Portable ammonia factories could fuel clean cars

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Portable ammonia factories could fuel clean cars

From the current issue of New Scientist

 

 

FORGET hydrogen: ammonia could be the answer to developing an emissions-free fuel for cars.

Ammonia produces just nitrogen and water vapour when burned and, unlike hydrogen, it is relatively easy to store in liquid form. That means transporting ammonia will not require costly new infrastructure, says John Fleming of SilverEagles Energy in Lubbock, Texas.

Fleming and Tim Maxwell at Texas Tech University, also in Lubbock, are developing a system to produce ammonia that can be installed in filling stations. Powered by mains electricity, it first produces hydrogen from water using electrolysis, then combines it with nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia.

To achieve this, the researchers have adapted the Haber-Bosch process used to make ammonia industrially. Their version works on a small scale and can make ammonia fairly cheaply.

In their system, a piston rapidly compresses hydrogen and nitrogen, heating the gases to 400 °C. The mixture is fed into a chamber containing an iron oxide catalyst, which sparks a reaction that further heats the gases and generates ammonia. In a third chamber, the mixture decompresses and cools down to room temperature. As it does so, it pushes against another piston, from which mechanical energy is recovered and fed back to the compressor, significantly cutting the process's power consumption.

Finally, a heat pump cools the mixture down to around -75 °C, liquefying the ammonia for collection.

The team say the whole system could fit within a standard container and could therefore be transported by truck for installation at filling stations, where it could make between 4000 and 40,000 litres of ammonia per day. Maxwell adds that the system has a modular design, so it can easily be scaled up to produce more. The ammonia could be made for just 20 cents per litre, they claim.

Edman Tsang, a chemist at the University of Oxford, says that a mobile unit that can turn water and electricity from renewable energy sources into fuel ammonia would be useful in remote areas. Fleming and Maxwell are already working with the US army and air force, who have each expressed interest in using the technology on the battlefield.

However, Tsang is not convinced that the hydrogen needed to make ammonia can be produced economically using electrolysis. Fleming and Maxwell claim to have got round this hurdle, too (see "Hydrogen on the cheap&quotEye-wink.

Conventional cars can already make use of ammonia - they can run on a mixture that is 90 per cent gasoline and 10 per cent ammonia, says Fleming. So-called flexible-fuel vehicles, which use a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, could also be modified to run on a fuel that is up to 85 per cent ammonia. Such vehicles have sensors that constantly detect the exact proportion of gasoline and ethanol being fed through, and adjust their fuel injection and spark timing accordingly. To run on ammonia, the vehicles would need to be reprogrammed and equipped with a fuel tank capable of storing ammonia under pressure.

The team are also designing an engine that could run purely on ammonia. Called the Linear Electric Internal Combustion Engine, it is based on an existing design, known as a free piston engine, in which the burning air and ammonia mixture moves a piston forwards and backwards. This is used to drive a generator, the electricity from which powers a motor that turns the wheels.

Hydrogen on the cheap

A device being developed by John Fleming of SilverEagles Energy and Tim Maxwell from Texas Tech University could halve the cost of making hydrogen by electrolysis.

Conventional electrolysis units are made up of more than 100 2-volt cells connected in series, ensuring they can be powered by a 240-volt mains electricity supply. By using a transformer-like device to step the mains voltage down to 1.75 volts, Fleming has been able to simplify the design to use just eight cells. This makes the units much cheaper to manufacture and operate.

The pair claim their design can produce hydrogen at $2.80 per kilogram, compared to $5.20 per kg for conventional electrolysis units.

 

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I suspect there are hundreds

I suspect there are hundreds of different ways we could cleanly power our vehicles. I fear even if they brought a cost effective model out soon it would still be ages before I could swop over.

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When they start mass

When they start mass producing clean cars, of any kind, lets make sure we put the factories in a slave labor country like China. That way we could drive the wages down over here even further.

Who gives a fuck about good paying jobs here, as long as we can buy cheap crap.

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Brian37 wrote:

When they start mass producing clean cars, of any kind, lets make sure we put the factories in a slave labor country like China. That way we could drive the wages down over here even further.

Who gives a fuck about good paying jobs here, as long as we can buy cheap crap.

 

but sadly true. 

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Corporate...

How likely is it that this will ever actually become part of how we power our cars? I remember when there was breakthrough research having to do with ethanol and I got excited, before I heard the facts on how cost intensive it is to actually make ethanol. It feels as if it's a too good to be true kind of thing, for two reasons though.

The above like I mentioned, wishful thinking by the scientists engineering the idea and

Corporations simply not allowing it to take off. This one angers me the most specifically, especially when you look at the progress we made with electric cars and the individual parts and pieces that are being developed to make it a reality. These corporations end up getting patents for most of the technology, and hardly fund them, or even put people on the job. They contend that it would not be profitable to switch or to even look into how they would go about switching their structures, from Oil hogging companies to a company that can still be dreadfully profitable, without as much of a carbon footprint. They do this even when it comes to making more fuel efficient engines based out of their own fuel structure. I believe it's Exxon that has a patent on an engine that could end up getting around 100 miles per gallon, but it doesn't get produced or utilized because people would in effect, buy less fuel.

All of that depressing crap aside, I've always had the idea ever since I heard of hydrogen cars and the oh so cool electrolysis reaction, why can't we fuel a motor with energy created from the immediate result of an electrolysis reaction? I always thought a hydrogen car was simply run like a gas car, with hydrogen in the spot that gas took care of. I'm learning more about cars and stuff everyday but I still can't find anything refuting my idea. Wouldn't hydrogen be able to be used as fuel straight from the electrolysis reaction?


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Well, as far as the general idea of this becoming reality, you are correct that ethanol is not all that great of a technology. It would require a large industrial build out to even get started meaningfully. Then it would divert corn from the food supply, thus making food more expensive.

 

On the other hand, ammonia is already made on an industrial scale. It is the feed stock for the fertilizer and explosives industries. In fact, ammonia is made from atmospheric nitrogen and odds are that a third of the protein in your body comes from that very source.

 

So the build out would be much simpler and the product can start earning money the day each plant goes on line, even if the cars are not ready just yet.

 

On to other things.

 

Electric cars were not killed by corporations. They were considered seriously in the 70's when gas prices went up very fast. Eventually though, the price stabilized and declined a bit. That is what killed them back then, a lack of a reason to develop them.

 

Today, things are a bit different. With the clear need to get carbon foot prints down, there is incentive to return to the idea. Tesla motors got the idea off the ground but their cars are too expensive for the average driver. However, they have inked deals with several regular car companies for the drive train technology and we should see more widespread electric cars in a couple or three years.

 

No, big oil is not suppressing high mileage technology. That rumor has been kicking around since the 1920's. If there was anything behind it, other people surely would have discovered the deal by now. What has happened is that the federal government keeps increasing the safety standards and making cars heavier at a pace that keeps close track with the development of engine technology. If you put one of today's engines in a car from the early 80's, you should have no problem getting really high mileage.

 

As far as hydrogen cars go, you can get them but you also need a hydrogen source. Pretty much that means a large machine in your garage that has constant electricity and water to work with. There is no provision in place for distributing hydrogen on a large scale at present.

 

In a few years, there might well be as part of the deal for replacing our aging power grid assumes cryogenicly cooled superconducting cable coming in from distant power plants. The cryo fluid could easily be liquid hydrogen. At the receiving end, the hydrogen could be pumped into trucks for delivery to a local fuel station.

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b33p3rz wrote:How likely is

b33p3rz wrote:

How likely is it that this will ever actually become part of how we power our cars? I remember when there was breakthrough research having to do with ethanol and I got excited, before I heard the facts on how cost intensive it is to actually make ethanol. It feels as if it's a too good to be true kind of thing, for two reasons though.

The above like I mentioned, wishful thinking by the scientists engineering the idea and

Corporations simply not allowing it to take off. This one angers me the most specifically, especially when you look at the progress we made with electric cars and the individual parts and pieces that are being developed to make it a reality. These corporations end up getting patents for most of the technology, and hardly fund them, or even put people on the job. They contend that it would not be profitable to switch or to even look into how they would go about switching their structures, from Oil hogging companies to a company that can still be dreadfully profitable, without as much of a carbon footprint. They do this even when it comes to making more fuel efficient engines based out of their own fuel structure. I believe it's Exxon that has a patent on an engine that could end up getting around 100 miles per gallon, but it doesn't get produced or utilized because people would in effect, buy less fuel.

All of that depressing crap aside, I've always had the idea ever since I heard of hydrogen cars and the oh so cool electrolysis reaction, why can't we fuel a motor with energy created from the immediate result of an electrolysis reaction? I always thought a hydrogen car was simply run like a gas car, with hydrogen in the spot that gas took care of. I'm learning more about cars and stuff everyday but I still can't find anything refuting my idea. Wouldn't hydrogen be able to be used as fuel straight from the electrolysis reaction?

It's a really interesting idea.  He says he can make the ammonia for 20 cents a litre.  The energy density of liquid ammonia is  11,308 kJ/litre and the energy density of gasoline is 34,000 kJ/litre.  One gallon equals 3.79 litres.  

So he can make the equivalent of one gallon gasoline for:

.20*3.79*(34000/11308)= $2.28

That seem pretty good, but the attractiveness is lessened somewhat when you take into account the fact that most of the electricity used to make the ammonia is made from burning coal and natural gas.   While the electric grid continues to use mainly fossil fuels it might make a bit more sense to use natural gas directly.  Prices vary but for now it would probably be lot cheaper to.  One source I found listed compressed natural gas at $.99 a gasoline gallon equivalent.   


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p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } 

In a few years, there might well be as part of the deal for replacing our aging power grid assumes cryogenicly cooled superconducting cable coming in from distant power plants. The cryo fluid could easily be liquid hydrogen. At the receiving end, the hydrogen could be pumped into trucks for delivery to a local fuel station.

 

It would make more sense to use the hydrogen to make ammonia and then transport it.  

This is from an article I found.  

Quote:

 

The low energy density of compressed hydrogen gas makes storage and transport very expensive.  Transporting compressed hydrogen gas any significant distance by truck can consume more energy in diesel fuel than what is contained in hydrogen.  Liquefied hydrogen is obviously more energy dense than compressed hydrogen gas but a significant amount of energy must be expended to liquefy hydrogen and keep it refrigerated because its boiling point is –423 ºF (–253 ºC).  Liquefaction requires about 30% of the energy content of liquid hydrogen while compression to 800 bar requires about 10-15% of energy carried by the hydrogen.

Hydrogen's molecules are very small and difficult to contain.  Hydrogen will slowly leak out from hoses and its rate of leakage is much higher than larger molecule gases like ammonia and propane.  Hydrogen also causes embrittlement in metals which requires periodic replacement of metallic tubing, valves, and tanks.

Hydrogen is typically transported as a compressed gas and a 40 ton truck that can carry 26 tons of gasoline can only carry about 400 kg (0.4 tonnes) of compressed hydrogen due to the weight of the high pressure hydrogen tanks.

Ammonia, in comparison, stores and handles very much like LPG.  Its boiling point is -33.35 °C (-28.03 °F). is

http://www.rasoenterprises.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14:ammonia&catid=42:fuels&Itemid=53


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Well, the idea came from an

Well, the idea came from an old article in Scientific American.  I could be misremembering but I though that they said they were going to power cars with it.

In any case, you are correct that hydrogen probably has enough issues that would have to be solved.  They probably could be with enough time.

Thinking further on this, it seems that if the expectation is to get that much hydrogen out at the end, then they could solve the deal by using it to power an appropriate sized turbine generator.  Energy does not get greener than that.

Another idea which also comes to mind:  I don't recall how old the article is but we now have superconductors that work with liquid nitrogen.  That is cheaper to make than liquid hydrogen.  Again, if the expected output volume is that great, why not put Haber Bosch factories at the end of the pipe?  You still need some hydrogen for the process but if the plan was to generate the stuff anyway, then why not make both?

That will cost somewhat less and get the job done just as easily.

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Atheistextremist

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Brian37 wrote:

When they start mass producing clean cars, of any kind, lets make sure we put the factories in a slave labor country like China. That way we could drive the wages down over here even further.

Who gives a fuck about good paying jobs here, as long as we can buy cheap crap.

 

but sadly true. 

I suppose it isn't out of question for California to be the first to legislate these slave-made cars into legally-enforced operation, so the transition might be a simpler one than initially thought.

I'm still inclined to agree with tapey because of my own personal biases. Again, to create climate-friendly people, they need to be willing to actually have their minds changed.

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

Well, the idea came from an old article in Scientific American.  I could be misremembering but I though that they said they were going to power cars with it.

In any case, you are correct that hydrogen probably has enough issues that would have to be solved.  They probably could be with enough time.

Thinking further on this, it seems that if the expectation is to get that much hydrogen out at the end, then they could solve the deal by using it to power an appropriate sized turbine generator.  Energy does not get greener than that.

Another idea which also comes to mind:  I don't recall how old the article is but we now have superconductors that work with liquid nitrogen.  That is cheaper to make than liquid hydrogen.  Again, if the expected output volume is that great, why not put Haber Bosch factories at the end of the pipe?  You still need some hydrogen for the process but if the plan was to generate the stuff anyway, then why not make both?

That will cost somewhat less and get the job done just as easily.

 

Some high temperature superconductors work at Liquid Nitrogen temps, but generally for any superconductor the colder the better.  This is why the cryogenic liquid used is often Helium.  Helium supplies aren't likely to last forever, and I don't think you would have enough to do something as huge as this.  In terms of boiling point the next best is liquid hydrogen (–423 ºF (–253 ºC)), but the safety considerations tend to nix any ideas of using this for much of anything other than rocket fuel.  The new superconductors, which would work in liquid Nitrogen, don't have very high critical fields, the point at which the magnetic field is as high as it will go and still stay superconducting.  This limits their usefulness in transporting electric energy.  You would have to use a lot more of these materials to get the same affect, and I believe that they use rare materials like silver which would make this impractical.  

I like the idea of using wind turbines to produce ammonia.  This would be good in agriculture area were, as you pointed out, they use ammonia as fertilizer.  Why should they have to ship ammonia from all over the place if they can produce close by?  If the ammonia power engines work out it also might be possible to use ammonia to power farm equipment which would be good for a variety of reasons.   

 

 


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RatDog wrote:I like the idea

RatDog wrote:

I like the idea of using wind turbines to produce ammonia.  This would be good in agriculture area were, as you pointed out, they use ammonia as fertilizer.  Why should they have to ship ammonia from all over the place if they can produce close by?  If the ammonia power engines work out it also might be possible to use ammonia to power farm equipment which would be good for a variety of reasons.   

Hmmm, that does make sense. Around here, they're starting to put wind turbines all over the place, and farmland is a popular place to put them. Not only would it be a good idea for fuel/energy, but if they made ammonia for fertilizer, that would also increase the popularity of the turbines themselves, because currently people see them as an eyesore. If they started to think of them as 'generally useful for farmers' then this would be a big PR win for cleaner energy.

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OK, liquid helium would have much larger issues than liquid hydrogen would. It is a limited resource, more expensive to chill and cannot be contained by any known material. Heck but it can leak through a glass flask in the spaces between the silicone atoms.

 

That much being said, the paper in Scientific American did envision the possibility of commercially exploitable quantities of hydrogen coming out of the lines at the local receiving stations. When luca mentioned the issues with storing and pumping hydrogen, I then suggested the idea of burning it right on site as a direct fuel source.

 

That would seem to minimize the amount of plumbing which would have to be replaced on a regular schedule and provide the cleanest fuel source possible, as the “ash” would be nothing more than common water. Depending on the engineering considerations, perhaps it could also serve as a source of steam for a second stage turbine. That would be a bonus if it could be done.

 

My idea for using nitrogen as a cryo fluid is based on the idea that we can do superconductors that way now. Of the three main cryo fluids, liquid nitrogen is the least expensive and it could serve as feed stock for the Haber Bosch process to make the ammonia for vehicle fuel.

 

In any case, I think that we really do need to get serious about the so called alternative energy sources. Every location provides it's own opportunities and challenges. For example, the south west has lots of land that has great sun but is pretty much useless for other purposes. Great for solar power. Other areas may be best suited for wind or geothermal. Where I live, the continental shelf is only a couple of miles from shore. If the deep water is cold enough, then Stirling engines could be usefully employed.

 

Even if alternative energy only provides (and I am just picking a round number on this) 20% of our current needs, that potentially provides “breathing room” which will extend traditional sources while other forms of energy such as nuclear, fusion and methane hydrates are brought up to industrially viable scales.

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Water power

 I remember a Filipino Inventor who successfully created and patented a car engine that runs on pure water back in the 1990's after seeing him on the national TV he quickly disappeared like a bubble in the air and his inventions just died. Because all is not willing to accept change and the Philippine Government will loose millions on fuel taxes.


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AIGS wrote:and making cars

AIGS wrote:
and making cars heavier at a pace that keeps close track with the development of engine technology

Interesting. I thought vehicle's had become significantly lighter as a result of new (lighter but more durable) materials.

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