Speaking at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference last month, University of Delaware Adjunct Professor Shimshon Gottesfeld reported on progress made by the university’s direct ammonia fuel cell (DAFC) project. Evidently, the UDel team is now a big step closer to its goal of establishing the DAFC as a viable automotive power plant.
A new report from Australia identifies ammonia as a key part of a hydrogen-based high-volume energy storage system. On November 20, Australia’s Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and its Chief Scientist released “The Role of Energy Storage in Australia’s Future Energy Supply Mix.” In addition to hydrogen, the report covers pumped hydro, batteries, compressed air, and thermal systems. Its rationale for including ammonia is starkly simple: “Hydrogen gas is difficult to transport due to its low density; instead, it is proposed that hydrogen is converted to ammonia for transport, and then converted back to hydrogen for use.” Although an ultimate ranking of energy storage options is not provided, the hydrogen-ammonia combination arguably emerges as the best option in terms of economics, environmental and social impact, and deployability.
Of all the devices that can convert the chemical energy in ammonia to electricity, gas turbines and fuel cells appear to be receiving the lion’s share of development effort, outstripping that devoted to ammonia-fueled internal combustion engines (A-ICEs). An Ammonia Energy review last year found a number of organizations with histories of work on A-ICE technology, but reports of progress have not been forthcoming.
It was good news, therefore, when a representative of a newly engaged group appeared at the NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference earlier this month and delivered a talk on an innovative A-ICE “combustion strategy.” Donggeun Lee from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Seoul National University (SNU) delivered the paper, entitled “Development of new combustion strategy for internal combustion engine fueled by pure ammonia,” on behalf of his co-authors, Hyungeun Min, Hyunho Park, and Han Ho Song.
Gideon Grader, a Faculty Dean at Technion Israel Institute of Technology, and Bar Mosevitzky, one of the members of his laboratory, spoke in separate talks at the NH3 Energy + Topical Conference about one of the Grader Research Group’s key focuses: nitrogen-based energy carriers. Grader and his team champion the idea that ammonia can be the starting rather than ending point for nitrogen-containing fuels for heat engines. The focuses of their research include ammonium hydroxide ammonium nitrate (AAN), ammonium hydroxide urea (AHU), and urea ammonium nitrate (UAN). As described below, this work is an indispensable addition to the C-fuel vs. N-fuel debate well known to proponents of ammonia energy. And the Grader team stakes out a position: per the abstract of Grader’s talk, “using nitrogen as a hydrogen carrier can potentially offer a superior option.”
Last month the NH3 event Europe Foundation released a “call for papers” for the 2nd European Conference on Sustainable Ammonia Solutions. The conference will take place in Rotterdam on May 17 and 18, 2018, almost exactly a year after the 1st Conference.
This is further fulfillment of a vision articulated by Hans Vrijenhoef, Managing Director of Proton Ventures in the Netherlands, during the formation of the NH3 Fuel Association’s Global Ammonia Energy Federation (GAEF) in 2016. In Vrijenhoef’s view, the rising level of activity and interest in ammonia energy created a compelling opportunity and need for a European conference.
In the race to place the automotive sector on a sustainable footing, the field is dominated by just two horses: battery-electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. The economic implementation of BEVs is already well underway, with motor companies on track in 2017 to sell more than a million vehicles globally for the first time. The economic implementation of FCVs is also in progress, albeit at a much earlier stage, and has the backing of major motor companies and public-sector agencies. Given the huge leads enjoyed by electricity and hydrogen, ammonia is scarcely seen as a contending fuel. Earlier this month, though, the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E unit published an interview with two of its program managers that has an intriguing implication: the race is far from over and ammonia may yet break to the front of the pack.
On August 1, 2017 the Japan Government’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) announced that it will proceed with funding for the construction of a hydrogen production plant in Namie Township, about ten kilometers from the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The project’s budget is not mentioned, but the installation is projected to be “the largest scale in the world” -- in other words, a real bridge to the future and not a demonstration project.
The project no doubt has a variety of motivations, not least the symbolic value of a renewable hydrogen plant rising in the shadow of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station. In economic terms, though, it appears to be a dead end. This is unfortunate because a similarly conceived project based on ammonia could be a true bridge-building step that aligns with leading-edge developments elsewhere in the world.
In the last 12 months ...
Researchers seeking to fire gas turbines with ammonia made significant strides toward realization of commercial-scale machines in both the U.K. and Japan. This means that electricity generation has become a realistic near-term use-case for ammonia energy.
In the last 12 months ...
Groups in Australia, Japan, Denmark, the U.K., and the U.S. all made progress with technologies that can be used to convert ammonia to hydrogen at fueling stations. This means that hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles can be handled as ammonia from the point of production to the point of dispensing.
In the last 12 months ...
Yara's Australian unit announced plans to build a pilot plant to produce ammonia using solar power. This is a key step in Australia's efforts to develop its economy around clean energy exports, and could lead to a new system of global trade in which renewable ammonia is an energy commodity.