VIDEO: Ammonia Based Energy Storage – A Moonshot Project

Bill David discusses the big ideas behind his ammonia decomposition reactor.

Bill David has an ambitious dream that the world can achieve a zero carbon energy future. He starts his SolveForX talk Ammonia fueling the future with this admission and the fact that he realizes his project is a long term moonshot solution.

Sun, wind and water are everywhere and cost nothing beyond a collection mechanism. David says the problems arise when the sun and wind are not present, despite society’s 24/7 requirement energy. 

David sees his challenge as both getting away from fossil fuels and finding a way to store renewable energy to use on demand.

Using the early 1900 artificial ammonia synthesis experiments from Haber and Bosch as inspiration, David says that 170 million tons of ammonia is now produced per year. 

Ammonia is a liquid at room temperature and can be compressed similar to butane and propane. Its combustion point is about half that of petroleum. In 1943 Belgium used ammonia to fuel their buses when the war efforts had first rights to the country’s diesel oil.

Current methods of splitting ammonia into nitrogen and hydrogen require expensive catalysts. David and his team have developed a method of using sodium and sodium amide to separate ammonia. 

0.3g of David’s catalyst takes up the space of an AA battery and can produce 30W. Grouping several of these 20cm reactors together to the size of a cookie jar can create enough hydrogen to power a Toyota GT86.

The largest project that David is working on comes from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. 

A 40kW wind turbine is used to electrify water to get hydrogen, liquefy air to get the hydrogen and then use the Haber Bosch process to create ammonia. 

Combusting this ammonia will give an on demand supply of energy from intermittent sources. Over the next decade David hopes to scale up to 100MW.  

The talk concludes with the idea that ammonia is already used for about half of the world’s food fertilization, can be used to generate water and nitrogen when combusted and has the potential to account for a large piece of the world’s renewable energy demands. 

Bill David pushes this package of ideas to show that his project and research have true moonshot potential.

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Cover image courtesy of the Science and Technology Facilities Council Press and Media image library

All other images courtesy SolveForX