German refrigerant supplier TEGA (Technische Gase und Gasetechnik) is supporting a project in which anhydrous ammonia/NH3 (R717) is produced from renewable electricity.
The VERGE project, which is being led by the University of Iceland and technology manufacturer Atmonia with funding from the European Union, is developing a “proof-of-concept N2 electrolyzer” to produce sustainable ammonia.
While the project is primarily focused on producing liquid ammonia for fuel and fertilizer, the resulting product will also be suitable for refrigeration systems, explained Alexander Wendt, Head of Sales of Refrigerants at TEGA.
Other collaborators on the project, which began in November 2022, include RWTH Aachen University, VITO, MS Balti and Ecovibes.
The current process for manufacturing ammonia – known as the Haber-Bosch process – is energy intensive and is responsible for around 1% of the world’s annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to a statement from the University of Iceland.
With the development of a nitrogen electrolyzer, which uses Atmonia’s patented catalyst, the new process would require only air, water and electricity to produce NH3. When using renewable energy sources, the coalition says it will be able to produce zero-carbon ammonia.
“Through its contribution towards lower GHG emissions, the VERGE technology will significantly contribute towards a faster transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions EU economy by 2050,” said the University of Iceland.
The ammonia can be collected either as the traditional pressurized anhydrous ammonia or as aqueous ammonia, explained Atmonia.
“As a simple, single step process, using catalysts free of precious metals, it has a significantly lower CAPEX for installation than traditional ammonia production,” it added. “This breakthrough technology enables a major disruption of the ammonia market.”
Other efforts to produce ammonia in a more sustainable fashion exist. For example, Canadian company FuelPositive has developed a similar process for producing “green ammonia.”
Last year, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Argonne National Laboratory modeled how much it would cost to use more environmentally friendly methods that emit less carbon to produce ammonia, finding nuclear-powered and renewable ammonia production to be feasible, despite costs still being high.
Growth in natural refrigerants
According to Wendt, natural refrigerants make up roughly 20% of TEGA’s current business, but this will likely grow to around 80% over the coming decade as regulation and environmental concerns drive consumers to more sustainable options.