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The Case for Giving Direct Ammonia Fuels Cells a Shot

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.

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Japan, U.S., E.U. Agree to Cooperate on Hydrogen

On June 18, Japan, the United States, and the European Union released a joint statement on “future cooperation in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.”  Represented, respectively, by the Ministry of Energy, Trade, and Industry (METI), the Department of Energy (DoE), and the Directorate-General for Energy (ENER), the jurisdictions pledged “to accelerate the development of sustainable hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the world.”  A central point of agreement in the statement is “the importance of reducing the cost of hydrogen.”

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Fuel Economy Standards, and the Roles of Ammonia

In the news this week, California and four automakers (BMW, Ford, Honda and VW) signed an agreement on fuel economy standards, rising 3.7% per year to about 50 MPG in 2026. This agreement, as well as previous California and Federal standards, give automakers flexibility to meet the standards with incentives and credits for new technology such as electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles.

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The global quest to decarbonize ammonia production

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.

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A rigorous protocol for measuring electrochemical ammonia synthesis rates

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."

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Ammonia-fed microbial fuel cells: power from sweat

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.

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ARPA-E solicits technologies for nitrogen extraction from seawater using seaweed

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.

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ARPA-E request for information: Pre‐pilot and pilot projects to scale, mature, and advance technologies

ANNOUNCEMENT: The US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) has published a Request For Information (RFI) focused on supporting scale-up demonstrations of ARPA-E technologies. Unlike normal ARPA-E funding agreements, which typically provide 5%-20% of the financing for bench-scale projects within laboratories, this RFI is geared towards industrial pilot projects, for which ARPA-E would provide "at least 50% cost share."