Producing ammonia ‘sustainably’

Pratham Arora, a research scholar with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, firmly believes that producers of industrial chemicals increasingly have a responsibility towards protecting the environment, and so it comes as no surprise that his research project is targeted at strengthening and helping preserve our fragile planet.

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two countries. Graduate research scholars like Arora study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Fig. 1: An ammonia production plant using biomass gasification (Courtesy)

Arora's project is titled 'Techno Economic Evaluation of Biomass Gasification with Carbon Capture for Production of Ammonia', and, with biomass, he is pursuing a non-traditional method to produce ammonia. The expected benefits are dual: while the usage of biomass will save precious fossil fuel resources, it is also expected to make the ammonia production process less carbon-intensive.

Global economies today have an enormous appetite for ammonia—a colourless, caustic and hazardous gas with a pungent odour.

Ammonia is produced from hydrogen and nitrogen. Syngas—which provides the source of hydrogen gas for reaction with nitrogen gas—is a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which is commonly produced by reforming natural gas.

A lot of the ammonia being used today is produced using fossil fuels, mainly natural gas, which contributes directly to global warming. Arora—working under the supervision of Prof Sanjay Mahajani, Prof Anuradda Ganesh and Prof Andrew Hoadley—hopes to change this.

Fig. 2: Process diagram (Courtesy: Pratham Arora)

Explaining his work so far, Arora says, "We are proposing a process that will take inputs from an already developed natural gas-based small scale ammonia plant. In biomass gasification, the syngas provides a source of hydrogen, and the NH 3 process reported for biomass as a feedstock is often similar to the methane steam reforming process, except that methane reforming is replaced by biomass gasification."

The biggest beneficiaries of the proposed biomass process, he reveals, will be the fertiliser and mining industries. "My project will decentralize ammonia production. An agrarian economy like ours can gain a lot from this, not to forget the immense savings in fossil fuel and reduction in greenhouse gasses that can be achieved."

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is keenly following Arora's progress. "The research that will be carried out at the IITB-Monash Research Academy is along thematic lines. This was a deliberate choice. The research themes represent key national research priorities of both India and Australia. We must address important research questions in areas such as Clean Energy, Water, and Infrastructure development which are vital for progress in both countries," he says.

Pratham Arora could not agree more. "For," as he concludes, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

Research scholar: Pratham Arora, IITB-Monash Research Academy

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

Supervisors: Prof Sanjay Mahajani, Prof Anuradda Ganesh and Prof Andrew Hoadley

Contact details: arora.pratham@gmail.com

This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.