Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Efficient Ammonia Production

University of New Mexico

Electrochemical Ammonia Synthesis for Grid Scale Energy Storage

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,187,273
Location: 
Albuquerque, NM
Project Term: 
03/22/2016 to 05/22/2019
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Fertilizer manufacturers commonly employ the Haber-Bosch (HB) technique to produce ammonia (NH3) to be used as a fertiziler for agriculture - a process that consumes 1-2% of global energy. The HB process involves first separating nitrogen (N2) from air, then breaking the very stable nitrogen-nitrogen bond, and finally combining these atoms with hydrogen to form NH3. Moreover, ammonia production requires huge capital investments for reactors operating at high pressure and temperature, base-load power to keep the process running continuously, and distribution infrastructure to ship the resulting chemicals around the world to agricultural fields. Ammonia can also be used as a fuel in fuel cells or internal combustion engines for both stationary and transportation applications. Small-scale reactors could enable distributed ammonia production closer to the consumer and be more compatible with energy inputs from intermittent renewable energy resources - improvements that could dramatically reduce the energy and carbon intensity of ammonia production and distribution.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The team led by the University of New Mexico will develop a modular electrochemical process for a power-to-fuel system that can synthesize ammonia directly from nitrogen and water. The proposed synthesis approach will combine chemical and electrochemical steps to facilitate the high-energy step of breaking the nitrogen-nitrogen bond, with projected conversion efficiencies above 70%. By operating at lower temperature and pressure and reducing the air-separation requirement, this technology reduces overall system complexity, thus potentially enabling smaller-scale production at equal or lower costs. Furthermore, the smaller-scale process does not need consistent, baseload power to operate and therefore could be compatible with intermittent renewable energy sources, placing it on a path to be carbon-neutral.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, the proposed technology could enable distributed ammonia production for alternative fuels and agricultural use, decrease energy input by more than 20%, and substantially simplify the process.

Security: 

Over half of U.S. ammonia is currently imported. The proposed method enables domestic and distributed ammonia production to limit supply vulnerabilities.

Environment: 

The team's innovations could enable small-sale ammonia reactors that operate using intermittent renewable energy sources, thus making a zero-carbon fuel and fertilizer thereby reducing our carbon footprint.

Economy: 

Low-cost production of ammonia could benefit stationary and transportation energy sectors as a lower cost alternative to batteries for long-term energy storage.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik
Project Contact: 
Fernando Garzon
Partners
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Release Date: 
11/23/2015