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A quest for making ammonia at moderate conditions

By Gerald Ondrey |

Today, ammonia continues to be manufactured by the Haber-Bosch process — an energy-intensive process that operates at high temperatures and pressures (above 400°C and 100 bars). For decades, researchers around the world have been looking for alternative routes to making NH3, such as those based on electrochemistry, but for now, industrial efforts are predominantly focused on process and catalyst refinements for Haber-Bosch synthesis (see the Newsfront article, “The Spread of Nitrogen Fertilizers”). A new approach is being investigated by researchers at the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Co.; www.mines.edu), as part of an “Ideas” project funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s ARPA-E program. The 1–1.5-year project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of a low-cost membrane reactor for synthesizing NH3. The concept uses a hydrogen-permeable metallic membrane to transport atomic hydrogen to the other side of the membrane where the NH3 synthesis reaction occurs (diagram), explains professor J. Douglas Way, the project coordinator. This makes it possible to decouple the two dissociation reactions of H2 and N2, which compete for active sites on the catalyst of conventional Haber-Bosch synthesis, says Way. “We…
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