Israel’s GenCell joins forces with Japan’s TDK to create ‘green’ ammonia

Israeli firm has patented a technique that uses surplus wind and solar energy and an electro-chemical process to create a gas that is normally a source of carbon dioxide emissions

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustrative image of tanks transporting ammonia to farmer's fields in western Iowa (DarcyMaulsby; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of tanks transporting ammonia to farmer's fields in western Iowa (DarcyMaulsby; iStock by Getty Images)

GenCell Energy, an Israel-based manufacturer of fuel-cell-based electricity generators, said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with a Japanese maker of lithium-ion batteries, TDK Corporation, to develop an environmentally friendly “green ammonia” at low cost.

Ammonia is a pungent gas used widely today to make agricultural fertilizers as well as in the pharmaceutical industry. It is commonly made from methane, water and air, using the so-called Haber-Bosch process, which creates a gas reaction between hydrogen and nitrogen at moderately elevated temperature and high pressure. This process is also a source of carbon dioxide emissions. GenCell’s fuel cell technology also uses ammonia to produce its clean electricity.

“At GenCell we make electricity that is clean, with no emissions. But ammonia is not a clean fuel,” said GenCell CEO Rami Reshef in a phone interview. That’s why the Israeli firm partnered with TDK. “We want to replace ammonia,” he said. “We’ll be working to develop clean, green ammonia which has no CO₂ emissions.”

Many other companies are working at creating green ammonia, he said, but GenCell has already patented what he said is a “unique and breakthrough” way to create ammonia without emissions by using excess solar and wind energy and an electrochemical process.

Rami Reshef, the CEO of Israeli startup GenCell Energy (Courtesy)

“The entire process from the creation of the fuel to its consumption will be without CO₂ emissions,” he said. “We already know how to do this and we have patented the technology. Now we need to make a product and will be doing this together with TDK.”

Some 235 million metric tons of industrial or so-called brown ammonia is produced today, reflecting a market value of some $70 billion.

Argus Research forecast that the green ammonia market is expected to grow to as much as a billion tons per year, as this potentially disruptive fuel could help nations around the world meet their zero-carbon emission targets.

The green ammonia produced by the collaboration will be used not only by a wider market for a variety of uses, but also by GenCell, for the production of its fuel cells, making the startup’s technology even greener, Reshef said.

TDK will invest an initial $8.5 million to get to a proof of concept of the technology, Reshef said. The Japanese firm will also get first right to the developed product, he said.

“The first step is to make it happen,” he said, a process that could take some 30 months till the proof of concept. “Based on the outcome, we will define the next stage.”

The new technology, he said, “will enable the broad availability of green ammonia and the proliferation of self-sustaining green ammonia-driven ‘nano-power’ stations” that will move the world toward eliminating carbon emissions and neutralizing the climate crisis.

In November GenCell held an initial public offering of shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, marking the first public listing of a company in the hydrogen industry.

GenCell’s electricity generators are based on fuel cell technology — an electro-chemical process that happens between two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, generating clean energy. Spaceships and submarines use fuel cell energy because it is emission-free.

The firm says it has developed a way to make these cells cheaper to manufacture by replacing the platinum generally used in them with a combination of nickel and carbon and using a nanotechnology process. The technology can also generate hydrogen from ammonia.

TDK is a provider of batteries and electronic products that focuses on the automotive, industrial and consumer electronics, and information and communication technology markets. The company has a network of design and manufacturing locations and sales offices in Asia, Europe, and in North and South America. In fiscal 2020, TDK had total sales of $12.5 billion and employed about 107,000 people worldwide.

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