Ammonia is a key component of fertilizer and vital in supporting plant growth and ultimately providing food for populations around the world. It is also a major pollutant that, after it is used in the food chain, enters municipal wastewater treatment plants where it is often not adequately removed.
It is then released into the environment where it pollutes aquatic settings and damages ecosystems, triggering destructive algal blooms, dead zones, and fish kills.
Ammonia capture is now a critical challenge for the 21st century, especially as city populations are expected to increase dramatically, with a projected urban growth of 2.5 billion people by 2050.
At the same time, providing improved sanitation to the 2.3 billion people who are currently unserved globally will entail the installation of new toilets, wastewater facilities, and sanitation infrastructure, putting even more stress on the environment.
To date, most ammonia capture is done through an extremely energy-intensive technique, the Haber-Bosch process, which is used by industry across the globe to produce fertilizer and accounts for 1-2% of the world's annual energy consumption.
A Columbia Engineering team, led by Ngai Yin Yip, assistant professor of earth and environmental engineering, reports today that they have recovered ammonia through a new method that uses a very low level of energy, approximately a fifth of the energy used by the Haber-Bosch process.
In addition, because the technique recycles ammonia in a closed loop, the ammonia can be recaptured for reuse in fertilizer, household cleaners, and other industrial products. The findings are published today by ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering .
The management of nitrogen, an essential nutrient for life, has been recognized by the National Academy of Engineering as one of the Grand Challenges of the 21st century. Yip's group, which focuses on advancing sustainable production of both energy and water, wanted to invent a better, more ecological way to produce nitrogen, of which ammonia is a bioavailable form.
It was clear that we needed a paradigm shift to transition to a circular economy model, where nitrogen is recovered and recycled, instead of the current unsustainable linear approach of costly production, utilization, and then discarding pollutants to the environment." Ngai Yin Yip, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering Related Stories
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