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Ammonia believed to benefit Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

“A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds.” – Mark Twain

Can science find a detour to the Hydrogen Economy?

Serious scientists believe that, before an infrastructure can support a fuel cell based transportation industry, the present system could easily adopt to ammonia, if only temporary. Kevin Kantola already wrote about this in a 2008 article on this website.

As you well know, it is not just a simple matter of filling a tank with hydrogen to run an engine – or engineering a fuel cell stack and bolting it into a vehicle.  Many branches of learning and diverse occupations must come together, to shape an innovative industry, a new age, and a unique new ’green’ society.

In hindsight, and knowing little about chemistry, I realize how infinitely complex this very simple element, H2 seems to be, requiring almost two hundred years of experimentation.  Surely, study and advancement will continue. In this new millennium, many industry groups demonstrate a strong ambition to get ready for mass production and join the hydrogen age.  Supported by the public’s concern with leaving our autobon-based economy behind, others call for more immediate action and results.

“There is an alternative to a hydrogen future: The Ammonia Economy”  Vito Agosta, October 2003

[Note: Vito Agosta is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, Industrial, Manufacturing, and Materials Engineering at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is president of Propulsion Sciences Co. in Huntington Station, N.Y.]

The following is part of an article he wrote; the complete version.

“It was suggested by President Bush in his State of the Union message that hydrogen be employed by society as the fuel to meet our future energy needs.  I reacted to this suggestion with a degree of alarm. Putting aside for the present the dangers in handling and using hydrogen in energy devices, the development of such a project is very expensive and would come to fruition about a generation hence.  An alternate solution that is immediately available employs ammonia in internal combustion engine technology.  There are no large development costs, and the price of the resulting vehicle is not significantly increased.  In addition, the fuel, i.e., ammonia, is presently abundant and the fuel handling technology already exists and is user-friendly.

Picture from The American Society Of Mechanical Engineers – Ammonia tanks for agriculture (fertilizer)

About 40 years ago, -so writes Agosta,- I was a project leader on an Army research contract to produce fuel from air and water suitable to be used immediately in Army vehicles and devices.  The family of fuels that could be produced was those that contained hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, e.g., hydrogen, ammonia, hydrazine. Hydrogen and hydrazine were ruled out.  Storage and handling technologies for these fuels were not adequately developed.  Of more importance, the combustion properties of these fuels put the non-technical layman in harm’s way. The advantages of using hydrogen are that it burns well in energy devices; has very wide limits of flammability, making for stable combustion; and has a large heat of combustion per unit mass.

There are also disadvantages to hydrogen. It detonates very easily.  When used in diesel engines, it needs to be compressed for injection into the cylinder. But doing so can consume up to 15 percent of its output power, thus compromising its efficiency.  At low pressure, its heat of combustion is low per unit volume. Although Honda has introduced a hydrogen-powered auto employing a fuel cell that offers many advantages, and Toyota and others will soon follow suit, in the immediate future hydrogen will not be readily available at the corner fuel station.” — (‘Gas’ stations for H2 are being built now at many locations worldwide)

Why not continue on the path where “others will soon follow suit”?  Why waste time and resources on an interim solution?  More ‘others’ are Hyundai, already marketing FCEVs and several more have announced their FCEVs will soon be in production.

After some searching in early 2017, I learned the following manufacturers are testing FCEVs: Alfa-Romeo, Audi, AvtoVAZ-Lada, Bentley, BMW, FiatChrysler, Ford, General Motors (various divisions), Honda, Hyundai, (both in production now) Jeep, Kawasaki, Kia, London Taxi and Bus Co., Lotus, Mahindra, Maserati, McLaren, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Morgan, Opel, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault-Nissan, Seat, Skoda, Suzuki, Tata, Toyota, (in production now), Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Volvo + a number of original Chinese automakers (other than joint ventures), as well as bus and truck manufacturers belonging to the Daimler and VW Groups — that is almost every auto and bike maker on this planet. With absolute certainty, I missed several, especially in China. — Which one will be the next in a dealership showroom?

FCEVs are the future in transportation; EVs are more expensive to mass-manufacture than fuel cell autos, according to Toyota.

Remember Churchill’s Quote? “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Next: Toyota believes in Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History – and Future



About George Wand

George Wand
Our guest writer George Wand retired from the automotive industry. During his autoeer, he worked in R&D on advanced EV mobility concepts, and working with a museum drives his interest in history. These Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History items are but a small part of more than 750 articles he published in print and digital form. He compiled some of those in a series of eBooks from Amazon-Kindle. Racing to Preserve Precious Petroleum, and were released in 2016, Part 3 is ready to go by mid-2017. (Download ‘Kindle-for-PC’ or ‘Kindle-for-Mac’ and read on any computer.) Wikipedia, and EVWorld have referenced Wand’s thoroughly researched, plainly written articles. True to his slogan “On the inventive past the ingenious future will thrive”, Wand is passionate about sustainable mobility in a future without pollution. He has driven a variety of FCVs at Hydrogenics in his Toronto ’backyard’. An article about that will arrive here soon.

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