At the recent NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference, Grigorii Soloveichik described the future of ammonia synthesis technologies as a two-way choice: Improvement of Haber-Bosch or Electrochemical Synthesis.
Two such Haber-Bosch improvement projects, which received ARPA-E-funding under Soloveichik's program direction, also presented papers at the conference. They each take different approaches to the same problem: how to adapt the high-pressure, high-temperature, constant-state Haber-Bosch process to small-scale, intermittent renewable power inputs. One uses adsorption, the other uses absorption, but both remove ammonia from the synthesis loop, avoiding one of Haber-Bosch's major limiting factors: separation of the product ammonia.
During our NH3 Energy+ Topical Conference, hosted within AIChE's Annual Meeting earlier this month, an entire day of presentations was devoted to new technologies to make industrial ammonia production more sustainable.
One speaker perfectly articulated the broad investment drivers, technology trends, and recent R&D achievements in this area: the US Department of Energy's ARPA-E Program Director, Grigorii Soloveichik, who posed this question regarding the future of ammonia production: "Improvement of Haber-Bosch Process or Electrochemical Synthesis?"
This morning in Beijing, China, the International Energy Agency (IEA) launched a major new report with a compelling vision for ammonia's role as a "hydrogen-rich chemical" in a low-carbon economy.
Green ammonia would be used by industry "as feedstock, process agent, and fuel," and its production from electrolytic hydrogen would spur the commercial deployment of "several terawatts" of new renewable power. These terawatts would be for industrial markets, additional to all prior estimates of renewable deployment required to serve electricity markets. At this scale, renewable ammonia would, by merit of its ease of storage and transport, enable renewable energy trading across continents.
The IEA's report, Renewable Energy for Industry, will be highlighted later this month at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, and is available now from the IEA's website.
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.
The University of Western Australia has entered the increasingly competitive field of ammonia energy research in Australia, announcing a collaborative agreement to develop "the world's first practical ammonia-powered vehicle" as well as an "ammonia-based hydrogen production plant."
These goals are supported by funding from the R&D arm of Shenhua Group, formerly a coal company but now "China's largest hydrogen producer with a production capacity to power 40 million fuel cell passenger cars."
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.
To demonstrate the progress of the SIP "Energy Carriers" program, the Japan Science and Technology Agency last week released a video, embedded below, that shows three of its ammonia fuel research and development projects in operation.
R&D is often an abstract idea: this video shows what it looks like to generate power from ammonia.
As it turns out, fuel cells aren't hugely photogenic. Nonetheless, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this will be a long article.
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.