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Carbon-neutral ammonia spin-out

Monash spin-out, Jupiter Ionics, is commercialising a patented carbon-neutral ammonia manufacturing process.

CHALLENGE

Ammonia is one of the world’s most manufactured chemicals. It is currently used for fertiliser that helps feed half the world’s population. The current manufacturing process is extremely energy intensive, accounting for 2% of all energy use and more than 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions. However, when it’s made using renewable energy, ammonia is also an excellent way to transport that energy. It can then be used to convert into hydrogen or used directly as a fuel source. Finding a way to make ammonia with renewable energy that does not emit greenhouse gases would have a huge impact on how we mitigate climate change.

RESEARCH

Monash University researchers, Prof. Douglas MacFarlane and Dr Alexandr Simonov and their team have developed an electrochemical process that makes ammonia using only nitrogen from the air and water as the source materials. Hydrogen ions from the water are sequentially added to nitrogen from the air without producing any greenhouse gases. The unique chemistry inside their electrochemical cell sets up a system that continually cycles between the two electrodes generating and delivering hydrogen ions to the nitrogen, where it reacts to form ammonia.

Scanning electron microscopy carried out at the Microscopy Australia facility at Monash University has allowed the researchers to develop, optimise and monitor their electrodes.

Scanning electron micrograph of one of the electrodes used in the electrochemical cell.

IMPACT

In 2021, Prof. MacFarlane and Dr Simonov founded spin-out company Jupiter Ionics to commercialise their patented technology. Since then, it has raised over $5M of funding to transition their technology from the lab to a scalable commercial device. They are a winner in the Science Start-ups category in the international Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the year 2022 as one of the top projects that will shape the future of science and society.

Impacts of this work will be felt through:

  • Significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
  • New businesses and jobs
  • Development of small-scale modular production facilities to localise ammonia production to where it is needed, providing local control, jobs, food security, reduced transport costs and risks of explosion (as happened in Beirut in 2020).

Read their papers in Nature and Science
Hoang-Long Du et al., 2022, Nature, 609, 722–727. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05108-y
Bryan Suryanto et al., 2021, Science, 372 (6547), 1187–1191 DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2371

First author Hoang-Long Du in the lab