Cardiff University Launches Ammonia Gas Turbine Project

Last week Agustin Valera-Medina, Associate Professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, told Ammonia Energy that work is underway on a £1.9 million (USD $2.3 million) project that will advance the frontiers of ammonia-gas turbine (AGT) technology. Valera-Medina is serving as the Principal Investigator of the Storage of Ammonia for Energy (SAFE) – AGT Pilot, a four-year effort that hopes to develop “a unique, competitive technology that can be implemented to support the hydrogen transition.”

According to a brief published by the project’s lead funding agency, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the project will address the tendency of AGTs to produce “combustion profiles that [are] highly polluting (with high NOx emissions and slipped unburned ammonia.)” While “countries such as Japan have engaged in ambitious programs to resolve these issues,” the brief says, it is now time for “European counterparts … to engage in these technological advancements.”

The brief speaks to the program’s animating ideas only in general terms, but contains hints that the research will focus on the fuel as much as the turbine hardware. A mention of “hydrogen production … generated through the combustion process of NH3” suggests that an ammonia-hydrogen dual-fuel approach will be applied, with the hydrogen generated in a pre-combustion ammonia cracking step. A later mention of “humidified ammonia-hydrogen cycles” introduces water as a third constituent of the fuel mixture. The emphasis on fuel may explain the researchers’ expectation that the resulting “novel combustion system” will be applicable to “currently deployed systems,” and not just to gas turbines that have been designed around the new technology.

The brief contains one more tantalizing prospect: the integration of “novel thermodynamic principles that will lead into a trigeneration device (cooling, power and heat) to unlock all the potential benefits of ammonia, whilst raising even more the efficiency of the system.” This formulation suggests that the researchers intend to exploit the endothermic nature of ammonia’s transition from stored liquid to gaseous fuel ready for combustion.

Cardiff University is joined in the project by two other British universities: University College London and Imperial College. Other formal partners include Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery; Greek refrigeration equipment company Cool Dynamic; American test equipment producer National Instruments; and British product development company HiETA Technologies. In addition, several entities including the Welsh Government, turbomachinery industry association ETN, British engineering consultancy SCITEK Consultants, and Yara all provided letters of support for the project — and will have on-going “interest in the developments,” according to Valera-Medina.

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Dana Lee

Compliments to this team for undertaking this important work. Due to the diffuse nature of renewable solar and wind energy production, these sources facilitate the cost effective production of hydrogen at community scale quantities for use in local power generation modules. An ammonia gas turbine that could generate power in the 5MW to 50MW range could find wide application for distributed energy production, again at community scale.