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Transportation Power Science

New Chemical Process Could Make Ammonia a Practical Car Fuel 380

overThruster (58843) writes A article says UK researchers have made a breakthrough that could make ammonia a practical source of hydrogen for fueling cars. From the article: "Many catalysts can effectively crack ammonia to release the hydrogen, but the best ones are very expensive precious metals. This new method is different and involves two simultaneous chemical processes rather than using a catalyst, and can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost. ... Professor Bill David, who led the STFC research team at the ISIS Neutron Source, said 'Our approach is as effective as the best current catalysts but the active material, sodium amide, costs pennies to produce. We can produce hydrogen from ammonia "on demand" effectively and affordably.'" The full paper. The researchers claim that a two-liter reaction chamber could produce enough hydrogen to power a typical sedan.
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New Chemical Process Could Make Ammonia a Practical Car Fuel

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  • Re:waste of time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by reanjr ( 588767 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:55PM (#47326879) Homepage

    Yes, because centrally planning technology development worked so well for Russia.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:56PM (#47326885)
    Ammonia reacts to form hydrogen. Hydrogen reacts in a fuel cell to produce electricity. Electricity drives the electric car. This is electrical storage, just one implemented as an irreversible flow battery rather than a solid rechargeable one.
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:57PM (#47326895) Journal
    Catalyst: "a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change."

    Yes, metals like palladium and rhodium cost a good chunk of change, but you don't need a lot of them, and you only need them once (per car). You add them in trace amounts to a porous honeycomb-like structure to maximize surface area, and bam, that whole gram of palladium adds $30 to the total cost of your car. Make no mistake, the more ways we have to accomplish a particular reaction, the better, and I consider TFA very cool news... But the cost of the catalyst wouldn't break the bank vs the cost of a new car.

    Call me paranoid, but I can tell you a much more realistic reason we don't already have cars running on ammonia - The DEA. I can't buy a goddamned bulk pack of (real, not reformulated) Sudafed without showing two forms of ID, and $Deity help me if I actually need to get more in the same month! On the other side of the meth equation, a convenient source of anhydrous ammonia would make it much easier and safer to manufacture, so no ammonia for you!
  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:57PM (#47326911) Homepage

    The last thing we need 30 years from now are 10 different types of car fuels cruising around.

    Long term, I should think it would be to our advantage to pursue as many different kinds of fuels as we can find.

    Because some might be better suited for some applications, and until you have a universal replacement for gasoline, you have no idea of what will be viable.

    You're suggesting we decide a winning technology now, and ignore all others. Problem is, we don't yet know what the winning technology is.

  • by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:02PM (#47326973)

    There is no money to be made by selling the world something it needs for just pennies.

    Um, yeah. Just ask this guy [].

  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:02PM (#47326989)

    Actually, we should spend a bit more money on increasing traffic control and road design efficiency. Every car gets 0 miles to the gallon unnecessarily stopped at a light.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:02PM (#47326991) Homepage
    The reason we use gasoline as a fuel is because it is incredibly cheap. It costs less than pretty much anything else you can think of, with the exception of tap water in locations where tap water is common.

    The reason why the gas companies have power is not because they are magic, but because they sell it so cheaply, yet make a huge profit.

    So when you say "damned sure no will will ever allow this to be a legit fuel for cars", you are basically wrong. The proof is that diesel and ethanol additives are also sold as fuel.

    If this was cheaper per gallon than gasoline, without any additional problems (i.e. cars still went as fast, no deadly poisons released), then you would be trampled by the rush to convert cars to ammonia.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:04PM (#47327017)

    Yeah, because that's a limitless fuel.

    Translation: Basement-dwelling pasty Slashdot poster takes time between Mommy bringing down meals to throw rocks at things he doesn't like, thinks he knows what's best, and everyone else is an idiot.

    The only match for your limitless ego is your lack of awareness regarding your limitless stupidity.

  • by countach74 ( 2484150 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:09PM (#47327075)

    It makes perfectly good business sense. If you were an entrepreneur, wouldn't you be very happy to move to such a technology, drastically undercutting the oil companies? Contrary to popular belief, businesses don't generally make killings because they charge a lot, but rather because they don't charge a lot, relative to other alternatives. If you were one of the first firms to enter such a market (assuming the consuming public moves on this new tech) and make a very handsome profit, charging far more than your input costs. New players will eventually enter the market and big down prices, but since you were [one of the] first players, you got to make a killing. That is how economics works. The market rewards the first entrants to a market via profits above and beyond the going rate of return.

    Actually, I think the crux of the problem is that you don't understand price theory. Price is not determined by the cost of the inputs. Rather, society determines the price via their actions in purchasing or not purchasing a good (and of course to nearly infinite extents of purchasing vs not purchasing). The more society wants a good, the higher prices will be driven up (all things the same), inducing more competitors to the market who compete for the lion's share, in turn bidding down the price until equilibrium is reached. (Nevermind that equilibrium almost certainly will change before it is ever reached.)

  • by Maxwell ( 13985 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:21PM (#47327167) Homepage

    Uhm, we're pretty close to that already. About 700 miles give or take. Tesla can do 250 easy, some are pushing 300. So a 1 hr full charge stop (you do have to eat, right?) plus another 30 minute stop (pee break) to 50% charge would get you there. Next year, in the lighter Model X a single 1hr stop might do it.

    You'll need a new excuse soon. I suggest Miami to Seattle. People are *constantly* driving that route, so if an electric can't do it, it will never be a success.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Altus ( 1034 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:38PM (#47327341) Homepage

    4. Find out "fresh" battery has gone through so many cycles it only has half its capacity left and find yourself stranded just short of the next "filling" station.

    Look, all of these technologies have issues... maybe those batteries made from carbon that supposedly don't loose their capacity will end up being practical in a large scale, that would be great, but also, maybe this design will turn out to be a huge boon for the hydrogen car industry, basically solving one of the biggest problem in hydrogen fuel cells.... how to store enough hydrogen safely to have a reasonable rage.

    Now I would be curious how the energy density of Ammonia, converted using this process, compares to that of gasoline which is currently pretty much top of the heap for portable energy density. It would also be nice to know how it compares to the current generation of batteries.

    Everyone has their own particular chosen winner/looser but that is stupid. Innovation could come from anywhere and right now we need all the irons in the fire that we can get. We can't afford to put all of our sustainability money behind one thing that may or may not turn out to be the best choice in the long run.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @04:19PM (#47327695)

    Your geo metro also accelerates slowly, can't carry much (all 3 square feet of storage space) and get squished in an accident because it's the size of a postage stamp.

    Meanwhile, for a little less efficiency, my Honda Civic has pulled trailers across the country (added a hitch), tons of storage room and is relatively safe.

    The chances of surviving a real crash in a Metro is slim to none... You go ahead and tell me how that head on crash goes for you WHEN it happens. I know I'm still walking...

    I think you miss the original poster's point. Obviously safety standards have improved since the Metro came out. But really, are you thinking that having air bags and crumple zones makes a car less fuel efficient? The reason the Metro gets good mileage is that it is relatively light weight and doesn't have a high horse power engine that allows one to far exceed the design specification of the vehicle.

    There is no doubt that a Honda Civic is a good car, but as for efficiency, it is more than a "little less" unless your civic gets around 50 or 60 miles per gallon. When the civic was first introduced to the US in the 70s, it was a very fuel efficient sub compact economy car. Today's Civic, while a wonderful car is not any of those things.

    What causes a vehicle to be fuel efficient is aerodynamics and low weight. The engines are more fuel efficient than even a decade ago, but manufactures have used that increased efficiency to build bigger cars instead of burning less oil.

    Think of a race car. It's one of the most fuel efficient vehicles made. It squeezes every bit of energy out of the fuel that there is. And yet, it gets lousy mileage (but great HP). What is more efficient in solving real world problems, creating a car that can accelerate quicker without using more fuel than it's predecessor or one that can get from point A to point B on less fuel than it's predecessor. Engineers seem to think it is the former where as scientists say we need the latter.

  • by jcochran ( 309950 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @04:36PM (#47327837)

    Unfortunately, it needs to be anhydrous ammonia.
    Looking at the paper, what they're doing is

    1. Convert sodium amide into metallic sodium, hydrogen, and nitrogen.
    2. Convert ammonia and metallic sodium into sodium amide and hydrogen.

    They can easily balance those two reactions.
    However, if there's any water in the system, there will be a 3rd reaction going on as well.
    3. Convert water and metallic sodium into sodium hydroxide and hydrogen.
    That 3rd reaction would effectively consume the sodium prevent it from making more sodium amide.

    Given how nasty anhydrous ammonia is, I definitely know I wouldn't want to be anywhere near an accident involving it.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by s122604 ( 1018036 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @06:07PM (#47328595)
    Cars don't have to be as fast as they are today, but thats what people, driven by the automotive press, have decided they want. Today's toyota camry and honda accord both can be bought with engines that approach 300HP and have sub 6 second 0 to 60 times.

    40 years ago, that was the realm of sports cars. Now we have that with dime-a-dozen, bake-potato-on-wheels flagship sedans

    build a sedan with a 10 second 0 to 60, which used to be quite common, and your car will be universally lambasted as "sluggish".

    even the new kia sedona minivan has a 0 to 60 of 7.4 seconds and a quarter mile just over 15 seconds..
  • Re:waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @06:09PM (#47328609)

    I don't know the figures, so I don't know if it's just Americans that aren't used to them, but accidents on roundabouts are much less dangerous. That's a decent trade-off, even if there are more accidents.

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. -- Oscar Wilde