Download a PDF version of Technoeconomic Requirements for Sustainable Ammonia Production.
Ammonia, the feedstock for all nitrogen fertilizers, is produced via the Haber-Bosch process, which is responsible for 1-2% of global carbon dioxide emissions each year. An attractive solution to this problem is to create an electrochemical ammonia synthesis process that can produce ammonia using only air, water, and renewable electricity. Researchers across the world have been working toward such a solution for the last several decades, but so far, no economically viable alternative has been created. The Haber-Bosch process is one of the largest-scale, most highly optimized chemical processes in the world; it is very difficult to find a cheaper way to make ammonia. However, in many geographic regions, the price of nitrogen fertilizer at the farm is four or more times higher than the price at the gate of a Haber-Bosch plant due to a long and complicated supply chain. As the cost of renewable electricity continues to fall, there may be an opportunity to create a smaller-scale, solar- or wind-powered nitrogen fixation process that operates on or near the farm and is economically viable due primarily to the elimination of the supply chain. In this presentation, we identify a few types of possible electrochemical nitrogen fixation processes and the technical requirements that each would need to achieve to be cost-competitive with the Haber-Bosch process.