Is Ammonia the zero-carbon emissions fuel we've been looking for?

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He's Creating a New Fuel Out of Thin Air — for 85 Cents per Gallon

Ammonia has been used as both an alternative fuel source and a surplus energy storage mechanism since the 1800s, and while its production is far less damaging to the environment than traditional oil and gas, it’s not without its pollutants. In order to create NH3, the ammonia-based fuel, one would have to build a massive production facility that still burns large quantities of fossil fuels and releases significant amounts of carbon in the production process.

But in 2014, Gordon — who’s spent his career producing active pharmaceutical ingredients for sale around the world — secured a patent for his long-time side project: a refrigerator-sized machine that turns water and air into a reusable, renewable, ammonia-based NH3. The project began in the early 2000s, and took almost nine years before it produced a usable prototype. The patent application was submitted the following year, at a time when Gordon says he didn’t even have transportation fuel on his radar. Today, he drives a converted Ford F-350 with a button on the dashboard that allows him to switch between traditional gasoline and one of the small tanks of colorless, strong-smelling NH3 gas sitting in back of the pickup truck.
 

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Interesting but there are two problems.

One is that ammonia is not an energy source, it's a storage medium for energy. It takes energy to manufacture and that energy can then be recovered and used when the ammonia is burned. The questions then are how environmental friendly are the power sources that supply the manufacturing, and how much loss is there in the system as a whole?

The other problem is of course that ammonia is highly toxic.
 
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When's the last time you drank gasoline safely?
Gasoline isn't actually that toxic and despite the name the Americans have given it, it's not usually a gas.

But don't get me wrong, as I said, it's really interesting. But the danger of having areas flooded by toxic gas after a car crash is something that has to be adressed.

There's also a question how efficient it is. We already have one alternative to gasoline/diesel powered engines. Electric engines are gaining ground fast and battery technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. That's what any new invention has to be compared to. An electric engine ultimately uses the same energy source as one powered by ammonia or hydrogen. Which of them is the most efficient one to translate the energy from the original source to suful pwoer for an engine? I don't know the answer to that and it's certainly worth looking at but we should keep in mind that there shouldn't be any huge differences between ammonia and hydrogen here and I haven't heard much about hydrogen powered vehicles recently.
 
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They mention cost per gallon and liter, but not the amount of energy in that volume compared to gasoline.

The reason hydrogen is not catching on is that it has to be heavily compressed to put a reasonable amount of fuel in the same space as a standard tank. That complicates storage and refilling since you have to maintain pressure.

The main objection that I would see is that ammonia is a gas. You can't just stick a nozzle in and refill. You either have swappable prefilled tanks like propane or you need to develop an idiot-proof pressurized refilling system.

The other objection is tank ruptures. When a gasoline tank breaks in an accident, you get a spill that is mostly liquid, which takes a fair amount of energy to ignite, and a small volume of more flammable gasoline vapor. Most crashes that result in a fuel spill do not lead to a fire because there is not usually an ignition source near enough to tbe spilled fuel.

Spilled ammonia is not just flammable (and at a lower temperature than liquid gasoline or diesel fuel) but is also a toxic vapor. Every auto accident is now a potential hazmat scene. Emergency personnel would need to carry breathing gear in case of ammonia leaks, and a full tank rupturing could close a highway for hours.

Even assuming that it is more efficient than gasoline and has an equal or greater energy density, widespread use of ammonia as a fuel creates more problems than it solves.
 

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The other objection is tank ruptures. When a gasoline tank breaks in an accident, you get a spill that is mostly liquid, which takes a fair amount of energy to ignite, and a small volume of more flammable gasoline vapor. Most crashes that result in a fuel spill do not lead to a fire because there is not usually an ignition source near enough to tbe spilled fuel.

Spilled ammonia is not just flammable (and at a lower temperature than liquid gasoline or diesel fuel) but is also a toxic vapor. Every auto accident is now a potential hazmat scene. Emergency personnel would need to carry breathing gear in case of ammonia leaks, and a full tank rupturing could close a highway for hours.
My god, this. Gasoline is volatile stuff yeah; but if a gas tank ruptures and gasoline spills on the ground you can stay in even the immediate vicinity without too much trouble as long as you don't kneel over the puddle and huff it. Concentrated ammonia released into the air on the other hand is simply not-f-with-able; it risks turning fender benders into mass casualty incidents.

 
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Alternative fuels are quite known for a while, one other possibility would just to switch over from gas to natural gas. Modern combustion engines are quite capable of using that, and you can user power to produce this gas.

The problems though remain, that ever nation needs ressources normally for three different field:

a) heating
b) transportation
c) power generation.

And the amounts are, depending on the globe, of each up to 1/3 of the cake. So even if you would solve the transportation problem, the question remains how to generate power and how to heat.

The problem is, that if we want to generate alternative fuels, most of those processes do rely on electrical power; fossil ressources don't have this issue, since they are more or less ancient solar power given form. So in order to be able to produce those, we would need vast amounts of more electrical and reliable power being available on our fingertips. And of course due to effciency some amounts of power are going to be lost in the transformation process.

The other remaining question is that putting the CO2 emissions to a halt according to the scientists is not enough; it must be reduced dramatically, so that it can be sucked out of the air by the biosphere again.
 
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despite the name the Americans have given it, it's not usually a gas.
I'll take notice of that the next time I'm pumping it into my horseless carriage.
 
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Ammonia scares me. Just mopping the kitchen floor with the highly-diluted liquid version of it requires us to evacuate the apartment while it airs out. We have agricultural processors here in the area that uses ammonia-based refrigeration, and when one of those things leak, half the town gets evacuated. I can't imagine getting into a fender-bender with a car carrying a compressed ammonia gas tank if that thing ruptures or the system springs a leak anywhere in it. As others have said, we already have good alternatives to gasoline-powered engines, and ammonia ain't it.
 

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My god, this. Gasoline is volatile stuff yeah; but if a gas tank ruptures and gasoline spills on the ground you can stay in even the immediate vicinity without too much trouble as long as you don't kneel over the puddle and huff it.


Guess I shouldn't kneel over any puddles in this mess, huh?
 
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Guess I shouldn't kneel over any puddles in this mess, huh?
Sure - but gigantic explosions of any pressurized tank of flammable liquid can kill people and cause devastation. The point is, with ammonia you don't even need an explosion. All you need is a leak that releases ammonia gas into the air, and anyone who breathes that stuff in who is lucky enough to survive is in for a long and painful recovery.

Put it another way. Imagine this same accident:



Only instead of one person dead (from being crushed, not due to fire or explosion from gasoline) the majority of the vehicle occupants are dead, from inhaling the released ammonia gas while trapped in their vehicles or just plain unable to quickly evacuate the immediate location.
 

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Guess I shouldn't kneel over any puddles in this mess, huh?
I remember when that happened. But, in fairness, that's not your typical automotive gas tank. If that had been a liquefied ammonia tanker, half of Fresno would be dead.
 
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Put it another way. Imagine this same accident
Let's try to stay away from imagined events and stick to the facts. Fear isn't going to educate us.

And the facts are... well, so far somewhat wanting in this thread. Would an ammonia-based product be an adequate and effective alternative to gasoline (sorry, petroleum-derived fuel sources)? I don't claim to have any special knowledge on that front.

I've checked out several fact sheets and Q&As on the topic today, looking for something to post here, but these are found on advocate sites, so the viewpoints are going to be somewhat rosier than someone with knowledge and an unbiased concern over the topic examining the facts, pro and con.
 

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If that had been a liquefied ammonia tanker, half of Fresno would be dead.
Which sounds scary, but would it happen? It's easy to imagine all sorts of horrors, even legitimately possible ones.

The China Syndrome was a frightening film.
 

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And the facts are... well, so far somewhat wanting in this thread. Would an ammonia-based product be an adequate and effective alternative to gasoline (sorry, petroleum-derived fuel sources)?
They mention cost per gallon and liter, but not the amount of energy in that volume compared to gasoline.

The reason hydrogen is not catching on is that it has to be heavily compressed to put a reasonable amount of fuel in the same space as a standard tank. That complicates storage and refilling since you have to maintain pressure.

The main objection that I would see is that ammonia is a gas. You can't just stick a nozzle in and refill. You either have swappable prefilled tanks like propane or you need to develop an idiot-proof pressurized refilling system.
It would require a redesign of vehicles to accommodate a compressed gas fuel source in the tanks and the fuel delivery system. The article quotes $1000 for a dual-use conversion of an existing vehicle. Assume you could eliminate some redundant parts, and we are looking at adding about $500 to the cost of each vehicle. Not accounting for new regulation and certification costs for the auto makers, states, and federal governments. As well as cost for new equipment added to repair shops.

Then factor the cost of new infrastructure for fuel delivery and vehicle filling. We are dealing with a gas, not a liquid, which requires much more sophisticated equipment to safely move between tanks. As an example, we can easily store gasoline and diesel in underground tanks because they are significantly heavier than air, and gravity just pulls it down. All these underground tanks become useless for storing ammonia gas. We need above-ground tanks with pressure fittings to move fuel from tankers to storage tanks and then into vehicles. Refueling your own car is no longer a simple operation. We either have attendants at pumps to ensure a safe connection, or we design reusable tanks that you swap out. Which requires a universal design unless you want to deal with finding a Ford tank and all the local stations are Honda.

Any gas has the same problem, and compressed gasses like hydrogen compound the problem even more. Leave aside the toxic, corrosive nature of ammonia, and just look at the massive infrastructure costs. It would have to be several magnitudes better than gasoline to make the switch from liquid to gas fuel. Some applications in mass transit and industry are effectively using liquid natural gas, and some other fuels like propane are used in specialty applications in industry, but they present a number of problems trying to scale up to where the average commuter can use them.

eta: After a quick search, it looks like it would take 27.4 gallons of uncompressed ammonia to equal an 8 gallon tank of gasoline.
 
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Let's try to stay away from imagined events and stick to the facts. Fear isn't going to educate us.
Yes, so let's look at my other objection then.

Industrial manufacture of ammonia today uses oil or natural gas as one of the raw materials so switching to it as fuel won't reduce the carbondioxide emission, it just moves it from the cars to the factories. That's not what Roger Gordon proposes though.

Here's the recipe for mass production of ammonia without using oil or natural gas:
  1. Take some air, and freeze it down until the nitrogen is liquid so it can be extracted.
  2. Take some water, send a lot of electricity through it so the water molecules split into oxygen and hydrogen.
  3. Mix the nitrogen and hydrogen, heat it up to 450C (that's 840 F for out American friends), and compress it to 100 athmospheres pressure.
This is all extremely energy consuming and no matter how you look at it, you will never ever be able to recover all that energy by burning the ammonia. That's the first law of thermodynamics and nobody's managed to break that one yet.

If that wasn't enough, the gas wil have to be transported to the buyer too. Take takes up a lot of energy.

And finally it has to be burned by the engine. A modern comnustion engine will typically use about 25% of the energy in the fuel it consumes. The rest is wasted as heat. Some very modern hyper-efficient engines can manage 50% efficiency. Older engines can be hard put to do 20%.

I don't know how efficient the system as a whole would be but if it's 5% (and I think that's rather optimistic), it means you need to put 20 times as much energy into the system as you get out of your car engine. How many power plants do we have to build to produce all that energy?
 

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