New Process of Extracting Hydrogen from Ammonia Claimed as Breakthrough Auto Fuel

There’s an interesting article posted on Phys.org today reporting on an announcement by researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the United Kingdom who claim a breakthrough has been achieved in the field of hydrogen production. The scientists report they have developed a process of ‘cracking’ ammonia by using two simultaneous chemical process rather than using a traditional catalyst to perform this function.

Lead researcher Bill David states about the process:

“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. Few people think of ammonia as a fuel but we believe that it is the natural alternative to fossil fuels. For cars, we don’t even need to go to the complications of a fuel-cell vehicle. A small amount of hydrogen mixed with ammonia is sufficient to provide combustion in a conventional car engine. While our process is not yet optimised, we estimate that an ammonia decomposition reactor no bigger than a 2-litre bottle will provide enough hydrogen to run a mid-range family car.”

I find this to be an interesting proposal. One of the difficulties often mentioned with using hydrogen as fuel for vehicles is that hydrogen is hard to store since it leaks so easily — making hydrogen tanks in cars very expensive. Ammonia, while a dangerous substance, is the second most commonly produced chemical in the world (used as a common fertilizer) and is routinely stored and transported in storage tanks — so a robust infrastructure already exists for its distribution, unlike with hydrogen. Having an on-board process to extract hydrogen from an ammonia tank could be an interesting transportation technology.

In evaluating ammonia as a fuel source, you also need to consider how it is produced. Most ammonia nowadays is produced from extracting hydrogen from natural gas — of course a fossil fuel. However there are other (currently more expensive) sustainable methods of extracting ammonia from the decomposition of vegetable matter. Ammonia an also be produced from hydrogen production in electrolysis processes. Some have suggested that LENR could be an important energy source in creating synthetic hydrocarbon products that can be used in today’s vehicles. By the same token — LENR could some day be used as an energy source in the production of ammonia via electrolysis which could be used in fertilizers, and possibly as a transportation fuel if this new process goes anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pekka Janhunen

    I would assume that it’s possible to make a tank (or set of tanks, or microtank capsules inside a larger tank) which bursts only if the accident is to strong that the passenger compartment is effectively crushed. I’m not a safety engineer, but I would think that this is a case where one shouldn’t give up NH3 without detailed look.

    • Pekka Janhunen

      I mean: it should be possible, and not too difficult, to design a tank which is less fragile than man. Man is fragile compared to hardware.

      • Andreas Moraitis

        One would have to think not only of the passengers of the car, but also of other road-users and non-participant bystanders.

        • Pekka Janhunen

          Yes. I found some Finnish document compilation on ammonia risks and safety distances in different countries (http://www.vtt.fi/inf/julkaisut/muut/2010/VTT-R-02830-10.pdf). For example in France, if the amount of NH3 is less than 150 kg there are no formalities, in range 150-1500 kg one must inform officials, and above 1500 kg one needs a permission. In a car the mass would be 50-100 kg so in France it would be below “detection limit”.

          On highways speeds are high and maximal crash energy might perhaps burst a tank, but on highways there are no passerbys. A chain accident is a possibility, though. In cities there are many bystanders, but speeds and therefore maximum crash energies are lower so that one can give strong guarantees that tank ruptures are unlikely. If someone drives rally in a densely crowded place, there are more imminent problems to consider besides potential tank rupture.

          • GreenWin

            While safety issues may be solved, these H2/NH3 schemes still require a liquid fuel infrastructure. This is a century old concept that has marred our cities and roadsides with gas stations. Do we convert from a highly flammable liquid to a highly poisonous one? To keep big fuel companies in business?

            Or move on to truly distributed energy produced as we do ice today, at the point of use? LENR and rooftop solar allow BEVs to recharge at home, office, car parks, retail sales malls or roadside charge stations with a fraction of infrastructure needed by liquid/gaseous fuels. Today. The cost of that energy will remain a fraction of liquid fuels because it is produced “in-situ.”

            Tesla already has a network of solar charge stations across the US where their customers recharge for free. That’s FREE. The days of transmitting or distributing energy over vast distance are coming to an end. The planet will be far cleaner and less compromised (by gas stations, HV transmission towers, wires, transformers, sub-stations, etc.) – because of it.

            • Pekka Janhunen

              If we assume that LENR can produce electricity and heat anywhere, then I don’t think that a NH3/H2 gas station network requires more infrastructure than a network of EV recharging stations. The raw materials needed to make NH3/H2 are air, water and energy – in a desert perhaps availability of water is an issue, but also an electricity-generating HotCat probably might in practice need water for cooling.

              I agree that if LENR produces energy anywhere, then transportation of electricity or fluids over long distances is not needed. But if LENR is too big or too slow to fit in a car, then one needs some other energy carrier for cars. In comparison to EV, liquids have the benefit of giving a low mass and low cost vehicle, conveniently long range and fast tanking time.

  • Veblin

    Why is there no link to this post on main blog page? It seems you can only get here clicking next or previous post links, or if there is a recent comment link.

  • GreenWin

    The fossil/fission cartels are getting mighty nervous. They see their infrastructure being dismantled by an entirely new, clean, green, abundant source of energy. Their response is to bang on about combustion, it seems focused now on H2. Will combustion ever compete with a OU thermal CHP technology such as the E-Cat. No. It’s expensive, dangerous and… relies on combustion.

    Consumers offered an ability to drive EVs which recharge (“fuel”) at home and work – or pay $4.00+ per gallon or equivalent of fossil fuel – will opt for EVs. Why remain enslaved by expensive, dangerous, enviro-damaging liquid fuels when you can buy/produce electricity at $0.02/kWh?? Or capture solar from your rooftop??

    There will be no H2 economy (outside LENR hydrides) on planet Earth simply because it cannot compete at any level with LENR. The big boys playing hardball are going to learn a hard lesson. That is, they have no technology that can compete with LENR. Sorta like an F-35 trying to chase down a fast walker. It simply ain’t gonna happen. Live it, or live with it.

    • georgehants

      GreenWin, just maybe Cold Fusion will break through the conspiracy to hide before the fast walkers.

    • Pekka Janhunen

      We don’t know yet how agile the E-cat is when optimised. If the response time is about an hour, one needs so large battery in a car to buffer it that it’s almost like EV, and NH3/H2 may find a use. But if it’s 10 minutes, then direct LENR buffered by batteries looks attractive. Must wait for the info before knowing if NH3/H2 economy is relevant or not.

      • GreenWin

        Pekka, I’m not proposing LENR direct – rather, following Tesla Motors lead with ever more energy dense batteries. Tesla/Panasonic battery gigafactories will drive chemical storage cost below liquid fuels. A whole lot simpler BEV technology — Batteries and Electric Vehicle drive. In near term. Even SOFC-ammonia fueled systems will never compete economically. Just as fission nukes cannot compete currently.

        There will remain a significant market for heavy lift transport; e.g. trucking and aircraft. Those markets, non-fuel petroleum and plastics will be little effected by LENR. If Exxon/Mobile wants to stay in light transport they can license LENR and design, manufacture, install, and service electric generation systems. Convert gas stations to BEV service stations. Market for BEVs is only going to grow. Worldwide.

        • Pekka Janhunen

          If gasoline would be cheap, inexhaustible and environmentally friendly, EVs would not look attractive. Given clean energy at powerplant level (LENR, solar or whatever), NH3 has those qualities, except for the fact that it’s poisonous. The case interests me because the poisonousness problem is potentially solvable by technical solutions such as gelling, microtanking or common reliability engineering.

  • Pekka Janhunen

    It’s interesting, but as far as I know, all technical elements for building up an “ammonia economy” already exist even without new discoveries. Ammonia can be burned directly in internal combustion engine. Once hydrogen is available (e.g. from electrolysis powered by electricity generated by solar panels or LENR), ammonia can be made from hydrogen and air by the well-known Haber-Bosch process. All in all, ammonia is made from water, air and energy, and when it burns, it releases the same. It’s an energy carrier and energy storage medium.

    Ammonia’s only significant drawback is its poisonous nature, but it’s already now routinely transported by railroads and trucks in large scale without problems, and people happily use e.g. natural gas and hydrogen car engines although those can be explosive if they leak out from the tank. In my opinion, ammonia has a worse reputation that it would deserve, probably because it’s smelly – but the smell is also a benefit because it makes detecting leaks easy.

    Perhaps it would be possible to gel ammonia to reduce its evaporation in case of tank rupture. NASA studied gelled propellants in the 1990’s (kerosene and LH2) to increase the safety of launch vehicles. Many gelling agents were used, I think one was cellulose fibres (the amount required is small so that much carbon one can have from biological sources). I haven’t heard of gelling being applied to ammonia, but why wouldn’t it work if it works for other fuels.

  • Fortyniner

    Light metal hydrides such as lithium hydride make the storage of hydrogen relatively safe, which ammonia could never be. A small amount of heat is required to begin decomposition of hydrides to produce hydrogen on demand – after that a controlled amount of exhaust heat would be all that was required.

    Of course ammonia would have the major advantage that a tank could be refilled at fuel stations, while hydride storage would require a network of container exchange stations. I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere near a car crash where ammonia fuel was leaking from ruptured pipes though (let alone involved in one).