Green ammonia plant receives funds to move from concept to reality

In May last year, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) announced that they, along with partners Frazer-Nash Consultancy had won £284,000 in early-stage funding to design a green ammonia plant.

The funding was awarded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through its Net Zero Innovation Portfolio Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply 2 competition after the team put forward their plans to create a complete and ready-made design for industry.

a few farm machines in a field

The project, which was titled the Ammonia Synthesis Plant from Intermittent Renewable Energy (ASPIRE) initiative has now been awarded another £4.28 million by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to develop a small demonstration plant at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. 

While ammonia has long been made in chemical plants (grey ammonia) for use in fertiliser, the global CO2 footprint of the industry is equivalent to the total output of South Africa’s energy industry. What’s more, its potential as a ‘superfuel’ means demand for ammonia will increase rather than decrease, so a more environmentally friendly method of producing it was needed. 

As Dr Tristan Davenne, Senior Research Engineer in STFC’s Energy Research Unit said last year: ‘Although ammonia-based technology looks set to be a major player in a carbon-free future, currently its production creates a significant amount of greenhouse gas.

‘To make ammonia fuel truly green and sustainable, we need to think about making the production process carbon free as well. Our aim is to design a flexible scalable plant which is optimised to generate green ammonia from intermittent renewable power sources such as wind and solar.’

Ammonia is particularly attractive as a potential fuel because like hydrogen it releases no CO2, but it has a higher energy density than hydrogen, is safer and easier to store and transport.

The new stage of  the ASPIRE initiative will see the construction of a modular reactor and thermal management system that can be powered by a small wind turbine and series of solar canopies with an ammonia generation rate proportional to the available renewable power.

Nearly a year on,  Dr Davenne again: ‘We’ve been unable to unlock its full potential though due to current carbon intensive production processes which significantly contribute to global carbon emissions.

‘If this prototype plant proves successful and we can sufficiently scale up production, we can completely remove this barrier and start to build the foundation of a green ammonia economy to decarbonise large swathes of society.’


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