Introduction

Ammonia (NH3) is a major industrial chemical and the most important nitrogenous material produced. Ammonia gas is used directly as a fertiliser, in heat treating, paper pulping, nitric acid and nitrates manufacture, nitric acid ester and nitro compound manufacture, explosives of various types, and as a refrigerant. Amines, amides, and miscellaneous other organic compounds, such as urea, are made from ammonia (Austin, 1984; p.303).

Ammonia production requires a source of nitrogen (N) and hydrogen (H). Nitrogen is obtained from air through liquid air distillation or an oxidative process where air is burnt and the residual nitrogen is recovered. Most ammonia is produced from natural gas (chiefly methane (CH4)), although H can be obtained from other hydrocarbons (coal (indirectly), oil), and water (Hocking, 1998; p.317). A small number of plants continue to use fuel oil as the fuel input and H source in the partial oxidation process. The carbon (C) content of the hydrocarbon is eliminated from the process at the primary steam reforming stage and shift conversion stage through conversion to carbon dioxide (CO2) which is the main potential direct greenhouse gas emission. Plants using hydrogen rather than natural gas to produce ammonia do not release CO2 from the synthesis process.

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