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Ammonia

Technology Type Group:
Definition:
<p>Ammonia, or azane, is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula NH<sub>3</sub>.</p>

Ammonia is the main product of the fertilizer industry. Developing countries account for the majority of worldwide production. About 77% of ammonia production is based on steam reforming of natural gas, with most of the remaining production based on heavy-oil or coal-based processes. A further shift from heavy-oil or coal-based to gas-based processes can strongly reduce energy use and emissions.

Introduction

Ammonia is synthesized from nitrogen and hydrogen. The required nitrogen is obtained from the air and hydrogen is mostly produced from natural gas in a steam reforming process.

The International Energy Agency estimates that 77% of ammonia production is based on natural gas. Another 14%, mainly in China, is based on coal gasification. India and China also use partial oxidation of oil products and heavy hydrocarbon fractions (IEA, 2007). Gas-based processes are the most energy efficient. Heavy-oil processes typically use 1.3 times as much energy and coal based processes even 1.7 times as much (IEA, 2007). Replacing old ammonia production capacity by new natural gas-based steam reforming processes can therefore strongly improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Feasibility of technology and operational necessities

Gas-based technologies are widely used in all regions of the world. The technology is supplied by a limited number of companies and new plants tend to operate at comparable energy efficiency. The most energy efficient technology available is the auto-thermal reforming process, which combines partial oxidation and steam reforming technology and uses about 28 GJ/ton (IPCC, 2007).

A requirement for the use of gas-based technology is the availability of natural gas at a competitive price.

Status of the technology and its future market potential

Almost all nitrogen fertilisers are based on ammonia. Production has been on the rise in developing countries which have a high fertiliser demand. In 1974, developing countries accounted for only 27 % of ammonia production capacity. By 1998 this share had increased to 51% (IPPC, 2007).

Global ammonia production was 125 million tonnes in 2008 with China being the world’s largest ammonia producer (IFA, 2010). In China, about 70% of ammonia is derived from coal, 10% from oil products and 20% from natural gas. Coal-based processes are used in small-scale and medium sized plants.

India is the second largest ammonia producer. About two-thirds of production capacity there is based on natural gas. The remainder uses naphtha and fuel oil. Gas-based plants in India use on average 36,5 GJ/ton ammonia.

Mainly because of the differences in the type of feedstock, large differences exist between the energy intensity of ammonia production in different regions of the world (Table 1). But at gas-based plants many different energy efficiency improvement measures are also possible (IPPC, 2007).

Table 1: Energy intensity of ammonia production in 2005 (IEA, 2007)
Region Energy intensity (GJ/t NH3) Region Energy intensity (GJ/t NH3)

Western Europe

35.0

Other Asia

37.0

North America

37.9

Latin America

36.0

Commonwealth of Independent States

39.9

Africa

36.0

Central European countries

43.6

Middle East

36.0

China

48.8

Oceania

36.0

India

43.3

World

41.6

How the technology could contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection

The International Energy Agency estimates that in 2004, total energy and feedstock use for ammonia production amounted to 4,3 Exajoules of natural gas, 0,6 Exajoules of oil and 1,2 Exajoules of coal. Ammonia production is therefore responsible for about 20% of all energy consumption in the chemical industry.

Environmental benefits of switching to gas-based processes are reduced emission of CO2 and improved energy efficiency. But there may be an adverse effect on energy security when oil and coal are more readily available than natural gas.

A steady supply of affordable fertilizers is essential for the development of agriculture. Modernizing or replacing older and less efficient plants can help fertiliser industries to stay competitive. However, new ammonia plants require large capital investments.

Financial requirements and costs

Prices of fuels vary from country to country. but generally speaking, natural gas costs make up 70-90% of the ammonia production costs (IEA, 2007). Whether higher gas prices result in higher ammonia prices depends on the global supply situation, so the choice of fuel can have an important impact on the profitability of the industry. A fuel switch is a fundamental process change, which requires large investments. However, modernizing or replacing older and less efficient plants can be profitable investment decisions in the long term. (IEA, 2007)

References

  • International Energy Agency (2006), Energy Technology Perspectives 2006, Scenario’s & Strategies to 2050, OECD/IEA, Paris, 2006.
  • International Energy Agency (2007), Tracking industrial energy efficiency and CO2 emissions, OECD/IEA, Paris, 2007. [1]
  • International Fertilizer Industry Association. [2]
  • IPPC (2007), Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for the Manufacture of Large Volume Inorganic Chemicals- Ammonia, Acids and Fertilisers, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, 2007. [3]

Author affiliation

Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), Policy Studies

Collection:

Ammonia

  • Non-toxic Low Cost Nitrogen Fixation by Titanium Dioxide

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Dr. Glenn Miller within the University of Nevada Reno Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science (NRES) focuses on the transport and transformation of organic and inorganic compounds. Dr. Miller’s lab has a long-term interest in the environmental photochemistry of organic compounds and recently is focusing on the photolysis of pesticides on soil surfaces and in the gas phase. They are also working on a variety of projects related to contamination from mining sites both from current precious metals mining sites and historic mines.

  • Ion Exchanged Pillared Clays for Selective Catalytic Reduction of Nitric Oxide

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    This technology is capable of selectively reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx) potent greenhouse gases that are produced during combustion of fossil fuels. The catalyst by employing pillared interlayered clay structures more efficiently reduces nitrogen oxides and is more compatible with sulfur-containing fuels than the vanadia based commercial catalysts currently available. Nitrogen oxides are produced during the combustion of fossil fuels and emitted in the resulting exhaust gas streams. They are potent greenhouse gases and considered a toxic pollutant.

  • High Rate of Microbial Production of Nitrous Oxide for Energy Generation

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Stanford researchers have developed a method for converting ammonia in wastewater into nitrogen gas while simultaneously generating power in a bioreactor system. This method produces energy from carbon and nitrogen waste and provides significant cost and energy savings over current options.

  • Consulting and engineering services for water resources management

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    The company provides 1. Water and Wastewater consulting services 2. Monitoring system: Usage of horizontal motion of our system across Aeration Basin to programmable monitor - Dissolved Oxygen % Temperature Optional: Ammonia and more - in order to better control air inlets.

  • Ionic Liquid Based Pretreatment of Lignocellulosic Materials for Biofuel Production.

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    North Carolina State University is seeking an industry partner to commercialize a novel method for the ionic liquid based pretreatment of lignocellulosic materials for biofuel production. US Patent No. 8182557 has issued on this technology.Ethanol is gaining in popularity as an alternative fuel and is currently primarily made from the starch in kernels of field corn. However the use of corn as a starting material is a severe limitation since corn is a valuable food source.

  • Biogas production from protein-rich materials

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Biogas production from protein-rich animal industry wastes is technically not feasible although these substrates have very high biogas potential. These organic waste and side product materials are currently not used in biogas fermenters because of the toxic effect on microbes by the ammonia that is released as a fermentation by-product. The literature strongly recommends against the use of protein-based materials as a substrate in biogas reactors. Researchers at the University of Szeged have developed an effective solution to this problem.

  • Powerful New Enzyme for Transforming Biomass

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Background: Converting plant cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars is a major bottleneck in the biofuel industry. Chemical pretreatment and enzyme hydrolysis (breakdown) usually are required. Among chemical pretreatments ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX) alkaline pretreatment has many advantages. For example it is a dry process and results in cleaved lignin-carbohydrate complexes without physical extraction. A variation on the process called extractive AFEX leads to the production of ‘cellulose III’ an artificial form of cellulose that may be easier to break down.

  • Bioluminescent fish for environmental detection drug testing and hobby collectors

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Researchers at the University of Tennessee have developed transgenic luminescent zebrafish. The gene cassette used to create the luminescence can be engineered to express exclusively in the presence of a particular compound or pollutant in the zebrafish’s environment thus functioning as a bioluminescent environmental reporter. The zebrafish can be additionally engineered to emit light in response to elevated ammonia or nitrate levels in an aquarium or tank to signal necessary cleaning or water changes.

  • Method to Improve Binding Properties of Cellulosic Biomass

    Type: 
    Product

    Cellulosic biomass is not dense enough to be transported economically over long distances. The treated biomass must be compressed to increase its density. However when compressed the biomass tends not to bind sufficiently. Additionally current additives used to increase binding characteristics of the biomass are expensive. Michigan State University’s invention allows for the inexpensive binding of cellulosic biomass. This invention adds value to the Gaseous Ammonia Pretreatment (GAP) process (090068) developed by the inventor.

  • Hydrogen Release from Thermolysis of Ammonia Borane

    Type: 
    Product
    Technology:

    Hydrogen is a clean and environmentally-friendly energy carrier. A major obstacle for the development of hydrogen powered vehicles is the lack of safe light weight and energy efficient means for on-board hydrogen storage. Ammonia borane (AB) is a promising hydrogen storage material for vehicles powered by fuel cells. A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity. Hydrogen is released from AB via thermal decomposition; however this process produces excessive heat and unfavorable byproducts.