In a world first, scientists at Monash University have developed a new environmentally friendly process that could lead to the future production of green ammonia.
Ammonia (NH3) is a product of global importance for the production of fertilizers to support food production. It is currently produced via a metal catalyzed reaction between nitrogen gas and hydrogen from natural gas, using established technology known as the Haber-Bosch process.
The production of each metric ton of ammonia contributes to the emission of about 1.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide and accounts for about 1.8% of global carbon emissions.
A team of scientists from Monash University, led by Professor Doug MacFarlane, Dr Bryan Suryanto and Dr Alexandr Simonov, have discovered a process based on phosphonium salts that represents a breakthrough in overcoming this carbon-intensive problem .
The research, published in the journal Science, unleashes the potential to produce ammonia and fertilizers from renewable energy in reactors, as small as a refrigerator, which could be deployed at the individual farm or community level.
Methods of direct synthesis of carbonless ammonia currently being explored include the electrochemical reduction reaction of nitrogen, which can produce ammonia at room temperature and at pressures from nothing more than air, l ‘water and renewable energies.
But previous attempts to do this work had previously only been able to demonstrate very small amounts of ammonia, in part because of the need for “sacrificial” sources of protons, said Dr Suryanto of the Monash School of Chemistry.
“In our study, we found that a phosphonium salt can be used as a ‘proton shuttle’ to overcome this limitation,” said Dr Suryanto.
“In 2019, the total global production of ammonia reached 150 million metric tonnes per year, making it the second most produced chemical in the world. As the world population increases, demand for ammonia will reach 350 million metric tons per year by 2050. Further growth in demand for ammonia is expected due to growing interest in its use as a carrier. energy or fuel.
“The Haber-Bosch process currently used to produce ammonia is extremely carbon intensive. In addition, it also requires high temperatures and pressures and can only be carried out in large reactors in large industrial plants.
“Our study allowed us to produce ammonia at room temperature at high and convenient rates and efficiency.”
Chemist Professor MacFarlane believes the use of carbon-neutral production technologies could also see ammonia used as a fuel and replace fossil fuels by 2050.
Ammonia is already widely regarded as the ideal zero-carbon fuel for international shipping in the future, a market estimated to be worth more than $ 150 billion by 2025.
“The technology we have developed also opens up a wide range of possibilities for future expansion to very large production facilities for export, attached to dedicated solar and wind farms,” said Professor MacFarlane.
“These could be located in ideal locations for renewable energy production, such as the northern regions of Western Australia.
“Our findings have been licensed to a new Monash spinoff called Jupiter Ionics P / L which will step up the process to demonstrate it works in commercial applications.”
The Dean of the Faculty of Science at Monash University, Professor Jordan Nash, said the study represented a major contribution to developing a sustainable fuel for the future.
“I salute the exceptional work of our world-class researchers whose discoveries will help Australia position itself as a leader in the ammonia economy,” he said.
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