Using electricity to produce ammonia

Apr 10, 2018

The project is called “Low Pressure Electrolytic Ammonia Production.”

And it has received support from the federal Department of Energy.

The key is to use electricity to produce ammonia. The Energy and Environmental Research Center at UND is partnering with UND’s Chemistry Department and NDSU Mechanical Engineering to look at ways of using electricity – specifically in this case, wind power – to produce ammonia.

"I guess it's electricity-agnostic," said EERC Chemist and researcher Ted Aulich. "It could be renewable, or from the grid. It doesn't matter."

Aulich said the advantage of this process is – you don’t need high pressure to produce the ammonia.  He sais right now, because of the high pressure, it has to be made in large plants, at substantial cost.

"If we utilize electricity, we eliminate the need for that pressure," Aulich said. "We could then make ammonia in smaller-scale plants, distributed all around, wherever you have power and wherever the ammonia is needed."

Aulich said ammonia can also be used as a fuel.  And he said it could be good for the environment.

"It is made up of only nitrogen and hydrogen," Aulich said. "If you combust ammonia, your only emissions are going to be nitrogen -- which is 78% of the atmosphere -- and water."

Aulich said if you use renewable power to make the ammonia, the whole life-cycle of the product is carbon-free. He said other countries are already making progress in that area.

"Japan, Korea, Australia and western Europe are really serious about looking at ammonia, and deploying it, as what's called a 'carbon-neutral liquid fuel, or CNLF," Aulich said. "You can utilize it in a car, if you want."

Aulich said ammonia does need something to ignite it, if you would use it in a car. And he said you can combine ammonia with coal – thereby reducing coal’s carbon footprint.

Aulich said it works in a laboratory setting – and there will be a demonstration project set up, with the hopes of commercializing the project.

The total cost for the project is $3.1 million. The federal Department of Energy has awarded the project $2.5 million, and EERC is asking for a $437,000 state grant.