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American Energy Policy Part II -- Ammonia

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In the first installment of this series, I spoke to the notion of a hydrogen economy built upon a foundation of using anhydrous ammonia as a hydrogen carrier. I have received an overwhelming response of questions which I would like to address herein.
Q)I can tell you right now that one of my Senators would object because she'd say that using this as fuel would drive up price of fertilizer. And would be too easy for meth cookers to obtain. Plus it's very toxic stuff for civilians to be handling like gas, isn't it?

A)We need to produce ammonia with our renewable sources because it can easily be done, and it will reduce imports at first since nearly 2/3 of our ammonia is currently imported. We would need at least 1000 wind farms just to do that much. It would LOWER the price of fertilizer as new production comes to bear, and CREATE a million new USA jobs in both the ammonia production industry and Wind Power industry. In the second phase, we would add new big solar power plants and ocean thermal energy conversion plants to produce the transportation fuels for all forms of transport, replacing oil. That would require nearly 50 Quads of new production, and CREATE TEN MILLION MORE USA JOBS!!!!

Ammonia is toxic in an enclosed environment. So is hydrogen. So is diesel fuel. So is methane. So is propane. So is butane. So is coal dust. The only difference is that AMMONIA IS NON-FLAMMABLE AND NOT EXPLOSIVE like all the others. We have been using ammonia around civilians for nearly two centuries.

As for meth heads, yeah they can get ammonia easier than before, but they still need access to ephedrine. Ammonia is easy to make. That has never been an obstacle.

Then there's the export market. Once we produce renewable systems cheaply and billions of tons of ammonia, we can replace the world's current oil addiction with a clean substitute. Sort of like methadone for heroin addicts. AMMONIA WILL CREATE 30 MILLION NEW USA JOBS!!!!

Q)I'm not familar with using ammonia as "fuel" . How does it fire in an I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine)?

A) In an earlier piece that I posted here at OpEdNews, "A Little Bit of History: In the Time of Cholera", I posted a chart from an Argonne National Laboratory report written a few years ago. It shows that the efficiency of conversion of ammonia to power is over 50% in a turbodiesel.If you compare that to diesel fuel, ammonia's about 20% better. It's about 100% better than compressed natural gas burned in a regular spark-ignition automobile engine (50% vs. 25%).The products of ammonia combustion are water vapor and nitrogen. The NOx emissions in ICEs are handled with a slightly fuel rich mixture and a catalytic converter, in which you add one mole of NH3 for each mole of NOx in the exhaust. This is currently done on all high-performance engines which employ a high compression ratio (i.e., they run hot and highly efficient).

Anhydrous ammonia also can be burned in a fuel cell at 50 to 70% efficiency.

It's also a good rocket fuel. We used it on the X-15 at NASA nearly 50 years ago.
Here's a good photo of the X-15 in flight.

Q) Has ammonia ever been used in a public setting on a large, municipal scale?

A)The St. Charles Avenue Line began operation in 1833 running street cars through the heart of New Orleans. It starts uptown, at South Carrollton Avenue and South Claiborne Avenue. It runs on South Carrollton Avenue through the Carrollton neighborhood towards the Mississippi River, then near the river levee turns on to Saint Charles Avenue. It proceeds past entrances to Audubon Park, Tulane University and Loyola University New Orleans, continues through Uptown New Orleans including the Garden District, and ends at Canal Street in the New Orleans Central Business District at the edge of the French Quarter, a distance of about seven and a half miles.

The reason I bring this up is to blow smoke in the face of our fossilized friends. It was powered entirely with anhydrous ammonia for 60 years until it was electrified in 1893. It had no carbon emissions whatsoever. In the late 19th century, public transit throughout Europe used ammonia -powered street cars.

We will need to duplicate these feats of advanced engineering to rid ourselves of the archaic systems of today. Fossil fuel systems are not only based upon dinosaur poo, they are dinosaurs of the past.

Q) Isn't ammonia critical to the manufacture of many chemical and products?

A) Yes, ammonia is a crucial component in making everything from plastics to composites to advanced pharmaceuticals to explosives to industrial cleaners and of course, fertilizers -- more than 1100 since I started counting. An example is carbon fiber used in the composites used for next generation transportation vehicles and aircraft.Carbon fiber is generally made from pitch (coal tar, mostly from petrochemicals) and Polyacrylonitrile (PAN). The latter is made with polymerization of Acrylonitrile, probably the nitrile manufactured on the largest scale. Most industrial acrylonitrile is produced through the Sohio process, the catalytic ammoxidation of propylene:

2CH3-CH=CH2 + 2NH3 + 3O2 2CH2=CH-C├ "degrees íN + 6H2O

As you can see, this is yet another process dependent upon Ammonia as a reactant.

Q) What is the most efficient process for producing ammonia?

A) The cheapest process is making ammonia from coal, the way they do it in China. We've made it here for over a century starting with natural gas. The most efficient, by far, is the process invented here in America recently known as Solid State Ammonia Synthesis, or SSAS. Ammonia can be produced from any source of energy; e.g., wind farms, solar plants, nuclear power, ocean thermal energy conversion plants, even hydroelectric power, along with air and water. That's it. It can be produced at an efficiency of roughly 60% measured by raw energy in to energy contained in the anhydrous ammonia product. Take the time to look it up on the internet.

Ammonia is the ultimate green synthetic fuel that is in pure harmony with the environment and fully sustainable. The first country to begin to build large scale SSAS plants fed by renewable power will dominate the world economy for centuries.

Q) Why not just build facilities based upon pure hydrogen instead of fooling around with ammonia?

A) The quick answer is volumetric energy density. Liquid anhydrous ammonia is three times as dense as hydrogen in its liquid state (compressed to 10,000 psi!), ten times as dense when hydrogen is compressed to 1000 psi, and is non-flammable and non-explosive. If hydrogen is piped in gas pipelines, it is ten times less dense than methane in terms of energy, so it is very expensive to ship via pipeline. Ammonia is four times as dense as methane in a pipeline, which is why it is already pipelined from the Gulf throughout the Midwest to large agricultural concerns to be used as fertilizer. We have over 3,000 miles of ammonia pipelines in the USA. There are none for hydrogen nor will there ever be. Hydrogen is not safe -- it is too explosive. Ammonia can be stored if chilled to below freezing at atmospheric pressure, but it can also be stored at under 130 psi without chilling and remain a liquid. It is lighter than air, and it stinks when released, but it rises straight up into the sky. It can't burn or explode, and mixes harmlessly with water to form ammonium hydroxide, which breaks down to soluble fertilizer within minutes.

Q) Where can I get more information about ammonia?

This is just a smattering of the questions I've received on this topic. If you have more, or just wish to comment, I'm right here and ready to provide the answers I can.
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Designed first all-solar home for Ryland Homes in 1974. At MITRE, led a group of 35 of the best minds in the world (including Dr. Edward Teller, among others) who performed detailed engineering, scientific, socio-economic, and political analyses (more...)

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