When one thinks of ammonia, the first thing that comes to mind is the foul smell. But, ammonia is also used as a household cleaning product and automotive researchers are convinced that ammonia-powered cars will help clean the environment as zero or near zero emissions vehicles.
Ammonia cars come in two varieties including those that reform the ammonia (NH3) into hydrogen and run it through a fuel cell to produce electricity and those that use an ammonia solution to run through an internal combustion engine (ICE).
The Hydrogen Engine Center in Algona, Iowa has developed its Oxx Power 4.9 liter, 6-cylinder ICE engine that runs on anhydrous ammonia. The only byproducts of burning ammonia this way is water vapor and nitrous oxide in trace amounts.
Alternative automaker Zap and Apollo Energy Systems have team up to develop an ammonia car that runs off a fuel cell. This ammonia car uses an Ammonia Cracker (reformer) and liquid ammonia to power the vehicle with zero emissions. Apollo Energy Systems has also developed an alkaline fuel cell, which it believes is more efficient and less costly that typical PEM fuel cells already on the market.
Ammonia or NH3 is made up of 75-percent hydrogen and 25-percent nitrogen. Nitrogen is the most abundant element in the air we breathe at around 78-percent (and about 21-percent is oxygen).
Ammonia is one of the most prevalent chemicals on this planet as it is used for the farm and refrigeration industries. Ammonia can also be produced renewably from farm crops and the waste from farm animals.
By powering cars with liquid ammonia, we would solve a key infrastructure problem inherent with using gaseous hydrogen to power cars. Liquid ammonia could be distributed and stored in a manner similar to gasoline.
The next time you take a whiff of ammonia, just think that in the near future, cars may be using this odorous chemical compound to clean the environment. The sweet smell of zero emissions won’t be that hard to take, now will it?