DENTON (UNT), Texas — The National Science Foundation is funding a team of researchers at the University of North Texas who are looking for solutions they hope will one day revolutionize how ammonia is produced, leading to significant environmental impacts and economic benefits for farmers and consumers.
Chemistry professors Thomas Cundari, Francis D’Souza and Jeffry Kelber have received a three-year $500,000 grant to investigate fundamental chemical interactions for nitrogen reduction reactions needed to produce ammonia through more energy-efficient routes.
“The current process consumes a huge amount of energy,” Cundari said. “And there’s also the ancillary benefit that a more efficient process would produce less greenhouse gas.”
Currently, ammonia is produced by a high temperature, energy intensive process that results in a high amount of carbon dioxide production.
The team is examining electrocatalysis — an environmentally friendly alternative that uses less energy — for the production of ammonia and other products.
This is one step toward a future technology that would allow farmers to make their own ammonia efficiently on their own land. The first phase is examining is how the reactivity of the nitrogen changes with the type of materials used, looking for a catalyst with very high efficiency.
“Right now, we are in the very beginning stage. In the second phase will need to bring in nanotechnology to upscale this and make it better,” D’Souza said. “The third phase is to develop a prototype device that can make ammonia by using just sunlight, water and nitrogen from air.”
“This technology is very sustainable and doable. It can be used worldwide, but the big picture is free ammonia for the one-time cost of the device,” D’Souza said. “Cheaper fertilizer means the cost of food will be much lower. You could have a steak for half the price.”