NH3 Energy+: Topical Conference at AIChE Annual Meeting

By Stephen H. Crolius on April 07, 2017

“Ammonia Energy Arrives on World Stage.”  This could have been the headline for today’s story about the 2017 NH3 Fuel Conference that will be held in conjunction with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).  But that would be hyperbolic and would also single out just one step of ammonia energy’s rise to global prominence.  Nonetheless, the full-day event, officially entitled, “NH3 Energy+: Enabling Optimized, Sustainable Energy and Agriculture,” is unquestionably a milestone on the journey.

The facts are these:  this year’s AIChE Annual Meeting will be held in Minneapolis from October 29 to November 3.  On Wednesday November 1, the NH3 Fuel Association and the AIChE will co-sponsor a topical conference on ammonia energy.  The goal will be to hear from the leading players in the field on development and deployment of ammonia energy technology in the world’s major economies.

In interviews this week, Norm Olson, President of the NH3 Fuel Association and Sipho Ndlela, the Program Chair for the Annual Meeting, spoke about the origins of the event.  The story started in 2010 when Ndlela, having received a doctorate in chemical engineering from Iowa State University in 2004, went to work for Olson as an associate scientist at the Iowa Energy Center (IEC) in Nevada, Iowa. Olson is a program manager at IEC with responsibility for the Biomass Energy Conversion (BECON) facility.

Olson and Ndlela stayed in touch after Ndlela moved to Owens Corning’s Science and Technology Center in Ohio as a senior process engineer.  In the meantime, Ndlela had become active in the AIChE and had started to help with programming at AIChE meetings.  Last year he served as Co-Chair of the Distributed Chemical and Energy Processes for Sustainability session at the AIChE’s Annual Meeting.  Knowing of Olson’s interest in sustainable energy, Ndlela invited him to submit an abstract.  Olson’s paper was accepted and in November he delivered his talk.  As reported in Ammonia Energy, Olson was one of two presenters who focused on ammonia as an energy carrier.

In keeping with the AIChE’s philosophy of encouraging “truly new suggestions [that] appeal to new and/or growing topics of interest”, Ndlela thought that in 2017 he might be able build on the foundation laid at the 2016 conference. “Ammonia as a fuel is not something we talk about much,” he said.  Yet, he believed the topic could attract widespread interest from attendees and also align with the conference’s other sustainability-oriented events.  He proposed the idea of a full-day topical conference to the relevant stakeholders, including the AIChE’s Director of Programming, the AIChE’s Programming Team, and the Annual Meeting’s Forum Chairs and Division Chairs. “It got 100 percent approval,” he said.  “It was overwhelming.”

Olson said that the NH3 Fuel Association is delighted with the progression from a pair of talks at last year’s meeting to a full-day event this year.  “We know that the pace of NH3 activity is gearing up dramatically,” he said, “but to get this kind of opportunity from the AIChE is a huge deal.”

The NH3 Fuel Association has put on a conference every year since 2004.  The conference has typically taken place in mid-September and included two full days of talks.  Pushing this year’s conference back on the calendar by a few weeks was not a significant issue, according to Olson.  Limiting the proceedings to a single day was seen as more of a challenge.  “There is so much activity out there, on so many different topics, in so many different countries, it will be difficult to cover it all in one day,” he said.

Olson said that many aspects of the conference will be designed to help meet the challenge.  The plan is to have 18 talks distributed across three sessions: ammonia synthesis; use of ammonia as an energy commodity; and ammonia-oriented systems that integrate a variety of steps and/or processes to produce energy products and services.  The NH3 Fuel Association has started contacting leading players in the fields that have the most intense activity, such as electrochemical synthesis of ammonia and powering combustion turbines with ammonia.  The intention is to start with a selection of invited talks and then to choose the best entries from the pool of submitted abstracts to fill in the presentation program and to populate a poster session. The stated deadline to submit abstracts is April 17, although Olson said it is likely the date will be extended.

Olson said the symposium may be complemented with other events for interested parties, such as an evening reception and/or tour of a local facility of interest – both fixtures of past NH3 Fuel Conferences.

According to its website, the AIChE is “the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 50,000 members from over 100 countries.”  Its national meetings “are amongst the most prestigious and best attended chemical engineering meetings in the world.”  This year’s annual meeting is expected to draw more than 8,000 attendees.