Ammonia Revolution (part two?)

Artificial Fertilizers

A key element in this yield expansion, also known as the first chemical global revolution, was invented in 1909 by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. Through the Haber-Bosch process, as it is known, they developed an artificial nitrogen fixation process that enabled the large-scale production of ammonia by converting atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to ammonia (NH3) by a reaction with hydrogen (H2) using a metal catalyst under high temperatures and pressures.

The Caveat

Though a revolution in food production yield expansion, this process emits 1.5–1.6 tons of CO2-equivalent per ton of ammonia, accountable for 1.2% of global CO2 emissions. Most of that is a direct result of using methane as feedstock to obtain hydrogen. At the same time, the high pressures and temperatures of steam methane reforming (obtaining hydrogen) also account for over 85% of the energy required during the Haber-Bosch process. This energy intensity puts the methane-fed Haber-Bosch in the top positions of global energy consumption, at 2% of the world’s energy. Obtaining hydrogen, as it’s evident, is hard. But the good news is that almost all the ammonia-related carbon emissions come from its manufacturing, specifically from obtaining hydrogen to combine with nitrogen and none from its application.

Another way to get hydrogen

Hydrogen is abundant. But the problem with obtaining it is that it never comes in a readily usable form. Atomic hydrogen bonds tightly to whatever is around. In water, the bond between hydrogen and oxygen is hard to break. Liberating hydrogen from water can be done by electrolysis, a process that uses electricity to break this bond.

Ammonia’s second revolution

The most important aspect of this carbon-free compound goes beyond its capabilities as a fertilizer. The fact that ammonia liberates no carbon emissions when applied extends to other uses, such as burning it for power generation. Coal plants, such as the Japanese Jera or Intermountain Power in Utah, are planning a transition with relatively low technological modifications to burning ammonia (or hydrogen directly) to generate power without carbon emissions. Another example is transportation. Hyundai Heavy Industries and Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. received the first Approval in Principle for an ammonia carrier with ammonia-fueled propulsion, while Maersk is planning for all future new build vessels under its ownership to use carbon-neutral fuels, such as ammonia, to start abating shipping-related emissions, which account for almost 3% of carbon dioxide emissions.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
NewBalance Energy

NewBalance Energy

NewBalance Energy is a platform that sources and supports competitive and reliable green hydrogen production today to supply a network of off-takers tomorrow.