‘Ammonia production is set to go through a tectonic shift’: Green ammonia start-up raises €750,000 to accelerate plug-and-play on-farm solution

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Current ammonia production methods are 18.5x larger than the entire yearly CO2 emission of all Nordic countries, according to NitroVolt. Image: Getty/Sjo
Current ammonia production methods are 18.5x larger than the entire yearly CO2 emission of all Nordic countries, according to NitroVolt. Image: Getty/Sjo

Related tags ammonia fertiliser

Danish-based NitroVolt has raised a pre-seed round of €750,000 to develop its ‘Nitrolyzer’ unit that enables a cheaper and local production of ammonia, using only air, water and electricity. It will use the funds for market expansion and to scale production by a factor of 1,000. It tells us more.

Ammonia is one of the world’s most important chemicals. It is estimated that half of global food production relies on it. However, it is also estimated that current ammonia production methods emit 500 Mt CO2 / year, equivalent of 2% of global CO2 emission, which is on par with the entire aviation industry.

A host of companies are therefore attempting to make more climate friendly greener ammonia alternatives.

One is Danish-based NitroVolt, which today (March 06) announced it has raised a pre-seed round of €750,000 to develop its ‘Nitrolyzer’ unit which it claims enables a cheaper and local production of ammonia, using only air, water and electricity.

According to the start-up, the ammonia industry cannot keep polluting, and the whole industry is under huge pressure to transition towards greener production methods.

Add in a three-fold demand increase for low-emission ammonia by 2050, the industry will require large investments in terms of capacity and CO2 handling infrastructure, estimated at US$2.6 trillion, equivalent to US$36bn annually.

Russia is today the world’s largest exporter of ammonia, followed by China and the Middle East, which in today’s geopolitical environment creates a demand for local and green ammonia production.

Countries are creating incentives for local production in order to ensure food security. Food security was challenged during the Ukraine/Russia conflict, where price of ammonia saw an increase with 650%, putting pressure on food prices and making the global food supply insecure.

Both green and resilient to supply chain volatility

“Our technology makes it possible to produce ammonia locally and puts the end user in control of the production. This means that the production becomes resilient to supply chain volatility and green at the same time - something that doesn’t exist on the market today,” said Suzanne Zamany Andersen, CEO & Co-founder of NitroVolt.

“With the new funding, we’re moving out of the university and hiring the competencies we need to scale our technology. During 2024, we expect to increase our green ammonia output production by a factor of 1,000,” added CTO and co-founder Mattia Saccoccio.

The pair officially spun-out their technology from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in July 2023 after seeing consistent positive results in the process of scaling their system, built upon seven years of extensive research within the field of electrochemical ammonia synthesis. The original research project started at the department of Physics, DTU, where Suzanne was hired as a Ph.D. student in 2017, and together with the scientific team, was involved in the discovery of the process. In September 2023 the startup received the prestigious Breakthrough Energy Fellowship Grant. This programme supports innovators at the earliest stages of climate tech development as ideas transition to technologies and projects become companies.

NitroVolt raises €750,000 to eliminate climate footprint from worlds’ most CO2 polluting chemical production
From Left to right: Jasenko Hadzic (Principal, BackingMinds), Mattia Saccoccio (CTO & Co-founder, NitroVolt), Suzanne Zamany Andersen (CEO & Co-founder, NitroVolt), Susanne Najafi (Founding Partner, BackingMinds). Image: Minna Yr Johannsdottir

Andersen, who holds a PhD in Surface Science and Catalysis and a MSc. in Physics and Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark, told AgTechNavigator more about the product.  

“The end product should be plug-and-play, with an app or similar for controlling the unit,” she said. “We’re still in the small pilot-unit phase, so there’s still some work ahead, but we envision that after installation, the farmer essentially just controls the unit via an app, defining how much ammonia he or she needs for the day or week, and given that enough electricity is supplied, the Nitrolyzer will produce this.

“The process is super-fast and responds within seconds to electricity input. Any form of electricity supplied works (wind, PV, grid), but if the farmer wants to claim a sustainable product, he or she needs to ensure that the electricity supplied is green – e.g., via on-site installation of PV or wind turbine. But the process itself does not care where the electrons come from, and grid electricity can also be used.”

CAPEX costs for famers is similar to that of a big tractor, she told us, so not a price that farmers are unfamiliar with. “We turn it on, and within 10-20 seconds we can measure ammonia. It’s very responsive and fits perfectly with intermittency of renewable energy. We aim for a small unit producing 150kg ammonia per day.”

Green ammonia alternatives are addressing a critical concern in agriculture

The company aims to build two demo units over the next two-three years to be tested out at a farm, to improve the design and test under different conditions. It expects full-scale units to be ready for the market after the testing phase of these demo units.

“We hope to roll out the first few full-scale units by 2027/2028, should development go as planned,” Andersen explained. “The ammonia produced is the same as the ammonia bought for fertilisation, so no [regulatory] surprises there. We’re looking into the regulatory requirements of decentralizing the production of ammonia, but do not expect any issues as there are similar products on market already for producing similar chemicals, for example, decentralized hydrogen peroxide for water treatment.”

The pre-seed round was led by Sweden-based venture capital firm BackingMind. Its founding partner Susanne Najafi said: “NitroVolt caught our attention as we've been actively seeking green alternatives for fertilisers for over two years. Their groundbreaking solution targets 100% renewable, carbon-free ammonia, addressing a critical concern in agriculture. We seek companies like NitroVolt that tackle global challenges head-on, aligning perfectly with our mission for significant carbon emission reduction globally.”

Jasenko Hadzic, principal at BackingMinds, added: “As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, ammonia production is set to go through a tectonic shift. NitroVolt’s unique technology is in a great position to take advantage of the opportunity and we’re incredibly excited to partner up with Suzanne and Mattia on this journey.”

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