Ammonia soon from the plasma reactor
Every year around 150 million tons of ammonia, an important basic chemical for the manufacture of fertilizers, are produced. The Haber-Bosch process invented by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch over 100 years ago uses nitrogen and hydrogen. It’s very mature, but energy-intensive. The hydrogen is obtained almost exclusively from fossil natural gas.
1.8 percent of the greenhouse gas
Current estimates make ammonia production responsible for around 1.8 percent of annual CO2 emissions. Researchers at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) in Daejeon.
Dae Hoon Lee’s team used a hot plasma from a water-nitrogen atmosphere for their new process. This created a cloud of electrically charged ions, from which hydrogen and nitrogen-oxygen compounds with a very high proportion of 99 percent nitrogen monoxide were formed. Nitrogen monoxide then reacted with the hydrogen – catalytically supported – to form ammonia. In contrast to the Haber-Bosch process, no high pressures of up to 200 bar and no high temperatures of around 400 degrees Celsius were required for this reaction. The researchers estimate the yield of this plasma catalysis process to be an impressive 95 percent.
“These promising results can be seen as a breakthrough on the way to sustainable and environmentally friendly ammonia production,” the researchers report in the journal “ACS Energy Letters”. In fact, this plasma process has the potential for climate-friendly ammonia production. To do this, however, the electricity required to generate the plasma would have to come exclusively from renewable sources.
In addition, the first step is for other working groups to reproduce the Korean laboratory results. After that – as with many results that seem groundbreaking at first glance – it would be necessary to scale the plasma process to large-scale technical standards. Should this succeed in cooperation with industry in the coming years, ammonia production could gradually be converted to a largely CO2-neutral plasma process.
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