A Danish start-up has received fresh backing for its new way of using renewable energy to make zero-emissions ammonia, a chemical crucial in global agriculture but whose production it says currently creates as much CO2 as the entire aviation industry.

NitroVolt has raised €750,000 ($815,000) in a pre-seed round to develop its 'Nitrolyzer' unit that enables “cheaper and local production of ammonia” using only air, water and green energy (see panel).

The round was led by Swedish venture capital fund BackingMinds, NitroVolt announced today (Wednesday).

The start-up last year received a grant from Breakthrough Energy, the innovation fund of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to develop its technology.

Half of the world’s agriculture relies on ammonia but NitroVolt said that its dominant current production method – which typically involves burning fossil fuels and highly polluting grey hydrogen – emits 2% of global CO2 emissions.

That is equivalent to the entire aviation industry.

“The ammonia industry cannot keep polluting, and the whole industry is under huge pressure to transition towards greener production methods,” said NitroVolt.

There are also geopolitical concerns, said NitroVolt, with Russia and China the largest exporters of ammonia worldwide. Ammonia prices skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while the West is in a period of tense relations with China.

All of this creates a demand for “local and green” ammonia production, said NitroVolt.

NitroVolt is developing a technology known as a 'lithium-mediated ammonia synthesis reactor', being commercialised as the Nitrolyzer, that it says can “produce green ammonia directly at the point-of-use; at the farm.”

The product will be a container-sized system, it said, combining only air, water, and renewable electricity.

inside the nitrolyzer

The process happening inside the Nitrolyzer unit is based on the reduction of lithium salt to metallic lithium, according to the company's website. This metallic lithium will then react with nitrogen to form a nitride. The nitride is easily protonated by hydrogen sourced via water splitting. This leads to the formation of ammonia, and the lithium is released back into solution, to be recycled and start the reaction again.

The system “totally removes fossil fuels from the production process, making their ammonia 100% renewable, carbon-free, and competitive with current black ammonia prices on the market.”

“Our technology makes it possible to produce ammonia locally and puts the end user in control of the production,” claimed Suzanne Zamany Andersen, CEO and co-founder of NitroVolt.

“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.”