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Advanced functional materials and components for urea electrolysis for cost-effective hydrogen and ammonia production

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V., DLR) is the national centre for aerospace, energy and transportation research of Germany, founded in 1969 as a public institution. It is headquartered in Cologne with 35 locations throughout Germany. The DLR is engaged in a wide range of research and development projects in national and international partnerships. DLR also acts as the German space agency and is responsible for planning and implementing the German space programme on behalf of the German federal government. As a project management agency, DLR coordinates and answers the technical and organisational implementation of projects funded by a number of German federal ministries. As of 2020, the German Aerospace Center had a national budget of €1.261 billion. The Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics at DLR conducts research into the field of efficient energy storage systems that conserve natural resources, and next generation energy conversion technologies. With booming, worldwide interest in hydrogen production, DLR is the sought for partner in research, development and implementation strategies of electrolysis systems. Our expertise lies in testing facilities activities aiming to explain the underlying electrochemical mechanisms of electrolysis cells, optimisation and upscaling.

reSHAPE

Water electrolysis is a clear pathway for green hydrogen production, but soon, it could prove to be the same for ammonia production. Currently, ammonia is mainly produced from natural gas as a raw material and steam methane reforming (SMR). The production of nitrogen fertilisers is energy-intensive and the process produces about 36 million tonnes of CO2 if all EU capacity is utilised (about 10% of the world’s total). In 2022, DECHEMA and Fertilizers Europe published a report of technology options for CO2 emission reduction of hydrogen feedstock in ammonia production creating a pathway for the European fertiliser industry decarbonisation for 2030. Electrolysis is pointed out to play a major role in green ammonia production. Moreover, as the feasibility of the proposed urea-water electrolysis draws attention, more possible technology applications emerge.

Hydrogen production, especially for proton exchange membrane water electrolysis PEMWEL needs water of high purity as well as precious metal catalysts (platinum group metals). The anion exchange membrane water electrolysis AEMWEL, points in the right direction, as with this technology Nickel catalysts, or similar, can be used for the oxygen evolving reactions. Moreover, using urea-water solutions, has the potential to improve the current density as urea is oxidised in addition to the water molecules. The urea electrolysis may use wastewater, e.g., urine, diesel additive fluid or processed urea solutions. Besides the pure hydrogen production at the cathode and urea oxidation at the anode, it is possible to hydrolyse urea at the anode catalysts and generate ammonia simultaneously. Ammonia has several applications in the chemical industry such as fertilisers, deNOx catalysts to name some.

This call for a co-developed solution should focus on catalyst and AEM development. The catalysts that have a high selectivity for urea hydrolysis (instead of urea oxidation) making a co-production of ammonia and hydrogen possible need to be synthesised. The ammonia oxidation that can also take place at the anode should be suppressed, meaning a high selectivity on the urea to ammonia reaction is foreseen without further reactions of the produced ammonia. This would lead to a simultaneous production of two energy carriers. The catalysts itself or the activation of these due to an innovative cell design could solve this problem. Moreover, the available membrane technologies are not matching for the use in high concentration water-urea solutions.

 

Applications closed on the 24th of January 2024 at 17:00 CET.

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