Electrochemical Ammonia Conversion

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Pasadena, California
Project Term:
05/22/2017 - 08/21/2020

Critical Need:

Most liquid fuels used in transportation today are derived from petroleum and burned in internal combustion engines. This combination is attractive because of the high energy density of the fuels and current economics, but it remains partially reliant on imported petroleum and is highly carbon intensive. Alternatives to internal combustion engines, such as fuel cells that convert chemical energy to electricity, have shown promise in vehicle powertrains, but are hindered by inefficiencies in fuel transport and storage. Carbon-neutral liquid fuels (CNLFs), such as ammonia, used in conjunction with fuel cells, offer an alternative transportation system that addresses these challenges. These fuels can be produced by converting water and air using chemical or electrochemical processes powered by renewable electricity. The resulting CNLFs can be stored and transported using existing liquid fuels infrastructure to the point-of-use. However, there are technical challenges associated with converting CNLFs to hydrogen for use in conventional fuel cells or directly to electricity. Advanced materials such as membranes and catalysts and new electrochemical processes are required to efficiently generate hydrogen or electricity from energy-dense CNLFs at higher conversion rates and lower costs.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

SAFCell will develop a novel electrochemical system that converts ammonia to hydrogen. The key innovation is the use of a solid acid electrolyte, a type of electrolyte that is stable in the presence of ammonia while under the operating conditions needed for reactions. Solid acid fuel cell stacks operate at intermediate temperatures (around 250°C) and demonstrate high tolerances to typical anode catalyst poisons such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide without a significant decrease in performance. The system also aims to realize the conversion of ammonia along with the purification and compression of hydrogen in a single, cost-effective system, thus greatly simplifying the infrastructure required to transport and store hydrogen. These properties give solid acid fuel cell devices advantages over other fuel cell technologies in cost, durability, start/stop cycling, fuel flexibility, and simplified system design.

Potential Impact:

If successful, developments from REFUEL projects will enable energy generated from domestic, renewable resources to increase fuel diversity in the transportation sector in a cost-effective and efficient way.


The U.S. transportation sector is heavily dependent on petroleum for its energy. Increasing the diversity of energy-dense liquid fuels would bolster energy security and help reduce energy imports.


Liquid fuels created using energy from renewable resources are carbon-neutral, helping reduce transportation sector emissions.


Fuel diversity reduces exposure to price volatility. By storing energy in hydrogen-rich liquid fuels instead of pure hydrogen in liquid or gaseous form, transportation costs can be greatly reduced, helping make CNLFs cost-competitive with traditional fuels.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik
Project Contact:
Dr. Calum Chisholm
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Liox Power
Northwestern University
FuelCell Energy, Inc.

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