Novel clean ammonia production process leads to greener outcome

Novel clean ammonia production process leads to greener outcome

April 9, 2024 0 By Tami Hood

Researchers have developed a new way to generate cleaner ammonia.

Producing clean ammonia is important to the world’s decarbonization efforts. Used daily in various products, including dyes, fertilizer, and explosives, the nitrogen-based chemical is among the worst for the atmosphere. In fact, ammonia manufacturing is only second to cement for producing the highest carbon emissions. However, University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) engineers may have found a way to make this production method greener.

The process called lithium-mediated ammonia synthesis

Conventional ammonia manufacturing requires high amounts of energy and high temperatures. The clean ammonia production method developed by the UIC engineers works at low temperatures and is regenerative. This allows for the original materials to be restored with every ammonia production cycle.

The process that the team of engineers led by Professor Meenesh Singh, a professor of chemical engineering at UIC, use is called lithium-mediated ammonia synthesis. This process mixes nitrogen gas and a hydrogen-donating fluid (e.g., ethanol) with a charged lithium electrode. In place of cracking apart nitrogen gas molecules with high pressure and temperature, nitrogen atoms stick to the lithium before combining with hydrogen to create the ammonia molecule.

Singh explained that “there is a symphony in this reaction.” This “symphony” occurs from the cyclic process of regenerating the hydrogen source and regenerating the lithium. “What we did was understand this symphony in a better way and try to modulate it in a very efficient way,” Singh added, noting that the engineers wanted to produce a “resonance” and make it move at a quicker speed.

The quest for clean ammonia is ongoing for Singh and his team.

This isn’t the first time that Singh and his team have pursued cleaner ammonia methods. Before this breakthrough, they created methods to synthesize the chemical using sunlight and wastewater as well as developed an electrified copper mesh screen that lowers the level of energy required to produce ammonia.

Clean Ammonia - renewable energy - NH3

In this most recent clean ammonia achievement, the team’s results are reportedly one of the first to accomplish levels of selectivity and energy which could meet U.S. DOE standards for industrial-scale ammonia production. What’s more, this novel lithium-mediated ammonia synthesis process can be even greener if it is powered by renewables and feeding the reaction with water and air.

The importance of ammonia for hydrogen.

hydrogen news ebookWhile clean ammonia production would certainly serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there’s another benefit as well. This process could aid in achieving other energy objectives, namely the use of H2 as fuel.

One of the major challenges of wide-scale hydrogen adoption is it is notoriously difficult to transport as it is a highly explosive liquid. Ammonia has the potential to function as an effective, safe and cheap hydrogen carrier. Once it’s transported to its destination, the hydrogen-carrying ammonia can then be converted back into hydrogen fuel.

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