We’re delighted to announce our investment in NitroFix, who are developing a novel low-energy electrochemical process to synthesise ammonia.
Ammonia is widely used today as an industrial chemical, mostly in the synthesis of fertilisers - the miracle of 20th century science responsible for approximately half of all humans on the planet today. In 2020, the global demand was 185 Mt with a market value of $72bn (IEA). Even though we expect to see the use of ammonia-based fertilisers decrease to avoid the harmful additional emissions associated with over-fertilisation (Canary Media), ammonia can also be used a carbon-free fuel and is a leading contender to decarbonise critical sectors such as cargo shipping and steel furnaces.
Today, ammonia is made from the combination of hydrogen (H2) and nitrogen (N2) in the Haber-Bosch process. This is a double whammy from an emissions perspective as first, hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels (“grey hydrogen”) using a high-temperature process called steam methane reforming (SMR) to break apart the carbon-hydrogen bonds in methane (CH4). Then, once you have the hydrogen, the Haber-Bosch process itself is another high-pressure, high-temperature step, needed to break apart the H2 bond and the very strong triple covalent dinitrogen bond (N2) and fuse them back together as ammonia (NH3). Today, we know that the production of ammonia is responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions, with 2.9 kg CO2 released for every kg of NH3 produced.
When we got excited about ammonia as a potential decarbonised fuel of the future, we started looking for innovative approaches to making it. There are several companies that are focussed on decarbonising the Haber-Bosch process itself, which when paired with green hydrogen would then make green ammonia, however this will be an expensive option until the price of green H2 comes down, and it will always require two steps.
We first spoke with NitroFix in September last year, and we loved the potential of their low-energy low-temperature electrochemical process, which uses catalysts inspired by ammonia-synthesising bacteria in nature. We particularly liked that they are using water directly as a hydrogen input (proton donor), rather than having to make hydrogen first to feed into an additional process. And, when we researched the competitive space, we couldn’t find any other companies with the potential to synthesise ammonia at a lower cost. Nitrofix’s cells will also unlock the potential to make ammonia when and where it is needed, which will bring significant co-benefits to end-users from farmers to port operators.
We’re also super excited to work with CEO Dr Ophira Melamed and CTO Dr Meital Alon. We have been so impressed with their experience, expertise and ambition, and we’re so happy to be a part of their journey from here. They are also our first investment in an all-female executive founding team. NitroFix’s technology is founded on research by Professor Ronny Neumann from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who will be continuing to support the company as a scientific advisor.