Earlier this month the Eguchi Laboratory at Kyoto University announced advances in ammonia-fueled solid oxide fuel cell technology. The lab was able to produce a functioning fuel cell with a power output of one kilowatt. The device attained “direct current power generation efficiency” in excess of 50% and reached 1,000 hours of continuous operation.
Module four of the ten-module research and development agenda for Japan’s Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program -- Energy Carriers is entitled “Basic Technology for Hydrogen Station Utilizing Ammonia.” The rationale for including this technology is that “high purity H2 supply system with low cost hydrogen transportation is a key issue to spread fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).”
A story published last week in the Tokyo Shimbun says that to date FCVs have not spread very far. Among the factors seen as constraints is the cost of hydrogen fueling stations (HFS). The Tokyo Shimbun story states that “according to industry officials, each station that supplies hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles runs about ¥400 million ($3.6 million) in construction costs. In order to achieve profitability, about 1,000 fuel cell vehicles are required as customers per location. Construction is not proceeding.”
So far, the players focused on FCVs do not seem to be looking to ammonia as an expedient that will help reduce the cost of HFS and thereby encourage their construction and by extension the uptake of FCVs. This appears to be a missed opportunity whose benefits may become too compelling to ignore.
In Australia this week, CSIRO announced funding for the "final stages of development" of its metal membrane technology to produce high-purity hydrogen from ammonia. The two year research project aims to get the technology "ready for commercial deployment," with industrial partners including Toyota and Hyundai.
On April 27 the on-line journal Science Advances published “Carbon-free H2 production from ammonia triggered at room temperature with an acidic RuO2/γ-Al2O3 catalyst.” The lead author, Katsutoshi Nagaoka, and his six co-authors are associated with the Department of Applied Chemistry at Oita University in Japan. The innovation featured in the paper could prove to be an important enabler of ammonia fuel in automotive applications.
The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology recently published a feasibility study, Power to Ammonia, looking at the possibility of producing and using ammonia in the renewable power sector. This project is based in The Netherlands and is led by a powerful industrial consortium.
I wrote about the feasibility study last month, but it deserves closer attention because it examines three entirely separate business cases for integrating ammonia into a renewable energy economy, centered on three site-specific participants in the study: Nuon at Eemshaven, Stedin at Goeree-Overflakkee, and OCI Nitrogen at Geleen.
Over the next few years, the group intends to build pilot projects to develop and demonstrate the necessary technologies. Next month, however, these projects will be an important part of the Power-to-Ammonia Conference, in Rotterdam on May 18-19.
This article is the first in a series of three that aims to introduce each business case.
On March 21, Gifu University in Japan announced a breakthrough in technology for generating hydrogen from ammonia. A press release from the Gifu Prefectural Association Press Club stated that Professor Shinji Kambara, Director of the Next Generation Research Center within the Environmental Energy Systems Department at the Gifu University Graduate School of Engineering, has developed a "plasma membrane reactor" that is capable of evolving hydrogen with a purity of 99.999 percent from an ammonia feedstock. This surpasses the 99.97 percent purity announced last July by a research group centered at Hiroshima University with a hydrogen generation device based on a different technology.
We wrote last month about the US Department of Energy funding ammonia fuel projects through ARPA-E's "REFUEL" program ("Renewable Energy to Fuels through Utilization of Energy-dense Liquids").
Although we introduced the funded projects in both the ammonia synthesis category and the ammonia fuel-use category, the REFUEL project merits further analysis as a whole because it describes a roadmap for the development of ammonia fuel systems, and identifies benchmarks for their commercial success.
Six of the projects designated for funding by the ARPA-E REFUEL announcement on December 15 involve technologies on the use side of the ammonia energy space. Three focus on generating hydrogen from ammonia. Two focus on fuel cells that convert ammonia to electricity. One project involves both ammonia synthesis and use.
A paper published in this week's edition of Science outlines a new approach to breaking the hydrogen-nitrogen bonds in ammonia, allowing the production of hydrogen at low temperatures.
This research was also reported on phys.org under the headline: "Method found for pulling hydrogen from ammonia for use as clean fuel."
Ammonia energy proponents look forward to the day when their fuel is used in internal combustion engines – but the state of this art is unsettled and it is not clear which combustion technologies will win in the end.