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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.

Chemists and engineers across the world are trying to make ammonia synthesis sustainable. Some are working to power the reaction with renewable energy sources and to generate hydrogen without fossil fuels. Others want to find a more efficient reaction than Haber-Bosch to synthesize ammonia. The researchers admit that progress has been slow but worth it.

“Ammonia as it’s produced today for fertilizers is effectively a fossil-fuel product,” says Douglas MacFarlane, an electrochemist from Monash University. “Most of our food comes from fertilizers. Therefore, our food is effectively a fossil-fuel product. And that’s not sustainable.”

At green ammonia plants around the world, including in Japan, England, Australia, and the US, researchers have been experimenting with using renewable energy and feedstocks to make the valuable chemical on small scales …

Switching to renewable feedstocks and energy sources is a good solution in the short term, [Karthish Manthiram, a chemical engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] says, because companies can effectively combine current renewable energy technologies with Haber-Bosch. But to improve the sustainability of ammonia synthesis over the long term, scientists have to change the game entirely.

“Many people are looking at alternatives to Haber-Bosch,” says Shelley Minteer, a bioelectrochemist at the University of Utah. “How can we do something at low temperatures and atmospheric pressure or near atmospheric pressure?”
Industrial ammonia production emits more CO2 than any other chemical-making reaction. Chemists want to change that, C&EN, 06/15/2019

The C&EN article is built on interviews with representatives of many of the technologies and demonstration projects that we have previously written about at Ammonia Energy, including Karthish Manthiram at MIT, Doug MacFarlane at Monash University, Mototaka Kai at JGC Corporation, Ian Wilkinson at Siemens, Shelley Minteer at the University of Utah, and Lauren Greenlee at the University of Arkansas.

SOURCE: Industrial ammonia production emits more CO2 than any other chemical-making reaction. Chemists want to change that, C&EN, 06/15/2019

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