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

Clara D.

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This isn't rocket science... *cough*
It could be...

Another substance mentioned for use as a propellant in the nuclear rocket is ammonia. While offering only about one-half the specific impulse of hydrogen for the same reactor temperature as a consequence of its greater molecular weight, it is a liquid at reasonable temperatures and is easily handled. Its density is also much greater than hydrogen, being about the same as that of gasoline.
tl:dr --- PROPELLANTS
 
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Clara D.

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Alternative fuel article:

airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and Qatar Airways have thrown their weight behind companies developing ATJ fuels, as has the US Department of Defense, which is in the process of trialling ATJ fuels produced by global chemicals company Gevo. Each company developing ATJ fuels adopts a slightly different process or feedstock, but they are all unified in their belief ATJ fuels will be approved for commercial use by certificating body ASTM International within two years and, following that, can be rapidly scaled up.
IN FOCUS: Airlines turn to alcohol as potential jet fuel replacement
 
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The article linked in the OP pretty much agrees that this would not be a solution on a large scale.
I sort of skimmed over that as being a lack of vision or a qualified support on his part for his work, as he also says "I didn’t have the wherewithal to try it as a transportation fuel," and drives around in a truck where he can switch back and forth between unleaded and unliquified. But...
 

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It could be...
Well. OK sure. But then no one is driving space rockets around Houston and Fresno and the interstate highway system. At least, they shouldn't be.

And if a rocket blows up, don't we just get disappointed in NASA or Elon Musk?
 

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This isn't rocket science... *cough*
Wenher von Braun would be quite disappointed by that news. He'd have to go back in time and use something else then after we dig him up and zombify him.
 
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I sort of skimmed over that as being a lack of vision or a qualified support on his part for his work, as he also says "I didn’t have the wherewithal to try it as a transportation fuel," and drives around in a truck where he can switch back and forth between unleaded and unliquified. But...
I thought it was realistic. Imagine every gas station having to replace their tanks and pumps at the same time. Realistically, it would start at larger stations, replacing one tank and set of pumps, and rolling out more infrastructure as adoption of the new fuel standard picks up. But all of our current infrastructure cost money and resulted in CO2 emissions from manufacturing and construction. And now we would have to do it again, but with a more expensive design. Gas stations operate on razor thin margins already, taking 2-3 cents per gallon on the final sales. That money has to come from somewhere.

Even if the ammonia is liquefied for storage and becomes gas either when it is transferred to vehicles or as it is mixed in the vehicle throttle bodies, it still requires new storage tanks capable of handling the pressure of liquid ammonia (you can make it a liquid by increasing the pressure and/or by lowering the temperature). If it is transferred to vehicles as a liquid, that requires a high-pressure fuel system. If it is transferred to vehicles as a gas, it needs much larger fuel tanks for the same range as a gasoline or diesel engine.
 
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[Wernher] von Braun would be quite disappointed by that news.
As long as he keeps it below 30,000 mph on the highway, I'll let it pass.
 
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Alcohol as a fossil-fuel replacement sounds more viable all the way 'round.
Let's not rule out making bio-diesel using algae. It's not well developed technology yet, but appears to have promise and has the advantage that we can grow it using municipal waste water.
 

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Since the thread title refers to a potential "zero-carbon" solution, I guess my questions on alternatives like alcohol and biodiesel is, how clean do they burn in comparison to gasoline? How would the carbon "footprint" of their industry/infrastructure compare to our current situation?
 
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We already have an alternative to fossil-fuel combustion; it's called EVs. It's a proven technology, already operable and commercially viable.
 
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There is a benefit in using recent carbon instead of ancient carbon. Digging up fuel that has not been actively part of the carbon cycle for hundreds of millions of years has the most negative impact. Growing algae using carbon from human waste is reusing material that is still part of the active carbon cycle. So we may not be reducing the net amount of carbon in use, but we are not adding either.

The lowest carbon cost comes from renewable energy and nuclear power. These still lead to emissions from manufacture and deployment, but have far more energy output fro the investment. Solar and nuclear power can be more efficient, and there is promising research that we really need to fund better. If the oil companies put the same resources into new power sources that they do propping up fossil fuels, than we could make better progress.

The only real zero-carbon solution is to simply use less. Public transit, local food production, and other options that simply use less power all have much better benefits than changing what it is we burn.
 
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We already have an alternative to fossil-fuel combustion; it's called EVs. It's a proven technology, already operable and commercially viable.
It's only a replacement for fossil fuel if your electricity is generated without using fossil fuels. Otherwise we are just moving the burning away from the consumer. There is a benefit to centralizing power production if you improve carbon capture at the source.
 

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Since the thread title refers to a potential "zero-carbon" solution, I guess my questions on alternatives like alcohol and biodiesel is, how clean do they burn in comparison to gasoline? How would the carbon "footprint" of their industry/infrastructure compare to our current situation?
Ethanol, Italicized the interesting bit.

Producing and burning ethanol results in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. However, the combustion of ethanol made from biomass (such as corn and sugarcane) is considered atmospheric carbon neutral because as the biomass grows, it absorbs CO2, which may offset the CO2 produced when the ethanol is burned. Some ethanol producers burn coal and natural gas for heat sources in the fermentation process to make fuel ethanol, while some burn corn stocks or sugar cane stocks.

The effect that increased ethanol use has on net CO2 emissions depends on how ethanol is made and whether or not indirect impacts on land use are included in the calculations. Growing plants for fuel is a controversial topic because some people believe the land, fertilizers, and energy used to grow biofuel crops should be used to grow food crops instead.

The U.S. government is supporting efforts to produce ethanol with methods that use less energy than conventional fermentation and that use cellulosic biomass, which requires less cultivation, fertilizer, and pesticides than corn or sugar cane. Cellulosic ethanol feedstock includes native prairie grasses, fast growing trees, sawdust, and even waste paper.
Ethanol and the Environment - Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy - Energy Information Administration
 

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It's only a replacement for fossil fuel if your electricity is generated without using fossil fuels. Otherwise we are just moving the burning away from the consumer. There is a benefit to centralizing power production if you improve carbon capture at the source.
I disagree. The coal is being burned to produce electricity anyway; the same coal being burned PLUS ICE vehicle emissions is more overall pollution than just the coal being burned by itself. EVs are definitely a step down.

But, meh, this is moot - because fossil-fuel produced electricity IS gradually being replaced by clean sources.
 
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Clara D.

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Main problem with ethanol and food-oil-based biodiesel is the space to grow the plants needed.

In spite of all the political and media attention that biofuels have gotten recently, the sad truth is that even if all of the corn and soybean production in America were dedicated to their production, the country would replace only 12% of gasoline consumption and meet a mere 6% of diesel demand.
To this end, DuPont and BP are now pursuing the production of biobutanol -- an alcohol that can be manufactured from sugar beets. But unlike other biofuels, butanol possesses some unique characteristics. For instance, it can be blended with gasoline at higher concentrations and it has the extra added benefit of being able to be distributed via the gasoline industry's existing infrastructure, whereas ethanol can be shipped only by truck or train.
What's so exciting about cellulosic ethanol is that it has the potential to offer a very high net-energy impact. It can also be produced from feedstocks that use little to no fertilizer. These sources are abundant and aren't major sources of food -- and thus won't drive up food prices as we've seen as of late with corn prices. As an added benefit, it's believed that as the technology improves, the amount of ethanol produced per acre can increase significantly. Some experts have estimated that the figure could reach as high as 2,700 gallons per acre by 2030.
Fueling the Debate: Ethanol vs. Biodiesel -- The Motley Fool

IMHO, corn is a shite source compared to sugar beets/cane.

the numbers are footnotes, why they're in a weird order, I cut it up to make it less wall-o-text.

Firstly, producing ethanol from corn (which is the method used in the US) is approximately 5 to 6 times less efficient than producing it from sugarcane. As a result, ethanol production from corn, or maize, depends on subsidies.

[3] These subsidies to pay fuel blenders and ethanol refineries, along with the consumption of a food crop to produce the fuel as well as the use of vast expanses of land for maize production, have been cited as reasons for the rising cost of corn.

[2] Sugarcane is not used in the US because it does not grow as efficiently in the less tropical conditions of the US. Sugar beets have been suggested as an alternative, as they produce approximately the same amount of ethanol as corn without requiring as high overheads. Corn produces only about 330-424 gallons/acre of ethanol and has a greenhouse gas savings of only 10-20% over petroleum-based gasoline.

[3] In a 2004 report by the International Energy Agency, researchers estimated that only approximately 1.34 units of fuel energy were returned for each unit of energy expended.

[4] This low "energy balance" is due to the energy expenses in the distillation process used in the United States, as well as the low ethanol production from corn.
Ethanol Fuel Production
 
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Since the thread title refers to a potential "zero-carbon" solution, I guess my questions on alternatives like alcohol and biodiesel is, how clean do they burn in comparison to gasoline? How would the carbon "footprint" of their industry/infrastructure compare to our current situation?
That's a good question. The combustion of ethanol produces carbon dioxide. When you factor in the petroleum inputs in the growing and harvesting of corn and in the production of ethyl alcohol, it's difficult to tell if it would produce less carbon dioxide than just burning the gasoline equivalent directly.

Edit: Or, what Clara said.
 
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Since the thread title refers to a potential "zero-carbon" solution, I guess my questions on alternatives like alcohol and biodiesel is, how clean do they burn in comparison to gasoline? How would the carbon "footprint" of their industry/infrastructure compare to our current situation?
Alcohols and other biofuels have a zero net carbon fuel cycle, in that all the carbon released to the atmosphere by burning them came from the atmosphere, over a recent timescale, in the first place. BUT the energy involved in their production and transport is not necessarily free of carbon impact. If they were produced using 100% solar or wind power and a portion of the production used to fuel their transportation they would be net-zero in carbon emissions. To date, however, this goal has not been achieved.

Given the greater ease with which NH3 can be handled in quantity on a fixed site with much more massive infrastructure than available to a vehicle I can see a role for it here as the means for storing renewable energy for use in biofuel production. The production cycle for NH3 is much shorter than the biochemical processes that produce biofuels. Something like dispersed generation of (erratic) solar and wind power -> transmission to central facility for immediate NH3 production -> NH3 consumption to provide steady-state power to bioreactors -> biofuel. Other than the fixed costs of building eh infrastructure, that would be net zero on carbon.
 

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Well Three miles island, Chernobyl and Fukushima are reality. And a much less known core melt in Switzerland in the 60s as well, which happened under a mountain where the reactor was contained.
Meanwhile, there's a renewed push to seek out (yes, safer) nuclear power options. Not for cars, of course. Hopefully my point in bringing up the film was obvious. Because I'm not digging back through the quagmire to explain it.