Ammonia key to plan for energy storage10/18/2012
A Dartmouth startup is developing technology to store renewable energy as fuel.
NH3 Canada expects its system to be commercially available in another year.
“We are capable of taking orders for the end of next year for commercial installations,” Robert Leth, the company’s director of business development, said in an interview Wednesday.
The company’s technology will convert green energy, such as wind, tidal or solar power, into a chemical compound called anhydrous ammonia, or NH3.
The ammonia is stored in liquid form in tanks and can be turned back into electricity when needed. It can also be used as a zero-emission fuel or fertilizer.
“What we’re doing is taking energy, which is very difficult to store in the form of electricity, and converting it into liquid fuel, which is very easy to store,” Leth said from Toronto, where he is attending the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s annual conference.
While ammonia is already widely used to produce liquid fertilizer, its potential as an energy storage medium and alternative fuel source is still emerging.
Leth, who has a background in wind energy, became interested in NH3 technology three years ago after hearing about alternative fuel research being done in Ontario.
Leth and friend Allison Leil Jr. founded NH3 Canada to develop a system that could be used to store energy, as well as produce green fuel and fertilizer.
The company, which has eight employees and some 20 others working under contract, shares space at the A.W. Leil Cranes and Equipment building in Dartmouth. The tech startup also has a small office in Ottawa and works with the University of New Brunswick’s hydrogen research laboratory in Fredericton.
That’s where the prototype machine, called a fuel synthesizer, is located.
Leth said the company recently demonstrated the ammonia-making unit for the first time by hosting a group of six potential clients from various parts of North America and overseas.
Leth said the nuclear energy and military sectors are among those interested because the fuel is non-flammable.
“If you have a convoy of 50 trucks and you hit one of them, you’ll have a hole in it and everybody will complain about the smell (of the gas). But it won’t take out 50 trucks.”
NH3 Canada has also heard from the offshore wind industry.
“They’re asking if we can put our machine in the tower of their turbines and just have ships sail up to it and fill up.”
The business development director said he thinks the technology will encourage more renewable energy development. A tank-based system is also more portable and less expensive than other forms of energy storage, he said.
“This brings wind power and all renewables to the adults’ table,” Leth said. “There are a lot of possible renewables that are being thwarted. It’s very easy to put up roadblocks for projects that are intermittent.”
The NH3 Canada official said the company plans to field-test the technology in about 10 locations next year. The trials will take place across the globe to include a variety of conditions, he said.
The initial machines will cost roughly $500,000 each but Leth said he expects the price to drop by half within a couple of years.
A single unit can produce 500 litres of fuel a day, which is enough to power 10 cars.
“At a community level, co-op level, and as we get further, maybe even down to a private level, it’s going to allow people to manage renewable energy without having to negotiate with the grid,” Leth said.
“They can store it locally. They can use it locally.”
NH3 was one of 13 Atlantic Canadian companies taking part in the CanWEA event, which wrapped up Wednesday. They were part of a delegation led by the Maritimes Energy Association.
(The Chronicle Herald)