There’s an interesting article posted on Phys.org today reporting on an announcement by researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the United Kingdom who claim a breakthrough has been achieved in the field of hydrogen production. The scientists report they have developed a process of ‘cracking’ ammonia by using two simultaneous chemical process rather than using a traditional catalyst to perform this function.
Lead researcher Bill David states about the process:
“Our approach is as effective as the best current catalysts but the active material, sodium amide, costs pennies to produce. We can produce hydrogen from ammonia ‘on demand’ effectively and affordably. Few people think of ammonia as a fuel but we believe that it is the natural alternative to fossil fuels. For cars, we don’t even need to go to the complications of a fuel-cell vehicle. A small amount of hydrogen mixed with ammonia is sufficient to provide combustion in a conventional car engine. While our process is not yet optimised, we estimate that an ammonia decomposition reactor no bigger than a 2-litre bottle will provide enough hydrogen to run a mid-range family car.”
I find this to be an interesting proposal. One of the difficulties often mentioned with using hydrogen as fuel for vehicles is that hydrogen is hard to store since it leaks so easily — making hydrogen tanks in cars very expensive. Ammonia, while a dangerous substance, is the second most commonly produced chemical in the world (used as a common fertilizer) and is routinely stored and transported in storage tanks — so a robust infrastructure already exists for its distribution, unlike with hydrogen. Having an on-board process to extract hydrogen from an ammonia tank could be an interesting transportation technology.
In evaluating ammonia as a fuel source, you also need to consider how it is produced. Most ammonia nowadays is produced from extracting hydrogen from natural gas — of course a fossil fuel. However there are other (currently more expensive) sustainable methods of extracting ammonia from the decomposition of vegetable matter. Ammonia an also be produced from hydrogen production in electrolysis processes. Some have suggested that LENR could be an important energy source in creating synthetic hydrocarbon products that can be used in today’s vehicles. By the same token — LENR could some day be used as an energy source in the production of ammonia via electrolysis which could be used in fertilizers, and possibly as a transportation fuel if this new process goes anywhere.