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Interdisciplinary Research Centre

Dr Laura Torrente, leader of the Catalysis and Process Integration group, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant of €2.1 million to develop novel processes and functional energy materials for the storage of renewable energy in ammonia, a carbon-free energy vector.

One of the barriers to the realisation of a carbon-free society is the intermittent and geographically isolated nature of many renewable energy sources. To be able to move to carbon-free energy generation, we need to develop ways to store or distribute energy from renewable sources, so that it can fully meet our global energy demands.

Ammonia shows tremendous potential to alter the energy landscape due to its high energy density (~3 kWh/litre, comparable to that of compressed natural gas) and an existing global transportation and storage infrastructure – ammonia is produced globally on a massive scale for its use as fertiliser. It therefore offers a readily competitive option as a zero-carbon energy vector.

Torrente’s ambition, through her ERC project RestartNH3, is the long-term storage of renewable energy in ‘green ammonia’, providing not only buffer capabilities but also versatility in its end-use, where ammonia can be combusted, decomposed to release hydrogen or used directly in ammonia fuel cells (in the future).

The focus of her ERC Consolidator project is to redefine the way ammonia is synthesised. For over 100 years, this has been via the conventional Haber-Bosh process – a process that is highly optimised for extracting energy and hydrogen from fossil fuels, consuming 2% of global energy production and generating around 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Its centralised manufacturing (normally close to natural gas reservoirs) benefits from economy of scale and long-term continuous operation, which is not suitable for electrification and is unable to cope with the intermittency of energy produced from renewable sources.


Read the full Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology article.