WCROC part of $2.9 million ARPA-E project

February 1, 2017

Minneapolis, Mn – University of Minnesota was recently awarded a portion of $70 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The funding will be used to further important research in the efficient production of anhydrous ammonia using electricity produced from wind energy.

"The University of Minnesota has become one of the world leaders in this field of study having developed novel production technologies and a globally-unique wind-to-ammonia pilot plant located at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris (WCROC),” says WCROC Renewable Energy Director Michael Reese. “We are hopeful the grant from the REFUEL program will help us refine and catalyze the commercial development of the University of Minnesota technologies that may ultimately benefit Minnesota farms."

For the past few years, University of Minnesota researchers from Chemical Engineering and Material Science, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, the Humphrey School of Public Policy, Applied Economics, Institute of Biotechnology, and the WCROC have been pursuing an elegant concept of producing nitrogen fertilizer from wind energy on a small-scale, local basis.

“Our shared vision has contradicted the conventional economy-of-scale theory that bigger is better,” says Reese. “We believe small-scale production of nitrogen fertilizer can be made viable with innovative technology.”

Professor’s Alon McCormick and Ed Cussler along with other colleagues in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science have developed a novel technology which has promise to greatly improve the efficiency of small-scale ammonia production. “The research team will further refine their absorbent enhanced ammonia production process and then test a scaled-up version in the WCROC pilot plant,” says Reese.

With early financial support from CFANS; IREE and IonE; OVPR and MnDRIVE; and the State of Minnesota, through legislative bonding and the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund; Minnesota has become a national and world leader in researching the production of anhydrous ammonia from renewable resources.

WCROC operates a globally unique pilot plant using on-site wind generation to power the ammonia production process. The United States Department of Energy through ARPA-E is now keenly interested in the potential of using wind and solar energy to produce an energy dense, low-carbon fuel in the form of anhydrous ammonia.  Led by the University of Minnesota and partnering with the National Renewable Energy Lab and Proton On-Site, Inc., the research team will use the $2.9 million grant to refine and test a novel anhydrous ammonia production technology.     

University of Minnesota received this competitive award from ARPA-E’s REFUEL program, which focuses on novel technologies for producing anhydrous ammonia from wind and solar energy and then its use as a transportable fuel. REFUEL projects will accelerate the shift to domestically-produced transportation fuels as well as enable greater integration of renewable energy sources onto the grid, improving grid resiliency and American energy security.

For additional information about University of Minnesota and this project, please visit www.wcroc.cfans.umn.edu/research-programs/renewable-energy.