Electrolytes and Electrodes for Electrochemical Synthesis of Ammonia

Alberto Lapina

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

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In order to make Denmark independent of fossil fuels by 2050 the share of renewable energy in electricity production, in particular wind energy, is expected to increase significantly. Since the power output of renewable energy sources heavily fluctuates over time there is a pressing need to find effective energy storage solutions. Production of synthetic fuels (e.g. ammonia) is a promising possibility. Ammonia (NH3) can be an interesting energy carrier, thanks to its high energy density and the existence of well developed storage and transportation technologies. However the present-day production technology is based on the Haber-Bosch process, which is energy intensive and requires large-scale plants. One possible way to produce ammonia from sustainable electricity, nitrogen and hydrogen/water is using an electrochemical cell. This thesis studies a number of electrolytes and electrocatalysts to evaluate their applicability to electrochemical synthesis of ammonia.
First a number of potential electrolytes are investigated in the temperature range 25-400°C in order to find a proton conductor with a conductivity higher than 10-4 S/cm in dry atmosphere (pH2O < 0.001 atm).
The conductivity of materials prepared from FeOOH nanoparticles is measured at 25-40°C between pH2O = 0.037 atm and pH2O < 0.001 atm. The conductivity is low in dry air (10-6-10-8 S/cm), while it can be up to 7·10-3 S/cm in wet air.
The conductivity of Y-droped Ti, Si, Sn, Zr, Ce pyrophosphates, Gd-doped cerium phosphate and cerium pyrophosphate - KH2PO4 composite is measured at 100-400°C at pH2O from 0.2 atm to below 0.001 atm. The phase stability and long term conductivity of the compounds with the highest conductivities are investigated, and conductivity is found to depend heavily on pH2O and phosphorus content.
High temperature solid state proton conductors are briefly reviewed and defect chemistry and partial conductivities of Y-doped BaZrO3-BaCeO3 solid solutions are studied as a function of temperature, pH2O and chemical compositions by means of defect chemistry modelling.
BaCe0.2Zr0.6Y0.2O2.9 (BCZY26) is chosen as electrolyte, and used to fabricate symmetrical cells with composite metal-BCZY26 electrodes. Two metals (iron and molybdenum) are tested as electrocatalysts: the choice is based on the use of catalysts in the Haber-Bosch process and density functional theory calculations.
The symmetrical cells are tested at OCV (i.e. without polarization) by impedance spectroscopy in dry H2/N2 and H2/Ar atmospheres, in the temperature range 440-650°C for Mo-BCZY electrodes and 350-500°C fir Fe-BCZY electrodes. No clear evidence of activity of Fe and Mo towards nitrogen reduction to ammonia is found. The kinetics of the electrode reaction (hydrogen oxidation/reduction) at the Mo-BCZY electrode are studied in detail by impedance spectroscopy to identify the electrode processes.
Further studies carried out under polarization will be necessary in order to fully assess the potential of Fe and Mo as electrocatalysts for ammonia synthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKgs. Lyngby
PublisherDepartment of Energy Conversion and Storage, Technical University of Denmark
Number of pages170
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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