emissions at this scale and speed. On top of that, there may not be enough clean energy and sequestration projects underway to supply the market with the carbon offsets it will require. Bloomberg analysts pointed out that therefore, to meet their 2020 target, Korean policymakers may need to cut emissions by an additional 50 million tons CO2e per year. The white paper concludes that, because 70% of the country’s direct emissions are covered under the proposed trading scheme, but not the transport sector, “the government may decide to place a greater burden of emission reductions onto the non-traded sectors such as transport fuels.”

The AmVeh’s promise, to reduce annual transport sector emissions by 10 million tons CO2 if installed across 20% of the fleet, goes 20% of the way toward solving this problem. And the Korean Emissions Trading Scheme would go a long way toward creating an attractive market for this technology. The developers at KIER are now looking for partners, to help commercialize the AmVeh and start working towards developing a market for ammonia vehicle conversions.

18 responses to “The AmVeh – an ammonia fueled car from South Korea

  1. Pingback: Resource Compliance » Ammonia Week in Review | June 28, 2013

  2. The Korean’s are to be commended for their work. But, they are several years late. See the website Made with pride in the USA.

    • The NH3car website seems to be down at the moment – but there’s information about the NH3car, which came out of a University of Michigan project, here and here. Those pages also include links to their presentations at NH3 Fuel Conferences over the last few years.

      • The website is now up again. I urge you to visit the site,. and to read US Patent # 7,574,993. This patent extensively covers the work claimed by the Koreans. Moreover, we have some time ago demo’d IC engine systems operating on pure ammonia. This is a matter of record,and is the subject of US patents pending. Those interested in pursuing the issues discussed, in the USA, should contact me. Don Gillespie at

  3. Marcelo Acosta Estrada

    This South Korea ammonia car is an important contribution to the clean world energy supply solution. The only one inconvenient of this development to reach commercial succeed is to get cheaper ammonia gas at the use place. At Ecuador we have developed a radical change in the available technology to fabricate ammonia in situ, as it is required. The mentioned process fabricates ammonia from the nitrogen contained in the air which reacts with ionized water inside an electrochemical reactor at ambient temperature and pressure.

  4. It was done in Canada in 1981 by Greg Vezina and C.A.E.C Canadian Alternative Energy Corp. when they drove a Chevrolet Impala across Canada and again in 2007 when a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 was converted by sister company Hydrofuel® Inc. see: and

  5. Information about technology to produce ammonia, in situ, at ambient temperature and pressure is available at WIPO /PCT/WO 2013/149624 A1

  6. Pingback: NH3 FUEL | The Ammonia Technicians Association of New Zealand Incorporated

  7. Pingback: The AmVeh ! | The Ammonia Technicians Association of New Zealand Incorporated

  8. Pingback: Korean ammonia NH3 car to Slash CO2 and Toxic Air | The Free

  9. Since this article Toyota have brought out a hybrid nh3 sports car, proving the viability of nh3 once again. see here:
    Don Gillspie may claim he has a patent, but I’ve read about nh3 powered buses running perfectly over a century agoi!

    • To clarify, the link you provide leads to a copy of an article originally published on this site (

      It’s misleading to say that Toyota “brought out” an NH3 car … the Italian tyre manufacturer Marangoni converted a single Toyota GT-86, using fuel technology from Bigas.

      I believe that one important difference between ammonia powered cars now and a century ago is that today we’d use ammonia as a fuel (it gets combusted) whereas a hundred years ago we’d use ammonia as a working fluid (ie, ammonia instead of steam in a steam engine). It makes no difference to me, but I think the patent office would have its own opinion.

  10. I have tried to follow up on your excellent report. However I can find no information on the extensive KIER website.. Am I missing something?

    • I don’t think you’re missing anything, it’s just that the KIER website doesn’t seem to put out all that much information. The PDFs hosted on this site were authored by KIER researchers, who presented the information at the annual NH3 Fuel Conference. If you want to follow up with them directly, I believe that the authors’ contact details were included on those PDFs.

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