A global boutique consultancy, we serve our clients in two ways: via client directed projects (TCG Consulting) and via various programs and studies (TCG Resources).

Ammonia Production: Catalyst and Process Technology Advances Yielding Cost Efficiencies and CO2 Reductions

New Multi-Client Study Proposal from TCGR

“Ammonia Production:
Catalyst and Process Technology Advances Yielding Cost Efficiencies and CO2 Reductions”

Due to the drive towards increasing energy efficiency, optimizing resource utilization (including feedstocks) and meeting ever-growing product volume demands, there is a need to go beyond incremental process technology improvements in ammonia production to yield disruptive, and even breakthrough, advancements. Such gains are particularly important and urgent for the petrochemical/chemical industries, where the volumes of product are large and the energy utilization is high. At the peak among these is ammonia, whose output on a global basis tops 145 MMT annually with 2-4.5 times that volume of CO2 produced depending on the feedstock and process used.

Figure 1
Global Ammonia Production, MMT

Source: US Geological Survey data, 2016

Clearly there is a role to be played for improving efficiencies and reducing emissions by process and catalyst technology advances, be they through novel catalytic routes, enhanced process integration/intensification and low- or non-CO2 generating feedstocks (e.g., bio- or photo/electrochemically produced hydrogen) and/or energy sources (e.g., bio-derived or hydro-powered fuels).

In this assessment, TCGR will document the current benchmark or “best practice” technologies (BPTs) for ammonia production and highlight the major areas where technology development has, can, or will result in both emerging/evolutionary or breakthrough/”game changer” progress towards cost efficiency gains and CO2 reductions. Comparisons will be made between current and developmental technologies, including assessments of technology readiness levels (TRLs), timing of potential impacts at commercial scale, and the critical participants in success, whether they be licensors, producers or affiliated consortia/academia/governmental agencies on a global scale. Due to the size of ammonia production and its importance in application, notably as a critical component in fertilizers with implications on the ability to address world food needs, this topic merits detailed attention by and for the benefit of industrial players.

A selection of noteworthy advances in technology which reflect recent progress for: (1) syngas shift catalysts; (2) ammonia synthesis catalysts; and (3) so-called catalyst accelerators includes:

  • Clariant’s Shiftmax 820s Presulfided Sour Gas Shift Catalyst, Process Optimization with Siemens…
  • Haldor Topsoe’s Commercial Iron-Free HTS and KM111 Ammonia Synthesis Catalysts…
  • QuantumSphere’s New Ammonia Production Technology, Collaboration with Casale…


Beyond these areas targeted for catalyst and process improvement for ammonia production, a more critical, and potentially breakthrough or “game changer” area of focus is the generation of H2 from non-CO2 generating routes. In particular, areas such as photocatalysis or photovoltaic-assisted water electrolysis are being addressed. A selection of the more noteworthy developmental areas along these lines includes:

  • Photochemical/catalysis:

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices, including semiconductor, nanostructured, doped metal oxides, etc.
Others, including photobiological (e.g., cyanobacteria, algae, etc.)

  • PV-assisted electrolysis:

Thin film solar cells
Dye sensitized solar cells (DSSCs)
Surface plasmon polaritons
Others, including organic solar concentrators/waveguides

  • Electrochemical/catalysis:

Electrolyzers, including alkaline, mono-/bi-polar
Solid Polymer Electrolytes (SPEs)/Polymer Electrolytic Membranes (PEMs)
Solid Oxide Electrolyzers (SOEs)

  • Direct routes to ammonia (N2 reduction via nanosheets):

Central China Normal University’s layered BiOBr catalyst with oxygen vacancies; Others

It is understood that these non-CO2 generating H2 production approaches face significant challenges related to both scientific hurdles (e.g., efficiencies) as well as economic viability (e.g., costs). Even at production costs which are multiples of 2-5 times that of current H2 generation (at best, with some more than 50 times), these must be considered long(er) term opportunities. As a result, TCGR will assess the most promising of these options and provide an indication of likely “winners” based on potential for success and timing, noting the hurdles to be overcome and the techno-economic factors involved in reducing the cost multiples.

For those that understand and appreciate this study undertaking, you will know how important and critically timely this evaluation is! With energy/production costs playing a critical role in competitiveness, and related GHG/CO2 emission levels a target for improving “sustainability” performance, the next several years are certain to be telling. Thus, TCGR’s study – a technical and commercial assessment – is warranted.

The added value TCGR provides is real world operating expertise on how to improve on these examples, from experienced Dialog Group® active industry consultants. TCGR will utilize numerous experienced ammonia, hydrogen and enabling/related technology and commercial experts from industry to assist us to provide insights beyond what other sources that do not have the reach and industrial experience can provide.

Additional information, including the complete study proposal, the preliminary Table of Contents and the Order Form, can be downloaded below. For additional study details or to subscribe, please contact John J. Murphy at +1.215.628.4447 or John.J.Murphy@catalystgrp.com.

In acknowledgement that there are certain to be different interests from
across thespectrum of ammonia and hydrogen producers interested in
becoming “charter subscribers” (i.e., those who sign up for the study before
August 26, 2016) TCGR will seek their input prior to the finalization of the
study Table of Contents (TofC) before proceeding.

The Catalyst Group Resources (TCGR), a member of The Catalyst Group, is dedicated to monitoring and analyzing technical and commercial developments in catalysis as they apply to the global refining, petrochemical, fine/specialty chemical, pharmaceutical, polymer/elastomer and environmental industries.

Download PDF:
Proposal – Ammonia Production Catalyst and Process Technology Advances (July 2016)