Green ammonia

Picture Credit: Fliker

Greenhouse gases and global warming are a growing international problem without too many real world solutions. By recycling paper and using energy efficient electronics, people on the ground can only do so much. The industries that release huge amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, however, present a good focal point for massive change. One of the biggest culprits of the global warming is elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—a major byproduct of power plants and chemical plants that run on fossil fuels, particularly coal.

There is an urgent need to shift towards “greener” sources of energy. But, most environmentally friendly energy sources are, right now, expensive compared with traditional sources like coal and petroleum. One stopgap technology, to help buy time in order to make these new and emerging technologies viable, is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). To prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere, it can be isolated, trapped and sequestered underground such as in depleted petroleum reservoirs or aquifers.

IITB-Monash Research Academy scholar Ishan Sharma is working on a way to optimize CCS as well as reduce the amount of fossil fuel used to power ammonia plants. “I’m working on this transition technology that will allow us to continue using traditional—but polluting—sources of energy/hydrogen, in an efficient and clean manner,” said Sharma.

Picture Credit: Stockarch

India was the world’s third highest producer of carbon dioxide in 2012, according to EDGAR, the database of the European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

As a largely agrarian economy, India is also the world’s second largest producer of ammonia, which is used mostly in fertilizers. In addition to fertilizers, a significant amount of ammonia is also used to manufacture industrial explosives and Sharma’s project is sponsored by Orica Mining Services, who are interested in the development of industrial explosives with as low a carbon footprint as possible

Ishan Sharma’s work has a dual goal: First is to reduce the amount of coal a plant needs to produce ammonia to make the process a little cleaner. The second is to capture the carbon dioxide produced in the process, which will allow it to be isolated from the atmosphere and then sequestered efficiently.

Implementing CCS into existing production plants would also require optimizing its performance to produce the product in an efficient manner.

“I’m looking at different mechanisms to capture carbon dioxide, optimize their performance, and compare them in terms of their technical and economic feasibility,” Sharma said. The different capture mechanisms include solvent absorption (both physical and chemical) and physical adsorption.

Picture Credit: Ishan Sharma

Sharma’s directive is to look at the trade-offs involved between the amount of carbon dioxide captured and the energy required to capture it.

“I want to contribute something towards the betterment of our society by means of knowledge that I have acquired until now,” said Sharma. He believes in another year he will be able to present an optimized flowsheet, along with corresponding operating parameters, for conversion of coal into ammonia with carbon capture and sequestration.

IITB-Monash Research Academy is a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University. Research scholars study for a dually-badged PhD from both institutions, and enrich their research and build collaborative relationships by spending time in Australia and India over the course of their degree. Established in 2008, IITB-Monash Research Academy aims to enhance scientific collaborations between Australia and India.

This work supported by Orica Limited.

Research scholar: Ishan Sharma, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Techno Economic Evaluation of Coal Gasification with Carbon Capture for Production of Ammonia

Supervisors: Professor Sanjay M. Mahajani, Professor Anuradda Ganesh and Professor Andrew Hoadley

Contact details: ishan.sharma2010@gmail.com

Contact research@iitbmonash.org for more information on this, and other projects.