Lowering the carbon footprint for one of the world’s most commonly produced chemicals

⚡ ENERGY EFFICIENCY: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers uncovered a new process to produce ammonia at a potentially much smaller carbon footprint and by using less energy. Ammonia is one of the most commonly produced chemicals globally and is a key component in many fertilizers. It is also considered an emerging area for energy storage because ammonia molecules are hydrogen dense and can be easily transported with existing infrastructure. Current ammonia production processes are very energy intensive and generate several million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The electrochemical reduction of N2 to NH3 offers a means for storing solar energy and distributed production of fertilizers. The picture shows continuous capture of N2 from the air and its conversion to NH3 at high selectivity using electrocatalytic screens. Graphic courtesy of Aditya Prajapati and Meenesh Singh.
  • The new process uses a mesh screen coated in copper to help bind nitrogen and hydrogen to make ammonia molecules. A small amount of electricity sent through the screen drives the reaction.
  • “The electricity can come from solar or wind energy, which would really make a huge difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Meenesh Singh, UIC assistant professor of chemical engineering, said in a news release.
  • UIC has filed a provisional patent for the process. The researchers are working to boost the amount of ammonia resulting from the reaction, which right now is about 20%.

🔋 ENERGY STORAGE: Purdue University researchers developed a way for a sheet of thermoplastic polyurethane to store energy in its skin by incorporating domes that can be inverted. This shows promise as a mechanical battery for some types of flexible robotics.

Purdue researchers developed a way for a material to store energy in its skin through invertible domes. Purdue University photo/Jared Pike.

🔌 POWER GRID: A University of Michigan professor discusses with Marketplace how microgrids provide resilience in the face of climate change and how utilities view the technology.

✈️ AVIATION: Miamisburg, Ohio-based aerospace and defense firm Cornerstone Research Group’s new Venture Studio launched its first spin-off business, Lectratek, focused on electric aviation technologies, reports Dayton Daily News. Lectratek will use some of CRG’s technologies including safe energy storage and advanced composites.

🚘 EVs: Troy, Michigan-based data analytics company J.D. Power is partnering with electric vehicle driver app developer PlugShare on a series of EV-centric research reports, including insights about charging at home and in public, according to T&D World. A PlugShare leader expects 2021 to be a “true breakout year for EVs” in the U.S.

💰 FUNDING: The U.S. Department of Energy is opening $42 million in loans for projects to increase the supply of critical minerals that are used in clean energy technologies such as EVs and renewable energy production. This is a 180-degree turn considering President Trump repeatedly has tried to eliminate funding for this program, reports E&E News.


  • The Electric Power Research Institute‘s Incubatenergy Labs is seeking applications from startups who want to propose innovative demonstration projects to utilities. The program connects startups to utilities including Midwest providers AmerenAmerican Electric PowerNebraska Public Power District, and Xcel Energy. Applications are due Jan. 14.
  • This year the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) invested an additional $20 million into the cleantech program, expanded its verticals to include agricultural and transportation technology, and it intends to run two cohorts per year through at least 2024.


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