Researchers at Kiel University have developed a hydrogen catalyst to accelerate the recovery of hydrogen converted into ammonia. This should significantly reduce conversion losses.

Germany can probably only cover its need for climate-friendly hydrogen through imports from South America or Australia. But for such long transport routes it is necessary to convert the hydrogen – for example into ammonia. It then has to be recovered.

To facilitate this process, researchers at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry at Kiel University (CAU) have developed a cost-effective and effective hydrogen catalyst.

Hydrogen catalyst accelerates release of ammonia

Storing energy from wind or solar power plays an important role in the energy transition. But “storing energy in the form of chemical compounds such as hydrogen also has many advantages,” says Malte Behrens, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the CAU. The energy density is high and the chemical industry needs hydrogen for many processes.

Electrolysis with electricity can be used to produce so-called “green hydrogen” from renewable energy sources. No CO2 is produced in this process. However, it is not easy to import hydrogen from regions where there is sufficient wind and solar power. However, the chemical conversion of hydrogen to ammonia is considered an alternative because ammonia already contains a relatively large amount of hydrogen.

“Ammonia can easily be liquefied for transport. It is already being produced on a megaton scale, shipped and traded worldwide and is therefore interesting for us,” says chemist Dr. Shilong Chen. The necessary infrastructure for this already exists.

Together with other project partners, the Kiel researchers have been investigating for some time how hydrogen can be released from ammonia after transport. They have now developed a hydrogen catalyst that is intended to significantly accelerate this process.

Special metal combination

Malte Behrens explained: “A catalyst has the task of accelerating a chemical reaction and is therefore directly responsible for the efficiency of material and energy conversions.”

The faster the ammonia reforming can take place, the lower the conversion losses caused by chemical storage in ammonia. The catalyst also has two special features, says sub-project leader Shilong Chen.

On the one hand, it consists of the relatively cheap base metals iron and cobalt. On the other hand, we have developed a special manufacturing method that allows a very high metal load on the catalyst.

According to the researchers, up to 74 percent of the material consists of active metal particles. Alternating with the carrier particles, cavities in the nanoscale range are created. The combination of metals in a common alloy is crucial.

The researchers' goal is now to further investigate the hydrogen catalyst, put it into practical use and produce it in larger quantities.

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