Environment & Engineering

Liquium strives for cleaner future

Published May 11, 2021

Wellington UniVentures’ ammonia project has recently been named Liquium. Progressing their technology, the team is working with a new reactor which will speed up the process of synthesising ammonia. Wellington UniVentures is supporting the researchers at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University Wellington as they revolutionise the way ammonia is produced, working to establish commercial relationships for a cleaner, more efficient future.

Ammonia is one of the largest chemical industrial processes on earth and is responsible for feeding half the world’s population. The current 100-year-old Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia has an enormous carbon footprint—high temperatures (>400C), high pressures (>200 atmospheres) and feedstock (nitrogen and hydrogen, the former produced by fossil fuels) are required in production. Due to the harsh reaction conditions and feedstock sources, each tonne of ammonia produced results in three tons of carbon dioxide, cumulatively making up 2-3% of global carbon emissions. Currently, large-scale production and emission-intensive centralised production are the only economically viable pathways of ammonia production.

The introduction of the United Nation’s Paris Agreement allows exciting new market opportunities to emerge, where ammonia will play a major role in decarbonising heavy industry sectors (i.e. shipping). Beyond its use as a fertiliser, ammonia is seen as the only zero-carbon fuel with sufficient energy density to tackle the huge emissions of heavy industries—a shift that presents an enormous challenge to the current supply of ammonia, but also creates the hunger for market transformation. This will see us move away from the current emission-intensive production process, where extreme temperatures and pressures are required to generate ammonia, directly impacting both the operating and capital cost for these plants.

Exploring milder operating conditions and clean raw materials will be pivotal to accelerate the uptake of a clean ammonia fuel and fertiliser.

In April 2021, a new reactor was installed at the University, which accelerates the synthesis process. The technology developed by Liquium reduces the temperature and pressure of the reaction to produce ammonia, meaning less energy is required. This new process is therefore far more environmentally-friendly and economically viable.

The new reactor will allow the team to explore and optimise the synthesis process, ensuring its efficacy for industry use. The team will be able to establish key figures of merit and evaluate how the ammonia production process aligns to industry standards, defining what the potential is to upscale the technology and what energy cost savings these new catalyst materials have in comparison to the industry standard.

Speaking to Wellington UniVentures’ Innovator-in-Residence, Dr Franck Natali told us: “We are a few steps behind in terms of the size that is currently required to produce ammonia—some plants produce more than 3,000 t/day. Using the new reactor, we will be able to accelerate the work and in time, work alongside the ammonia industry to introduce greener, more sustainable processes on a large scale.”

The need for cleaner, cheaper and scalable ammonia production is high, and understanding the potential for growth using our new catalysts in this reactor is crucial, explained Paul Geraghty, Wellington UniVentures’ Commercialisation Manager. “Heavy industry currently relies on fossil fuels, but there is a huge demand for new clean liquid fuels. For example, the maritime sector’s global fleet is required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050—that’s an 85% reduction of CO2 per ship. That’s where Liquium’s technology comes in. This way of producing ammonia has the potential to not only reduce CO2 emissions, but provide more affordable clean liquid fuel and contribute to the positive hydrogen economy.”

The new Liquium website is now live at www.liquium.nz