Renewable Energy Ammonia Production Research Continues at the WCROC

May 07, 2021

With support from a $10 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), RTI International (RTI) and its partners will further develop and demonstrate novel processes to produce ammonia from intermittent renewable energy. Energy carriers, such as ammonia, can be readily produced from renewable energy and easily transported. The development of low- and zero-carbon ammonia for use in agriculture, industry and as an energy source in this project is a key strategy to drive sustainability in emerging energy markets and across the agriculture value chain.

The project will integrate the most promising breakthrough technologies developed in ARPA-E’s Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids (REFUEL) program into a modular, demonstration facility capable of producing 1 metric ton of low- and zero-carbon ammonia per day. The technologies include Casale and RTI’s low-temperature, low-pressure synthesis along with flexible process control strategies that can vary ammonia production to meet available intermittent electricity, and the University of Minnesota’s (UMN) elevated temperature ammonia separation. The demonstration facility will be located at the UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), Morris, MN, and will leverage the site’s existing hybrid wind and solar generation in the fully integrated process.

“We are excited to integrate advanced ammonia production and utilization technologies and demonstrate them under real-world conditions,” said Sameer Parvathikar, PhD, Principal Investigator at RTI. “In addition to our technology partners, we are also connecting with end-users to accelerate commercialization of a technology that will play an important role in the decarbonization of energy and agricultural industries.”

The technology integration will also demonstrate several downstream ammonia utilization technologies, including ammonia cracking to produce hydrogen and power generation to amplify the ability to use ammonia as an energy carrier. Successful deployment of the technology will reduce the energy intensity and carbon emissions of ammonia production, maximize renewable energy usage by capturing generation fluctuations and matching demand, and enable distributed production closer to end users.

“We are deeply convinced that the solution of some of the most important challenges that will arise in the coming decades will require us all to embrace the green transformation of the industry without hesitation,” commented Federico Zardi, Chief Executive Officer of Casale. “However, the foundations of such essential evolution need to be laid now, just as a century ago, exactly when our company was founded, the ammonia industry was taking its first steps. We are therefore very proud to have been chosen as partners in this important project by providing our know-how and our experience and whose result may be decisive for future generations.”

“After establishing the first wind-to-ammonia pilot plant in 2013, it is very fulfilling to participate in this transformative US Department of Energy ARPA-E REFUEL project and have the opportunity to showcase the most advanced green ammonia production technologies available,” reports Mike Reese, Director of Renewable Energy at the WCROC. “This could not have been accomplished without the strong support of partners from the UMN’s Department of Chemical Engineering and the College of Science and Engineering, as well as from the State of Minnesota. The integrated ammonia technology platform is the culmination of years of research and the actions of dedicated people across the public and private spectrum with the ultimate goal to create a better world through innovation.”

The project has received strong industry and university backing. In addition to RTI, Casale, University of Minnesota, and Nutrien, the project team includes GE, Nel Hydrogen, Xcel Energy, Great River Energy, Otter Tail Power Company, Runestone Electric Association, Chemtronergy, Texas Tech University, Pacifica, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) and Shell.

More information about the renewable energy work at the WCROC can be found here.