Monash chemists develop a roadmap for the new ammonia economy

The development of such broad ranging uses could ultimately support a global energy economy based substantially on ammonia.

With the race to find cheap, efficient, non-polluting ways of generating and storing hydrogen Monash chemists have now outlined a new roadmap for the new ‘ammonia economy’.

Ammonia could become the basis of the future of totally sustainable energy and fertiliser but producing it is energy intensive.

The roadmap study, led by ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Douglas Macfarlane from the Monash School of Chemistry, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science is published today in Joule.

Until now ammonia has largely been seen only as a way of storing and transporting renewable hydrogen to distant markets where it would be transformed back into hydrogen for use in fuel cells and power generation.

This roadmap recognises that pathway, but goes further by demonstrating how technology developments will eventually avoid the hydrogen step and enable the direct production of ammonia from renewable energy.

“The study is important because it sets out the opportunities that will arise from the development of the ammonia economy as well as some of the challenges that need to be overcome in developing the massive scale involved,” said Professor MacFarlane.

“The work adds to our understanding by teasing out and detailing the overlapping technology pathways and the developments required in each case towards reaching scale,” he said.

“The roadmap also details how ammonia can be used directly in a very broad range of energy applications, from acting as a diesel substitute in transportation, to power generation and even to jet-fuel.

“The development of such broad ranging uses could ultimately support a global energy economy based substantially on ammonia.”

The researchers began by assessing the current and emerging production technologies for ammonia from renewable energy sources, including an in-depth discussion of the issues confronting the field of research focussed on the direct electrochemical nitrogen reduction reaction (eNRR).

They then discuss some of the surrounding challenges that must be addressed in massively scaling up these technologies towards their use as a common fuel.

They also survey the broadening range of end-use modalities that are emerging for ammonia as an energy carrier.

“Ammonia clearly has the potential to become the dominant form of transportable renewable energy in the future, displacing fossil fuels from all but the most demanding of applications,” Professor Macfarlane said.

“Our study aims to set out a roadmap for navigating the pathway towards the establishment of a large scale technology and supply chain based on ammonia.

“Our work has also considered the increasingly diverse range of applications of ammonia as a fuel that is emerging, while at the same time considering the broader, global environmental impacts of large-scale ammonia use as a fuel.”

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