Ammonia (NH3) has long been considered as a sustainable source of energy supply which can be cheaply produced from readily available elements. Now a joint venture between the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) and the Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies GmbH (ZBT) in western Germany will bring us a step closer to being able to use ammonia to store energy in a wide number of applications. The Ammonia-to-Hydrogen project, which runs until 2022, will develop a component called an ‘ammonia cracker’ which can be coupled with a fuel cell.
The chemistry involved is straight forward: ammonia can be produced with a little water, nitrogen and electricity from a renewable source like wind or solar. Inside the cracker, the liquid NH3 is split into its component parts of hydrogen and nitrogen; the fuel cell then converts the gas into electricity. Ammonia has several advantages over raw hydrogen: it is easy to transport, safe to store and has a high energy density – but it is caustic and a little smelly, and therefore needs careful handling.
It’s thought that ammonia could help solve the electricity storage problem, which is still a major concern for wind farms and photovoltaic solar systems. And, of course, it could be produced on site at these plants. In emerging countries and places where there is no reliable electrical grid, ammonia-replenished fuel cell systems could soon replace diesel generators. And there’s no reason why we might not be injecting NH3 into our vehicles one day.
ZBT is in charge of development on the project (which is supported by UDE) and this year will be working on simulation models for construction of a plant for processing the liquid NH3 and refining the cracker. The European Union has supported the project with funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).