Efficient Ammonia Production

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Program:
OPEN 2015
Award:
$3,187,273
Location:
Albuquerque,
New Mexico
Status:
ALUMNI
Project Term:
03/22/2016 - 10/22/2019

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.

Contact

ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik
Project Contact:
Fernando Garzon
Press and General Inquiries Email:
ARPA-E-Comms@hq.doe.gov
Project Contact Email:
garzon@unm.edu

Partners

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Release Date:
11/23/2015