Storage of Ammonia For Energy (SAFE) - AGT Pilot

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


A hydrogen economy has been the focus of researchers and developers over the decades. However, the complexity of moving and storing hydrogen has always been a major obstacle to deploy the concept. Therefore, other materials can be employed to improve handling whilst reducing cost over long distances and long periods. Ammonia, a highly hydrogenated molecule, can be used to store and distribute hydrogen easily, as the molecule has been employed for more than 120 years for fertilizer purposes. Being a carbon-free chemical, ammonia (NH3) has the potential to support a hydrogen transition thus decarbonising transport, power and industries.

However, the complexity of using ammonia for power generation lays on the appropriate use of the chemical to reach high power outputs combined with currently low efficiencies that bring up overall costs. This complex scenario is also linked to the production of combustion profiles that tend to be highly polluting (with high NOx emissions and slipped unburned ammonia). There is no technology capable of using ammonia whilst producing both low emissions and high efficiencies in large power generation devices, thus efficiently enabling the recovery of hydrogen and reconversion of stranded, green energy that can be fed back to the grid. Tackling these problems can resolve one of the most important barriers in the use of such a molecule and storage of renewable energies. Countries such as Japan have engaged in ambitious programs to resolve these issues, aiming for large power units to run on ammonia by 2030. Thus, European counterparts, led by UK innovation, need also to engage in these technological advancements to fully unlock a hydrogen, cost-effective economy.

Therefore, this project seeks to establish fundamental results that will ensure the development of an improved combustor for the use of ammonia to produce low NOx emissions combined with low ammonia slip. Hydrogen production, which will be generated through the combustion process of NH3, will also serve to increase power outputs, thus enabling the production of large power in compact systems, raising efficiency and decreasing overall cost. Improvement techniques will be assessed in currently deployed systems (Siemens gas turbines) to determine the feasibility of implementation in these devices, cutting both costs and times for units that can be employed to use ammonia as fuel in the near future. The novel combustion system proposed will be also integrated into a new ammonia micro gas turbine. The system will be combined with novel thermodynamic principles that will lead into a trigeneration cycle (cooling, power and heat) to unlock all the potential benefits of ammonia, whilst raising even more the efficiency of the system, thus creating a unique, competitive technology that can be implemented to support the hydrogen transition with negligible carbon footprint and environmental penalties.

The project will be supported by companies of international reputation (Siemens, Yara, National Instruments) and UK-European innovation enterprises looking for new areas of development (Hieta, Scitek, CoolDynamics) with the creation of unique, innovative products needed for the implementation of ammonia combustion systems and humidified ammonia-hydrogen cycles. Moreover, the outcome of the project will be ensured via Open Access documentation with bespoke numerical and experimental results that will be supplemented by series of high impact publications and seminars, thus increasing awareness of the importance of using ammonia as part of the energy mix of the following decades, having the UK as core of these developments.

Planned Impact

The proposed project will ensure that ammonia combustion in gas turbines is efficiently achieved for its use in power generation, supporting the transition to a hydrogen economy. The use of ammonia, a highly flexible hydrogen carrier, will ensure that hydrogen is stored and deployed cost-effectively. Therefore, the project will demonstrate the use of the chemical whilst setting up direct impacts on the use of future distribution networks and large power generators through the integration of renewable systems and easy-handling chemical storage facilities.
Initially, the project will spur the interest on ammonia as an energy carrier and an "X-power" enabler, attracting large companies and consortia to the development of large-scale AGTs that will backup production of power in the near future (~10 years). The statement is based on current trajectories of Japanese groups that pursue the development of large power units (>100MW) running on ammonia by 2030. Bearing this in mind, progression in Europe needs to match these developments to ensure technology independence on ammonia power systems. Groups such as the European Turbine Network, Royal Society, BEIS, IEA, etc. have recognised the potential of ammonia as hydrogen enabler, whilst this project intends to position the UK as leader on the topic for the use of the chemical, thus bringing further research and investment to the country in a post-BREXIT era.
In the medium term, small communities might benefit from the creation of efficient cycles that can efficiently recover stranded energy. It is expected that the potential benefits can reach ~21,000 individuals across the British Isles, ensuring flexibility and energy independence to isolated locations. In the long term, the UK will position itself as the hub for ammonia/hydrogen implementation in Europe, attracting investment and setting up the first international infrastructure for large power generation using these chemicals with all its environmental and economic implications.
Industrially, companies such as Siemens and Yara, whose business magnitude is globally recognised, will immediately benefit from the developments of this program, not only for exploration of novel clean technologies but also for the demonstration of the use of a flexible chemical that can be used as a clean fuel. The results will set the foundations to ensure that these companies will follow up the progression of the technology into more robust, larger systems across Europe, with the potential of reaching global markets with technologies developed and demonstrated in the UK. The project sets the foundations for the first European micro pilot plant that fully works on ammonia and that will be established as an icon for ammonia research, enabling that the chemical gains its deserved position in the global energy mix. Other companies, such as Hieta, will benefit from the development of novel concepts and materials for the use of aggressive atmospheres in heat exchanger devices. National Instruments and Scitek will also gain unique expertise on how to integrate complex devices, whilst governmental agencies and international organizations (i.e. Welsh government, ETN) will include in their R&D plans the use of ammonia as a reliable, cost-effective power vector, championing ammonia across governments whilst reaching other international agencies to spread the word of the benefits of such a molecule.
Finally, the project will serve as the medium for researchers and students (PhD) to expand their research agenda, with a hot topic that gains adepts constantly, as the topic is highly valuable in journals such as Combustion and Flame, FUEL, Int Hydrogen Energy, Applied Energy, etc. Particularly, the research will ensure that PDRAs and students can directly interact with industries and government agencies of high pedigree, combining expertise that will eventually lead to the creation of a specialised centre of excellence in Europe for ammonia studies.


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