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Power to Ammonia: alternative synthesis technologies

The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) recently published a detailed analysis of three business cases for producing renewable ammonia from electricity: Power to Ammonia. The feasibility study concludes that, in the near term, ammonia production using clean electricity will likely rely on a combination of two old-established, proven technologies: electrolysis and Haber-Bosch (E-HB). To reach this conclusion, however, the study also assessed a range of alternative technologies, which I summarize in this article.

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CSIRO Membrane: Ammonia to High-Purity Hydrogen

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.

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New Ammonia-Reforming Catalyst System

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.

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Ammonia – and Other Nitrogen-Based Fuels

Next month the print edition of Fuel Processing Technology will feature a paper entitled “Auto-ignition of a carbon-free aqueous ammonia/ammonium nitrate monofuel: a thermal and barometric analysis.” This title is provocative. First, what is this idea of a fuel composed of a mixture of ammonia and ammonium nitrate (AN)? If ammonia is a good fuel, is it made better with the addition of ammonium nitrate? Second, why is it aqueous? Is the presence of water a feature or a bug? Third, what is a monofuel and why is this term used when the fuel is a mixture of two molecular species? And finally, why is the paper ultimately about auto-ignition?

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The new generation of fuel cells: fast, furious, and flexible

At ARPA-E's recent Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, DC, Program Director Grigorii Soloveichik presented his vision for the future of transportation: hybrid electric vehicles that combine the advantages of both plug-in battery and fuel cell technologies. This "optimal solution" will require a new generation of fuel cell that is "fast, furious, and flexible." Fast, in terms of start-up / shut-down time. Furious, in terms of energy density. And flexible, in terms of fuel choice - specifically sustainable liquid fuels, like ammonia.

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Solar-Bio-GMO-Ammonia, powered by the ‘Bionic Leaf’

There will be many ways to make ammonia in the future and, regardless of breakthroughs in chemical catalysts and engineering design, genetically modified organisms will play an increasingly important role. At this week's American Chemical Society meeting, Daniel Nocera from Harvard University introduced his new ammonia synthesis technology. It builds on his "artificial leaf" that produces and stores hydrogen using power from sunlight. Nocera's latest innovation is to couple this system with a microbe that naturally contains nitrogenase, the enzyme that fixes atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. The end result - a robust population of nitrogen fertilizer-emitting microbes - can be delivered to the soil simply by watering the plants.

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Power to Ammonia feasibility study

The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology has just published a feasibility study that represents a major step toward commercializing renewable ammonia. It examines the "value chains and business cases to produce CO2-free ammonia," analysing the potential for commercial deployment at three companies with existing sites in The Netherlands: Nuon at Eemshaven, Stedin at Goeree-Overflakkee, and OCI Nitrogen at Geleen. The project is called Power to Ammonia.

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New Technology for Generating Hydrogen from Ammonia

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.

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Bunker Ammonia: carbon-free liquid fuel for ships

The shipping industry is beginning to evaluate ammonia as a potential "bunker fuel," a carbon-free alternative to the heavy fuel oil (HFO) used in maritime transport. International trade associations are leading the effort to decarbonize the sector, in alignment with targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Their immediate challenge is simple to state but hard to solve: "ambitious CO2 reduction objectives will only be achievable with alternative marine fuels which do not yet exist." In the long-term, however researchers recognize that "fuel cell-powered ships are likely to dominate, drawing their energy from fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia."

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Terrestrial Energy and the Production of Carbon-Free Ammonia

On January 24, the nuclear energy company Terrestrial Energy USA informed the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its plans “to license a small modular, advanced nuclear reactor in the United States.” Many steps later – sometime in the 2020s – the American subsidiary of the Canadian company Terrestrial Energy, Inc., hopes to bring its IMSR technology to market. IMSR stands for integral molten salt reactor. The IMSR stands apart from conventional nuclear technology on several dimensions. On the dimension of operating temperature, the IMSR is hot enough that it can be beneficially integrated with high-temperature industrial processes. According to the company’s research, ammonia production could be a candidate for such integration.