Japanese capital goods manufacturer IHI Corporation announced last month that it has started construction of a 1,000 square-meter hydrogen research facility in Fukushima Prefecture. The facility will be an addition to IHI’s Green Energy Center in Soma City which was launched in 2018. One of the Center’s original focuses is the production steps of the green hydrogen supply chain using solar electricity to power developmental electrolyzers. The new facility will focus on hydrogen carriers, including ammonia and methane (via “methanation” of carbon dioxide), that can be used in the logistics steps of the supply chain.
The Center for Catalytic Science and Technology (CCST) at the University of Delaware has made new strides in the development of a direct ammonia fuel cell (DAFC) suitable for use in transportation applications. The progress is reported in “An Efficient Direct Ammonia Fuel Cell for Affordable Carbon-Neutral Transportation,” a paper published last month by Yun Zhao and six coauthors in the journal Joule. The paper gives an impressive account of CCST’s technical advances; and it makes a distinctly compelling case for the relevance of CCST’s work on DAFCs. In the latter regard, the authors find that ammonia has the “lowest source-to-tank energy cost by a significant margin” relative to other fuels that can be derived from renewably generated electricity. It is in society’s interest, they strongly imply, to give DAFC technology a chance to compete with hydrogen-based fuel cells in automotive applications.
A May 2019 paper published in Science reports on a technological advance that may have significant implications for ammonia production. The paper, Electrified methane reforming: A compact approach to greener industrial hydrogen production, presents a method for providing the heat required for steam methane reforming from renewable electricity instead of natural gas. The carbon intensity of ammonia production could thereby be reduced by about 30%.
And, last month, Haldor Topsøe announced that it plans to build a demonstration plant in Denmark that will produce “CO2-neutral methanol from biogas using eSMR technology.” The plant is expected to be “fully operational in the beginning of 2022.”
GenCell Energy, an Israeli technology company, recently announced a research collaboration with Fraunhofer UMSICHT, a German research institute, that will deliver a "scale-up of the catalyst synthesis process" for cracking ammonia. This will enable GenCell "to produce large quantities of a novel inexpensive catalyst for generation of hydrogen from ammonia."
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.