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Ammonia – the CO2-free fuel of the future?

Part of Today in the Lab - Tomorrow in Energy?

Today in the Lab – Tomorrow in Energy? shines a spotlight on research projects under development in the Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs). Learn more about the initiative, read the launch commentary, or explore the TCPs.


What is the aim of this project?

Today the conventional production of ammonia, which is used as a fertiliser and raw material for a large number of basic chemicals, is highly energy-intensive. This research project, “SOC4NH3”, is developing a concept for producing low-carbon ammonia using solid oxide electrolyser cells (SOEC). If successful, this would be a major step forward in exploiting ammonia’s potential not only as a CO2-free fuel, replacing gasoline, diesel and fuel oil,  but also as a solution for storing excess power generated by wind turbines and solar cells.

How could this technology be explained to a high school student?

In conventional plants today, ammonia is made by combining hydrogen produced from coal or natural gas with nitrogen produced by an air separation unit (ASU). The first step in this project is to demonstrate green ammonia production from renewable energy, air and water, without an ASU, using the SOEC itself as an oxygen separation device. The project will also seek to demonstrate combined heat and power generation from ammonia fuel with SOECs and examine how excess power can be stored in the form of ammonia and regenerated as needed.  

What is the value of this project for society?

  • decarbonises transport fuels, including for heavy duty transport
  • creates an energy-efficient storage option in the power sector
  • helps to level fluctuations in power supplied by renewable sources
  • produces sustainable ammonia to both feed and power the world

At what stage of development is this project?

The project began in January 2019 and will run until April 2022. Haldor Topsøe, a Danish catalysis company,

aims to demonstrate the system with its partners and to deliver a feasibility study for a small industrial-scale green ammonia pilot plant, which it hopes to build by 2025.

What government policies could bring this from the lab to the market?

  • policies enabling more renewable power.
  • CO2 taxes

Process flow diagram showing ammonia produced from air, water and renewable energy using a Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cell (SOEC) Source: Haldor Topsøe A/S


Partners

  • Haldor Topsøe
  • University of Aarhus, Denmark
  • Technical University of Denmark
  • Energinet
  • Estas
  • Equinor
  • Orsted Wind Power

Funders

  • EUDP public subsidy scheme, Denmark

About the Technology Collaboration Programme on Advanced Fuel Cells (AFC TCP)

Established in 1990, the AFC TCP seeks to make a significant contribution to fuel cell commercialisation by fostering the development of fuel cell technologies and their application on an international basis, and conveying key messages to policy makers and the wider community.

Contact: secretariat@ieafuelcell.com