Thursday, January 20, 2022

Heads-Up Yara, CF: "Green ammonia electrolysis breakthrough could finally kill Haber-Bosch"

Solve this riddle for a $100 or $200 billion prize. It is that big a deal.

From New Atlas, November 29, 2021:

Scientists at Australia's Monash University claim to have made a critical breakthrough in green ammonia production that could displace the extremely dirty Haber-Bosch process, with the potential to eliminate nearly two percent of global greenhouse emissions.

Ammonia is one of the most heavily-produced industrial chemicals in the world, and absolutely vital to modern society. Currently, the majority of ammonia is used as an agricultural fertilizer, but it's also used in plastics, fibers, explosives, pharmaceuticals and other areas.

The global ammonia industry pumps out upwards of 230 million tonnes of ammonia annually, and demand may be set to rise as the race to net zero emissions progresses; ammonia stores so much energy that it's being proposed as a high-density green fuel for hard-to-decarbonize sectors like shipping and aviation.

Virtually all the ammonia produced today is made using the Haber-Bosch cycle. Natural methane gas is used to produce hydrogen (releasing six tons of carbon dioxide for every 1.1 tons of hydrogen), then this hydrogen is reacted with atmospheric nitrogen to produce ammonia, typically burning more natural gas to provide the necessary heat and pressure for the reaction.

Not only does this result in an estimated 1.8 percent of global CO2 emissions, it's also responsible for nitrate pollution of ground water and puts vast amounts of dangerous nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere. Not to mention, it consumes between three to five percent of global natural gas production totals, and the gas extraction process itself spews methane emissions directly into the air, where it acts as an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

Long story short, Haber-Bosch has to be put to bed if we're to get to net zero emissions. And researchers at Monash University say they've more or less stumbled upon a way to remove natural gas from the equation altogether, while still producing ammonia "at room temperature, at high, practical rates and efficiency."

While working on a separate project attempting to make bleach out of salt water through electrolysis, Dr. Bryan Suryanto was working with Professor Doug MacFarlane, an expert on phosphonium salts, and decided to run some side experiments to see if these ionic liquids could be used to produce ammonia in an electrolytic process. To everyone's surprise, they could....


By the end of World War I the market for things that go "BOOM" had pretty much collapsed so Fritz Haber moved on to:
Germany’s Post-World War I Scheme to Extract Gold from Water

Haber was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the Haber-Bosch process, a prize that Norway's Kristian Birkeland would most likely have been nominated for if he hadn't died in very depressing circumstances in Tokyo the year before. As it was, Birkeland had thirteen Nobel nominations (4 physics, 9 chemistry) and left a legacy that included, among other things, Norsk Hydro and Yara who know a thing or two about nitrogen. 

Haber had ten nominations (all chemistry) over the years for one of the prizes established by another nitrogen wizard, the Dynamite King Alfred Nobel.

Funny how things work out.