I’ve talked about ammonia as fuel for motor vehicles in the past, but it’s too good of a subject so I’d like to talk about it again (thanks to John H. from Richland, WA for spurring this discussion).
Back in the 1980s, Canadian Greg Vezina powered his 1981 Chevy Impala with NH3 (ammonia). He even had the Canadian Energy Minister take a drive in his ammonia car. But, political interest soon fizzled after the demonstration, Vezina believed because the government owned Petro Canada and didn’t want to develop alternative fuels to cut into its petroleum market share.
Back in 1996, J.J. MacKenzie and W. H. Avery presented a paper in Washington, DC called “Ammonia fuel: the Key to Hydrogen-Based Transportation.” MacKenzie and Avery stated, “Ammonia (NH3) is a high octane fuel (110) that can replace CO2 producing fuels in automobile transportation. It shares with hydrogen the virtue of yielding only water and nitrogen as combustion products when burned in internal combustion engines but avoids the packaging, safety and logistic problems of using hydrogen fuels in motor vehicles.”
Now, fast forward to 2004, when Zap and Apollo Energy Systems developed an “Ammonia Cracker” for one of the Zap Smart Cars. The technology would extract the hydrogen from the ammonia and run it through an alkaline fuel cell. Now, a year later the Iowa Energy Center helped spearhead a project to use ammonia as an additive in a diesel engine, reducing emissions of the vehicle significantly.
A couple of weeks ago, the Hydrogen Engine Center, also in Iowa released a statement to shareholders about its anhydrous ammonia engine performing a field test better than expected with TGP West in California. With its high hydrogen content and an infrastructure that doesn’t have to start from scratch, ammonia may just be the fuel of the future. It’s a bit ironic to think that this chemical often used as a cleaning product may just help clean up the environment as well.