Chemical engineers have found a way to make 'green' ammonia from air, water and renewable electricity that does not require the high temperatures, high pressure and huge infrastructure currently needed to produce the compound.
The breakthrough, achieved by researchers from the University of NSW and University of Sydney, has major implications for commercial ammonia manufacturers such as Orica.
The new production method also has the potential to play a role in the global transition towards a hydrogen economy, where ammonia is increasingly seen as a solution to the problem of storing and transporting hydrogen energy.
Ammonia synthesis is considered to be one of the critical scientific achievements of the 20th century.
But it production has traditionally been energy intensive - requiring temperatures higher than 400 degrees Celsius and pressures greater than 200 standard atmospheres.
Dr Emma Lovell from UNSW's school of chemical engineering, said the traditional way to make ammonia - known as the Haber-Bosch process - was only cost-effective when produced on a massive scale due to the huge amounts of energy and expensive materials required.
"The current way we make ammonia via the Haber-Bosch method produces more CO2 than any other chemical-making reaction," she said.
"In fact, making ammonia consumes about 2 per cent of the world's energy and makes 1 per cent of its CO2 - which is a huge amount if you think of all the industrial processes that occur around the globe."
An Orica spokeswoman said the company was closely monitoring developments in the production of green ammonia.
"Orica is committed to playing our part in the decarbonisation of our industry, and late last year we set a target to reduce our Scope 1 and 2 operational emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030," she said.
"We are closely observing the progress of both green hydrogen and green ammonia technologies, and exploring the opportunities they present.
"We support the Federal Government's Technology Investment Roadmap and look forward to partnering with them to support the adoption of low emissions technology such as hydrogen and ammonia to decarbonise industry."
Dr Lovell said in addition to the big carbon footprint left by the Haber-Bosch process, having to produce millions of tonnes of ammonia in centralised locations meant more energy was required to transport it around the world, in addition to the hazards that go with storing large amounts of it in the one place.