Argonne Researchers: New Way to Calculate Environmental Impact of Ammonia Production

Researchers are evaluating how to make ammonia production more sustainable.

Have you ever wondered about the carbon impact of growing your dinner? Scientists have just come up with a new way to calculate part of it.

An important ingredient in the production of fertilizers for the world’s food production, ammonia also contributes significantly to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels. Recently, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DIE) Argonne National Laboratory has modeled how much it would cost to use more environmentally friendly methods that emit less carbon to produce ammonia.

The use of ammonia as a fertilizer creates greenhouse gas emissions, which were recently quantified by researchers at Argonne. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica.

Ammonia is produced mainly by reforming natural gas, a process that contributes to the atmospheric emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane. ,The ultimate goal is to use renewable energy or nuclear energy and clean hydrogen to produce it instead,” said Argonne senior scientist Amgad Elgowainy.

Elgowainy and his colleagues used Argonne’s greenhouse gases, regulated emissions and energy consumption in technologies (GREET®) model to estimate the environmental impact of ammonia production from different energy sources. They then used a techno-economic model to look at the costs of two different ways ammonia could be produced more sustainably.

The first way avoids some of the carbon release by capturing a certain percentage of the carbon produced and then storing it in geological formations. This technological path can be implemented at relatively low cost, as the total cost of producing the ammonia only increases by about 20%.

In the second near-zero carbon pathway, water is electrolyzed to produce hydrogen, which is then paired with nitrogen to produce ammonia. ,Using renewable or nuclear energy to split water via electrolysis gives us a way to produce ammonia with almost no carbon impact,” said Elgowainy. ,That said, the cost of doing that is currently higher than the carbon capture pathway.”

According to Elgowainy, there is considerable room for cost reduction of the electrolysis technology, which can ultimately make the water electrolysis route more competitive. ,Research in this area could end up changing the market significantly, but it will require investment in developing and scaling up the production of the electrolysis technologies,” he said. ,With cost reduction and efficiency improvements to meet DIE‘s target of $1/kg pure hydrogen, the electrolysis pathway could enable a near carbon-free and affordable way to produce ammonia.”

A paper based on the study,Technical-economic performance and life cycle GHG emissions of various ammonia production pathways, including conventional, carbon capture, nuclear-powered, and renewable production,” said the May 13 issue of Green Chemistry.

In addition to Elgowainy, other authors include Argonne’s Kyuha Lee, Xinyu Liu, Pradeep Vyawahare, Pingping Sun, and Michael Wang.

The work was funded by DIE‘s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy MARINES program.

Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory. By Jared Sagoff


 

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