Queen’s University researchers exploring ‘molecular sponge’ solution for ammonia emissions

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have partnered with the region’s agri-food industry to develop a ‘green’ solution to the problem of agricultural ammonia emissions.

Ammonia is released into the atmosphere and returns to the ground as nitrogen deposition encouraged by rainfall.

These nitrogen deposits are harmful to sensitive environments such as boglands and woodlands.

‘Making ammonia visible’

The recent report ‘Making Ammonia Visible’ was put together by the independent expert working group under the chairmanship of John Gilliland.

It called for greater education around the issue of agricultural ammonia emissions, the commissioning of more research to better understand the ammonia issue and the implementation of mitigation measures.

The report stated inventory figures showed 12% of the UK’s ammonia emissions come from Northern Ireland – a region which accounts for just 3% of the UK population and 6% of the UK’s land area.

Of this, 91% of all ammonia emissions in the region were found to have resulted from agriculture.

Researchers at Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Global Food Security have teamed up with eight industrial partners for the research, including:

  • AgriSearch;
  • Devenish Nutrition;
  • JMW Farms;
  • Monaghan Mushrooms;
  • Magdek;
  • Moy Park;
  • Dale Farm; and
  • Ocean Veg Ireland.

The research has secured £250,000 to explore the recycling of organic by-products from the food industry in a way which would allow those byproducts to ‘absorb’ ammonia emissions.

Dr. Panagiotis Manesiotis, from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, who is co-leading the project along with Prof. John McGrath, said: “Ammonia is a major polluter and, by creating a ‘sorbent’ to trap it, we can significantly reduce its presence in the atmosphere.

We will be using waste from the food industry to create this sorbent or ‘molecular sponge’, so the technology is inherently sustainable.

“In this way, we will not only clean up our environment, but also help protect those special habitats and Areas of Special Scientific Interest which are under threat.”

The funding has come through Agri-Food Quest – a collaboration between Queen’s University, Ulster University and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute – with funding from Invest NI.

Agri-Food Quest manager Stephane Durand said: “Agri-Food Quest competence centre is delighted to sponsor a project on mitigation measures to control the emission of ammonia.

“This project is a great example of what we can achieve with co-operation between government departments, universities and the whole industry to solve these problems and help drive growth in the agri-food sector without compromising the environment.”