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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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  • Now I'm confused ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:54PM (#47326873) Homepage

    OK, I'm officially confused.

    According to wiki []:

    A typical modern ammonia-producing plant first converts natural gas (i.e., methane) or LPG (liquefied petroleum gases such as propane and butane) or petroleum naphtha into gaseous hydrogen. The method for producing hydrogen from hydrocarbons is referred to as "Steam Reforming".[2] The hydrogen is then combined with nitrogen to produce ammonia via the Haber-Bosch process.

    So, we're going to generate hydrogen, so we can make ammonia, and then we're going to ... use the ammonia to make hydrogen?

    Either I'm completely not understanding my own link, or there's a magic step in there which eludes me.

    If you're already efficiently making hydrogen to make ammonia,and you wanted hydrogen for fuel, why not skip the step of making ammonia?

    I guess the obvious conclusion is that it's easier and safer to deal with ammonia, but my dad used to manage refrigeration plants, and ammonia isn't something you fool around with either.

  • Re:waste of time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Varka ( 767489 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:55PM (#47326877)
    If I can't drive from Atlanta to Chicago without multiple hour stopovers, it's no-go. What I think we NEED are electric/gas hybrids; something I can head back and forth to work in solely on plug-in power, yet I can kick a small electric generator on for essentially unlimited range.
  • by richtopia ( 924742 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @02:59PM (#47326939)
    It is a density issue. Hydrogen is difficult to transport and store. One solution would be to truck ammonia to the service station, where you can dump it into below ground storage and generate/compress H2 on demand. The other option would be to perform the H2 generation onboard of the car, but the issues of the toxicity of ammonia would still require fancy fuel tanks so I think the local generation model would be superior.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:02PM (#47326987)

    no moving parts and you can use an electric motor to power it. an electric motor is 95% effeceient, while even gas turbines are only around 45%

    math favors the fuel cell. depending on how light you can build the fuel cell and how small you can build an electric turbine motor, this could work well for aircraft, boats, and cars.

    battery vehicles don't work very well for ships and aircraft.

  • Energy Storage (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2014 @03:49PM (#47327449)

    A lot of people don't really understand the energy storage problem. Even if storing an ammonia based fuel isn't as efficient as storing electricity directly, it is incredibly more efficient to transport and deliver to the vehicle in question. It doesn't make sense to transport electricity thousands of miles and invest heavily in a distribution grid for it when we already have a liquid fuel system in place. You don't lose a portion of fuel in transit, gas tanks don't hold less and less fuel with every fill-up, and you can fill them almost instantaneously.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @04:08PM (#47327607)

    For the conversion from Ammonia to Hydrogen: Nitrogen.
    Ammonia is NH3, so you'd get mostly Hydrogen and a byproduct of 1 nitrogen atom.
    Nitrogen is already 78% of the earths atmosphere, and not a greenhouse gas. So it's not bad... at all.

    Once you have the hydrogen, you mix it with oxygen and light it. (assuming you don't use it in a fuel cell)
    You can literally put hydrogen into a normal combustion engine and it will run on it.
    Hydrogen is 3x as energy dense as gasoline. So it works fantastically well. Newer cars with computers would need some modification. But if you're using an old carborated engine it works great.
    What comes out the exhaust is water.
    I've actually experimented with this. I have a "Rock crawler" (imagine a mini-monster truck) and one thing we're always dealing with is when trying to go up or down extreme angles gasoline engines tend not to work so hot. They like to be level. Hydrogen doesn't care if its upside down. I eventually went with natural gas. Hydrogen is hard to get in remote areas. But you can get a natural gas tank filled just about anywhere. But yea, if I could create it from stored ammonia I'd probably go back to it. The engine ran a lot better on it than natural gas.

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

    by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @04:13PM (#47327649)

    Roundabouts are a good solution as you said in rural areas and also in residential neighborhoods. In low traffic situations, they work great to prevent having to stop in most situations. But yes, go to Carmel, IN (north side of Indianapolis). Try to go east or west through the town during rush hour (most traffic going north or south). You can't. Block a roundabout with traffic going one way, and all ways come to a dead stop, probably backing that street up to clog up another roundabout and you get a chain reaction from intersection to intersection.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2014 @04:31PM (#47327803)

    Anhydrous ammonia is used by meth cooks. The DEA will simply not allow it to become a readily available vehicle fuel.
    It is also used in the manufacture of explosives, thus the BATF will never allow it either.

    Just the very notion of selling anhydrous ammonia outside of tightly controlled industrial and agricultural marketplaces is a no-starter.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard