Posting in Cities
Hydrogen is smart energy but ammonia is smarter. It's denser, more easily transported, and connects with carbon in the same way your bladder does.
So for the last 5 years the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University has been holding annual conferences on the use of ammonia as a fuel, and some of that dreaming is now coming out of the lab.
The chemical formula for ammonia is NH3. Combined with CO2 you know it as urea, the main component in urine. There are patents on producing anhydrous ammonia (the kind useful as fuel) from urea but currently the main feedstock for it is natural gas. Ammonia produced in this way is called "brown ammonia."
The most recent Iowa State ammonia conference was held in Kansas City, and featured demonstrations of a car running on ammonia, and explanations of ammonia as a direct fuel (replacing hydrogen) for fuel cells, as well as many sessions on storing and transporting it.
Wizard Power in Australia has demonstrated a closed loop energy system. In this system solar energy converts hydrogen and nitrogen gas to ammonia, the ammonia is a feedstock for energy production, and nothing gets out.
A hydrogen energy cycle solves many of the problems we have with carbon energy, and with water as the "pollution" it can help solve the world's water shortages. Ammonia has all these advantages, plus it can deal with agricultural pollution. And it's more cost-efficient.
That's why SunBorne Energy of India is funding research at the University of South Florida that hopes to use ammonia to cut the costs of solar energy by half, and produce energy at lower temperatures.
But note that connection with urea again. A coal-fired power plant in Wisconsin is testing the use of chilled ammonia to extract carbon directly, which could make clean coal a reality.
So hydrogen is smart energy. It bypasses the carbon cycle and gives us water as a by-product. But ammonia is smarter, because it is more energy dense, it is readily transported, and because it connects with carbon in the same way your own bladder does.
Nov 17, 2009
Is ammonia any more toxic than methane? Self identifing, as is treated natural gas. Far less "dangerous" than hydrogen, far more transportable. Hydrogen is hard to pipeline. Therefore ammonia is a quicker route to a polution free economy. Shut in natural gas wells could provide transportable ammonia via small catalytic converter, and reduce the risk of mentane loss and atmouspheric contamination as a greenhouse gas.
Lotus, the world-renowned automotive engineering consultancy business in Norfolk, England, has done a lot of work on alternatives to hydrogen for future vehicles. One strong contender is ethanol, made from hydrogen. Gasoline engines love it, it's good to transport. And if we agree on nuclear to produce electricity to generate hydrogen, ethanol is an easy next step. The plastics industry will be thankful too - as will we as ethanol as a feedstock for plastic effectively traps CO2... World class! (Normal for Norfolk)
I think maybe everyone has missed the big picture. We don't use hydrogen or amonia to propell our vehicles. We use those to fuel our electricity generating facilities. If we concentrate those possibly dangerous chemicals in the hands of more responsible users, we could more easily control the dangers. Quit running industry on mass polluting fuels and switch to electricity.
You think Al Gore made all this up to inconvenience us? Fine. I always thought the economic, competitive, and national security arguments were more compelling anyway. Just do it. Oh, the Arctic ice cap will be gone by the summer of 2020 at present rates. Kilamanjaro is already ice-free. Even if it's not man-made, it's real, and man can do something about it other than exacerbating it (even if on the margins) with carbon fuels.
I was wondering how long it would take for someone to utter the sacred words - "global warming". Never mind that it is all a bunch of hogwash, let's keep high priest Al Gore & Co in lush business, shall we? The thought that humans can measurably do anything to effect the sun / ocean cycles is laughable. No one before the current GW hysteria erupted would have taken it seriously - until Rev Gore and his greenie / UN mates shoved some serious dollars behind it. Ah, truth - so easily purchased, refashioned and remodeled these days...
I think you've identified many of the problems currently under study by ammonia advocates. Solutions are being found. The key to ammonia is its density. It's a liquid at room temperaturs. So it carries a lot more hydrogen per gallon than hydrogen does in its gaseous state. Yes, there are technological challenges in addition to the financial and regulatory ones. But ammonia's properties, and its sources of supply, are compelling, in that they deal with many of our other environmental problems, in addition to global warming.
If it gets loose. I remember that accident well. It was on the overpass between I-610 and US-59, near the old Houston Post building. It was in 1976. A truck filled with ammonia crashed from the top of the overpass onto the bottom floor and exploded. The grass on that big lawn by the Post building took years to recover.
I lived in Houston when I was young. I remember at least two occasions where a dozen or so people were killed by driving through the vapor from a wrecked ammonia truck. It seems like they said at the time that it displaces oxygen.
As someone whose family had a pig farm growing up, I know a little about pig**** and ammonia. The ammonia may be in the pig pee, but in modern farms the pig*** and pig pee are both collected together into a lagoon underneath the pig pens. Collecting them separately would be very difficult (you would have to essentially "housebreak" the pigs, which wouldn't be worth it). And yes, there is quite a bit of ammonia... :-)
With some research the answer to our energy problems appears to lie in sewage processing. It can produce methane to enrich vegetable oil for use as a fuel and it now appears it can produce ammonia as a fuel too. Maybe a solar or wind farm combined with a sewage plant would be a real energy producer! We may all have to try harder to provide the new plants with plenty of raw material though?
Making ammonia is rather energy intensive as the reaction requires pressures of 200 atmospheres and temperatures between 400 - 500C. Even under these conditions, yields are typically less than 50%. I would almost guarantee that the Iowa State researchers are highly compensated by the ammonia producers through research grants. Ammonia is NOT better than methane (nat. gas) or methanol in generating hydrogen atoms in a fuel cell application. btw - I teach General Chemistry at a college.
Gasoline is transported to the northeast via pipeline. I remember that because after Katrina the pipeline from Louisiana to Atlanta was knocked out and we were terribly short. There is also 3,000 miles of ammonia pipeline http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2315/2094132157_a21e0a67a9.jpg mostly running from Louisiana north to the agricultural areas of Iowa. Currently natural gas is the feedstock for ammonia, so ammonia is piped north to be used for fertilizer. With the proper technology we can reverse that. I smell opportunity...
Density. Because ammonia is a liquid at room temperature, it is much more energy-dense than hydrogen. Hydrogen must be cooled to near absolute zero before it liquifies. I'm also intrigued by the comment about pig shit. It's actually pig pee you want. The active ingredient in all pee is urea -- that's just ammonia with some carbon dioxide. If we can efficiently extract the carbon dioxide from urea, we have ammonia. Which makes every pig farm a potential source of energy. Chicken shit is also high in urea. I liked the outfit they made for Tina Turner in Thunderdome. But that's just me.
You ask, where do we get the hydrogen. Good question. You probably figured this one out in school. It's the old electrolysis experiment. Drop electrodes into water, positive and negative, and one side bubbles up hydrogen, the other oxygen. Capture the hydrogen by enclosing the top of the box. Vent the oxygen or collect it as well -- there is a market for O2. The hydrogen is in the water.
I have used anhydrous ammonia for decades as a blueprinter. Yes the gas is toxic and can be dangerous, no more so than compressed oxygen or gasoline. If an accident were to occur, depending on the amount of gas actually released, the gas would quickly dissipate and pose relatively little danger. However I believe from the article that the majority of the research depends on liquid ammonia being turned into gaseous form and then being used. This poses even less danger.
@John Dodge "Seems like entire towns are evacuated when a railcar of ammonium hydroxide derails or goes into the drink" I don't believe gasoline is transported by rail that often (though that may be a product of me living in refinery country, Houston). I think you exaggerate a little, but when ammonia spills occur, they do evacuate neighborhoods. Though when flammable materials of any type spill by rail or pipeline, whole neighborhoods also get evacuated. As another pointed out, I think the risks of gasoline and ammonia aren't that different. We just mentally tend to overemphasize and exaggerate the risks inherent with the unknown or unusual (ammonia spill or aircraft accident) versus the known (gasoline spills or car wrecks).
When looking at relative dangers you need to look at gasoline verses ammonia when talking how practical it is for untrained people to be handling. I don't see then giving out hazardous material licenses with drives licenses just so you can fuel up your car with gasoline. As fumes go, gasoline is more dangerous from an explosive standpoint than ammonia, but ammonia has gasoline slightly beat on the strength of the odor and potential lung damage. So the people sniffing gasoline now will die quicker from sniffing ammonia than they do currently on unleaded.
The hydrogen molecule is so small it can leak out of the tightest containers. Combining it with one to three carbon atoms (methane, ethane, or propane) or a nitrogen atom (ammonia) works wonders for the containment problem. If any of these larger molecules can be run through fuel cells, we have our renewable fuel problems licked.
Dana, Hydrogen in both liquid and gas form is handled and moved all the time on railcars, in trucks and through pipelines by the likes of Air Products, Linde, Praxair and just about every major chemical company and oil refiner on the planet. I'd wager a lot more hydrogen is produced and transported than ammonia. Also, there's at least 150 hydrogen filling stations for vehicles in the U.S. There are none for ammonia that I know of. It's pretty early to say ammonia is a smarter or safer alternative than hydrogen. Seems like entire towns are evacuated when a railcar of ammonium hydroxide derails or goes into the drink.
Ammonia is a safer and denser storage media than compressed hydrogen. The 2NH3 is catalytically converted to 2N + 3H2 and then an air breathing fuel cell can power an electric vehicle releasing just nitrogen and water vapor. It solves every complaint with the hazard of high pressure H2 storage. There are several routes to produce ammonia. Sometimes ammonia is a waste product in chemical product production, so this would be environmentally green. Now I just have to quit thinking this is all deja vu for Mad Max and the post apocalyptic Thunderdome, which was powered by ammonia from pig shit.
"... In this system solar energy converts hydrogen and nitrogen gas to ammonia, the ammonia is a feedstock for energy production...." So where, and how, do you get the hydrogen?
LPG is dangerous, petrol is dangerous and many chemicals we use around the home are dangerous, but we "Handle with care" and use these daily. If we were to stop using dangerous substances because of their inherent dangers, our lifestyle would suffer. The proper way to use these chemicals is risk management. Hydrogen fuel cells are also dangerous, yet they are being used to reduce greenhouse gases, so using ammonia would also entail proper risk management. We cannot coddle ourselves in cottonwool because of the possibility of danger in the goods we need.
As another reader noted, Ammonia is a really toxic gas, and its danger would be extreme if used in mobile applications, like cars & trucks - one collision could kill hundreds of people. If we need hydrogen to make ammonia, we will need to consider the cost of making hydrogen as part of the cost of making ammonia - hydrogen alone is an inefficient way to store electricity, and using it to make ammonia can only be even less efficient.
I agree with macmcf: Ammonia is an extremely toxic gas. But yes there is a lot of applications for it. But these applications are usually operated by trained personal. Now put a very toxic material out for the untrained person to operate and you have a very dangerous condition. I feel ammonia is to toxic for everyday applications that may come in contact with untrained individuals.
Lots of industrial applications are out there for ammonia, so there is an enormous amount of experience in handling it. Unlike hydrogen fuel.
Ammonia is also an extremely toxic gas. I realize that nothing with high enough energy content to be truly useful is really safe, but ammonia would be tricky to handle on a day-to-day basis.