STEX25 Startup:
October 14, 2021 - October 13, 2022

Powering the future with ammonia

By: Daniel de Wolff

“We started Amogy with the belief that we have the most advanced idea in the world when it comes to ammonia as an energy source,” says Seonghoon Woo, “but I really didn’t expect everything to move so quickly.” In the Fall of 2020, Amogy, as an entity, did not yet exist. Woo and his future co-founders Young Suk Jo, Jongwon Choi, and Hunho Kim were just four friends who had stayed in touch since completing their PhDs at the Institute. They kept a collectively watchful eye on emerging technologies and business trends and frequently discussed opportunities to pool their expertise into an entrepreneurial endeavor.

Woo had already garnered attention from the scientific community for his groundbreaking spintronics research with MIT Professor Geoffrey Beach. Tipped for great things, he was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2018 and had built an impressive career in the semiconductor industry. None of Amogy’s co-founders were hurting for work or interesting job offers, but they all agreed that they were ready to build something for themselves. Young Suk Jo’s research in the chemical energy storage space resonated with the group and seemed to offer a possible entry point.

The chemical energy storage space, particularly ammonia as a source of fuel, presented a tremendous opportunity.

“We did some research and realized that the chemical energy storage space, particularly ammonia as a source of fuel, presented a tremendous opportunity,” says Woo. Ammonia is the second most commonly produced chemical in the world. It also has an energy density substantially greater than lithium-ion batteries and compressed hydrogen. Its potential as a carbon-free energy carrier is enhanced by the fact that thanks to the fertilizer market, the necessary production and distribution infrastructure is already in place in the form of global pipelines, ports, and maritime trading routes.

Woo and his friends launched Amogy in November of 2020. As CEO, Woo spearheaded the decision to take their idea to market, engaging potential funders with a pitch deck detailing an innovative core technology that converts ammonia to hydrogen onboard a vehicle. This was coupled with a plan to scale the technology and apply it to the heavy-duty transportation sector, potentially reducing 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and forever altering a market worth nearly one trillion dollars.

By March of 2021, Amogy had closed its seed funding round led by AP Ventures, a UK-based VC that specializes in the transition to sustainable energy, and opened its doors at New Lab, an incubator-meets-shared workspace replete with prototyping facilities. Before 2021 came to a close, Amogy had filed or licensed 20 patents, grown to a team of 30, and attracted the likes of the e-commerce giant Amazon, who signed on to its series-A as part of its Climate Pledge Fund. Woo also secured a partnership with New York’s Empire State Development that will play a key role in Amogy hiring an additional 60 team members in the next few months.

“We proved that we have a scalable technology. We did that with the earlier drone demonstration,” says Woo. He is referring to Amogy’s first demonstrated prototype: an integrated 5-kilowatt (kW) energy storage system powering a drone that buzzed the sky above an open field in south Brooklyn, NY, in the summer of 2021. Woo points out, “The same principle, structure, and configuration will be used for ships, trucks, and planes—we’re in the process of making it bigger.”

The same principle, structure, and configuration will be used for ships, trucks, and planes—we’re in the process of making it bigger.

Converting ammonia to hydrogen is a difficult chemical process requiring high heat and subsidiary components that ought to make for a large system. But Amogy’s system is small enough to sit on the aforementioned drone. For comparison, at the same power scale, the current commercially available ammonia-based power generation system is the size of a container box, rendering it useless for mobility. “Size is key,” says Woo. “When we built our very first system, we knew we wanted to miniaturize as much as possible.” That meant designing a new catalyst material and an entirely new chemical process focused on low temperature and high-efficiency operations at compact volume and weight.

Poised for significant growth, Amogy now joins the ranks of MIT STEX25. It is a high-profile startup with a reputation for overdelivering and hitting company milestones at a rapid pace. And it is ramping up on all fronts. Despite it all, Woo maintains a sense of grace and humility; he greets me at the front door of Amogy headquarters, ushers me in from the cold, and gives me a tour of the space they are quickly outgrowing. His loafers tap out a rhythm that reverberates from the concrete floor and bounces off the high ceilings, eventually lost to the low hum of a workplace in high gear.

“We’re a young company, and I’m a first-time founder,” Woo tells me on our way to examine the 5-kW drone prototype. Later, sitting in a fishbowl meeting room, he confesses that what keeps him up at night is finding ways to drive Amogy forward while properly growing and managing an exceptionally talented team. “I’m always looking to learn more from our advisors, our investors, and my colleagues. Now, I'll have a community of like-minded founders in the MIT Startup Exchange community to learn from and grow with," says Woo.

Decarbonizing the transportation sector, which accounts for a third of carbon dioxide emissions, is essential if we’re going to hit net zero by 2050. In one year, Woo and Amogy have already scaled their solution 50X from 1kW to 50kW. That means just 2-10X to go to hit their next big goals—a 100-kW solution for heavy ground vehicles and a 500-kW version for maritime vessels. “Innovation isn't just a bright idea. It's hard work," says Woo as he checks the clock on the wall and heads to his next meeting.