Ammonia for Neophytes

01 August 2017

A primer on the energy carrier and storage tech that isn’t talked about.

IT’S NOT SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT, but ammonia—the chemical additive that cleans your windows so well—will have a significant place in our transportation and energy future. Since its introduction in 1913, the industrial synthesis of ammonia has transformed agriculture and civilization. Ammonia-based fertilizer, a carrier of nitrogen, has exponentially swelled crop yields, redeeming millions of human lives from starvation across successive generations of the 20th century. From 1850 to 1900, world population grew by 400 million. The challenges of overpopulation notwithstanding, that growth now happens every four years, largely because vast numbers of people who would have otherwise died of starvation, didn’t. Early 20th century scientists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, inventors of the ammonia synthesis process and Nobel laureates, are jointly credited with preserving more lives than anyone in human history: 2.7 billion people, one-third of world population, are alive today because of them.

Two hundred million tonnes of ammonia are produced annually. Some goes into refrigerant, electronics, industrial explosives and cleaning products; but 80% of it makes the fertilizer that feeds half the world. By 2030, global demand is projected at 300 million tonnes merely to fulfill its current roles. As will be detailed shortly, ammonia has an even greater role to play in our energy future which will require much, much more of it. For this to happen, a historically entrenched aspect of ammonia production must be overcome.

Read this complete article of David White, Research Strategy Content (Portland, Oregon)