Green ammonia.

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

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 is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). To prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere, it can be isolated, trapped and sequestered underground or in depleted petroleum reservoirs and aquifers.

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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 a transition technology that will allow us to continue using traditional—but polluting—sources of energy/hydrogen, in an efficient and clean manner,” said Sharma.

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

Picture Credit: Ishan Sharma

As a largely agrarian economy, India is also the world’s second largest producer of ammonia, which is used mostly in fertilizers although it also finds use in the manufacture of explosives. While there are cleaner and greener ways of producing ammonia in the world, our country relies mostly on burning fossil fuels to produce ammonia in its plants.

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 and that it is 95% pure, 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 a 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.

Sharma’s algorithms simulate the processes of ammonia production. In any plant, the more coal energy is pumped into the system, the more ammonia is produced and the higher the purity of the carbon dioxide emitted as a by-product.

But Sharma’s directive is to look at the trade-offs involed 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.

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:

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

The above story was written by Chhavi Sachdev based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy.

Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy