This month, researchers at the University of Minnesota began successful field tests of their new ammonia engine, operating a heavy-duty tractor across farmland near Morris, MN, on a dual-fuel blend of 70% diesel and 30% ammonia.
NEWS BRIEF: The industrial process for ammonia production is increasingly being recognized as a target for decarbonization - by researchers, investors, regulators, and the producers themselves. Demonstrating this shift in awareness, Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN), one of the flagship publications of the American Chemical Society (ACS), this week published an in-depth review of global research and development efforts and demonstration plants for sustainable ammonia synthesis. Its review is all-encompassing, from near-term feasible renewable Haber-Bosch plants, to long-term research areas of electrochemistry, photocatalysis, and bioengineering.
AFC Energy PLC, the British fuel cell company, announced on May 20 the successful conclusion of “ammonia to power (‘A2P’) fuel cell generator trials.” The result is “proof of concept” for a system consisting of an "off the shelf" ammonia cracker and a proprietary alkaline fuel cell that can readily utilize hydrogen with residual quantities of uncracked ammonia. The achievement positions AFC “to conclude work on the business case and engineering of an integrated, scalable ammonia fuelled clean power generator.”
NEWS BRIEF: A paper published this week in Nature addresses the challenge of accurately reporting synthesis rates for electrochemical ammonia production technologies. According to the authors, from Stanford University, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), and Imperial College London, it is not always clear if new technologies really synthesize ammonia, or if the researchers simply measured contaminants. This is because, at experimental scale, materially significant amounts of ammonia (or other nitrogen-containing molecules) could be present in the air, membranes, catalysts, or simply the researchers' breath. To support the development of viable electrochemical ammonia synthesis technologies, the authors propose "benchmarking protocols," and "a standardized set of control experiments."
Two recent announcements show that the race is still very much on among the energy carriers that until recently were a focus of the Japanese Cabinet Office’s Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP). During its five-year career, the SIP Energy Carriers initiative promoted the development of liquid hydrogen (LH2), liquid organic hydrides (LOH), and ammonia as technologies that could animate a hydrogen supply chain spanning continents and oceans. The announcements regarding LH2 and methyl cyclohexane (MCH -- the main Energy Carriers focus in the LOH area) show that the conclusion of the Energy Carriers work at the end March does not mean the conclusion of work on these two rivals to ammonia energy.
NEWS BRIEF: The National Science Foundation has awarded $452,000 to researchers at Binghamton University to develop a technology that can generate power from sweat, fueling "one of the ultimate forms of next-generation electronics." The project aims to harness ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, using microbial fuel cells, to power wearable electronics.
NEWS BRIEF: On Monday, May 13, the US Department of Energy ARPA-E will close its request for information (RFI) regarding Quantification of Effectiveness of Nutrient Bioextraction by Seaweed.
By using environmental remediation (nitrogen removal) as a mechanism for ammonia production (nitrogen recycling), this novel research area could connect together two phases of industry: production and end-of-life management. Rather than saying that this addresses both ends of a value chain, it might be more appropriate to say that this holds promise for the circular economy of ammonia energy.
One of the most interesting unanswered questions surrounding green ammonia is this: what about urea?
Last month, a major announcement by Stamicarbon ("the world market leader in design, licensing and development of urea plants") implies an answer: in the long-term context of climate change, urea as a fertilizer may simply need to be phased out.
Stamicarbon announced its new Innovation Agenda at the company's "Future Day" event in Utrecht in April. Its Innovation Agenda covers three areas: speciality fertilizers, digitalization, and "Renewable production of fertilizer (using wind or solar energy to produce fertilizer)."
The journal Advanced Materials recently published an article that reviews electrochemical ammonia technologies for both synthesis and power generation. In addition to presenting a range of technologies under development, the authors, based at the University of Delaware, present "perspectives in the technical challenges and possible remedies."
Haldor Topsoe has greatly improved the near-term prospects for green ammonia by announcing a demonstration of its next-generation ammonia synthesis plant. This new technology uses a solid oxide electrolysis cell to make synthesis gas (hydrogen and nitrogen), which feeds Haldor Topsoe's existing technology: the Haber-Bosch plant. The product is ammonia, made from air, water, and renewable electricity.
The "SOC4NH3" project was recently awarded funds from the Danish Energy Agency, allowing Haldor Topsoe to demonstrate the system with its academic partners, and to deliver a feasibility study for a small industrial-scale green ammonia pilot plant, which it hopes to build by 2025. There are two dimensions to this technology that make it so important: its credibility and its efficiency.