Hydrogen breakthrough could be a game-changer for the future of car fuels

Jun 24, 2014 by Marion O'sullivan
Hydrogen-Ammonia Cycle. Credit: STFC

UK researchers today announced what they believe to be a game changer in the use of hydrogen as a "green" fuel.

A new discovery by scientists at the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), offers a viable solution to the challenges of storage and cost by using as a clean and secure hydrogen-containing energy source to produce hydrogen on-demand in situ.

Hydrogen is considered by many to be the best alternative fuel for automotive purposes but there are complications with its safe and efficient storage and very significant concerns surrounding the costs of a for transportation. This may well have found the answers to both these challenges.

When the components of ammonia are separated (a technique known as cracking) they form one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen. Many catalysts can effectively crack ammonia to release the hydrogen, but the best ones are very expensive precious metals. This new method is different and involves two simultaneous chemical processes rather than using a catalyst, and can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost.

Ammonia can be stored on-board in vehicles at low pressures in conformable plastic tanks. Meanwhile on the forecourts, the infrastructure technology for ammonia is as straightforward as that for liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

Professor Bill David, who led the STFC research team at the ISIS Neutron Source, said "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.

Prof. Bill David (right) and Dr Martin Jones with the ammonia decomposition reactor. Credit: STFC

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."

"We've even thought about how we can make ammonia as safe as possible and stop the release of NOx gases," added Professor David. "This fundamental science therefore has immense potential to change the use of hydrogen as a fuel."

Dr. Martin Jones, also from STFC and who with Professor David invented this new process, said "Having developed this new approach to decompose ammonia, we are now in the process of creating a first low-power static demonstrator system. Our technology will no doubt evolve, but our research invites scientists and technologists to address a different set of questions."

David Willetts, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, said "This is exactly the sort of innovation we need UK researchers and engineers to develop to secure our role as a global leader in this field, putting Britain at the forefront of solving modern day transportation problems. This breakthrough could also hugely contribute to our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050."

Ammonia is already one of the most transported bulk chemicals worldwide. It is ammonia that is the feedstock for the fertilisers that enable the production of almost half the world's food. Increasing ammonia production is technologically straightforward and there is no obvious reason why this existing infrastructure cannot be extended so that ammonia not only feeds but powers the planet.

2015 will be a significant year in the development of the car. While there is currently substantial interest and excitement in all-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, next year car manufacturers will begin to roll out a new generation of fuel-cell electric vehicles. Batteries play a significant role in these cars but the vehicle range, which will be equivalent to conventional cars, will be provided by a fuel cell powered by hydrogen.

These hybrid vehicles are touted to be the way ahead but while all-battery cars have issues with driving range, hydrogen provision is a major headache both on-board for the fuel cells and on the forecourt for refuelling. The hydrogen in these 2015 cars will be stored on-board in very high pressure tanks, and at even higher pressures at the forecourts. The safety issues of storing hydrogen on-board at these pressures are substantial while the cost issues of installing a new high-pressure at the forecourts across the nation are currently massively prohibitive.

Speaking about this new development from the team at STFC, Professor David MacKay FRS, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said "We believe that there is no single solution to the challenges we face in decarbonising the fuel chain, but this research suggests that ammonia based technologies are worth further consideration and may well play an important part in the future energy landscape."

Five years ago, Professor Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner and, at that time, the US Secretary of State for Energy in the Obama administration, sounded a death knell for the hydrogen economy with his statement that, while it takes only three miracles to be declared a saint, it would take four miracles to achieve a hydrogen-based energy economy. This work from STFC researchers could well be a turning point.

Kate Ronayne, Head of Innovation at STFC said: "This exciting research has the potential to dramatically influence the static and mobile energy solutions of the future. While still at an early stage, this innovative work offers a very elegant solution to some of the major challenges in harnessing the power of as a fuel source."

Explore further: A new solution for storing hydrogen fuel for alternative energy

More information: "Hydrogen Production from Ammonia Using Sodium Amide." William I. F. David, Joshua W. Makepeace, Samantha K. Callear, Hazel M. A. Hunter, James D. Taylor, Thomas J. Wood, and Martin O. Jones. Journal of the American Chemical Society Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/ja5042836

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marcush
3.2 / 5 (6) Jun 24, 2014
The only way its going to work in our current political environment is if its cheaper....
RichManJoe
4 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2014
Let's not forget why Einstein took out a patent for an improved refrigerator.
Bob_Wallace
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2014
How much electricity per mile? (H2 takes 2x or more per mile than an EV.)

H2 and ammonia, produced from water, are only energy storage technologies. Liquid "batteries".
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2014
The only way its going to work in our current political environment is if its cheaper....

If it's cheaper, the taxes will be higher...

Let's not forget why Einstein took out a patent for an improved refrigerator.

Apparently, I forgot. So - why?

H2 and ammonia, produced from water, are only energy storage technologies. Liquid "batteries".

The article isn't saying any different. It's about the conversion process to release hydrogen from ammonia.

Bob_Wallace
4 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2014
Does this process make it cheaper to drive than using H2 for FCEVs? H2 from electricity in FCEVs is non-competitive with electricity used in EVs.
Whydening Gyre
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2014
Does this process make it cheaper to drive than using H2 for FCEVs? H2 from electricity in FCEVs is non-competitive with electricity used in EVs.

Because the storage and H2 release mechanisms are more complex. Thusly, more expensive.
24volts
5 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2014
At current prices that would put it about $1.50 or so a gallon. Now how far that would get you after breaking it down and using the hydrogen in a fuel cell powered vehicle is another matter.
DonGateley
4.3 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2014
I would also expect that there is not much cost that can be squeezed from ammonia production given its already huge scale.
cjn
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 25, 2014
I would also expect that there is not much cost that can be squeezed from ammonia production given its already huge scale.


Production doesn't have to be cheaper than it is currently to be viable. If it is sourced domestically, and has a smaller logistics tail, then it can out-compete petroleum.
SiBorg
5 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2014
Seems like ammonia is being used as an energy carrier, if the energy density is greater than current battery or fuel cell then it seems like it could be a good idea. The thing I think this article is missing is the energy requirement for ammonia production. The place of answers has this...

http://www.ocinit...hure.pdf

as the number one result for 'Ammonia production energy requirements?' A quick glance didn't reveal anything immediately useful but I was surprised to find that the feedstock they were talking about using was oil or natural gas!? If that is the case then this would seem to be a bit of an own goal, environmentally speaking.

Any industrial chemists out there who might be able to give an approximate figure for the energy needed to produce a litre of ammonia?
Moebius
4 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2014
It sounds to me that on a weight basis and a 3 to 1 split, this solid form of storing hydrogen is going to be very hard to beat.
Moebius
2.7 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2014
It sounds to me that on a weight basis and a 3 to 1 split, this solid form of storing hydrogen is going to be very hard to beat.
Osiris1
3 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2014
I wonder if Steve Chu worked for or IS working for the gasoline industry. That would make the stupid statement he made 'logical', as it would feather his own boss' nest.
casual
4 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2014
Seems like ammonia is being used as an energy carrier, if the energy density is greater than current battery or fuel cell then it seems like it could be a good idea. The thing I think this article is missing is the energy requirement for ammonia production. The place of answers has this...


i just dont get it. aint ammonia totaly unusable if not transformed in H2? this article is talking about new way to make hydrogen from ammonia because ammonia is much easier to handle and store than H2. so it's not energy density but ease of exploitation for of usage that need to be nexat. for example H2 catalyzed from ammonia, to be used in fuel cell, or ICE that use hydrogen for its operation. this ammonia thing cant directly been used in any type of vehicle, for ICE using H2 it must be first catalyzed for exact type of fuell on which this vehicle runing, and that is also true in the case of FCEV.
tpb
3.5 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2014
Quote from text.
"A small amount of hydrogen mixed with ammonia is sufficient to provide combustion in a conventional car engine."

This implies that ammonia will combust in an ICE (fuel cell not needed) if a small amount of hydrogen can be ignited and produce enough heat to breakdown the ammonia into 3 parts hydrogen and 1 part nitrogen. The hydrogen from the ammonia breakdown would then combine with the oxygen in the air to produce more heat.
One possible problem is the probable efficient production of NOx, a major problem.

The next problem is to efficiently produce ammonia from solar, wind or nuclear power.
We produce ammonia from natural gas. Using the natural gas directly would be cheaper and more efficient.
jeffry_helms
1.7 / 5 (3) Jun 26, 2014
The game changer is blue flame natural gas-which any household can produce and store easily along with conversion kit to blue flame.
holoman
2.5 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2014
$.0.30 Kg Hydrogen from Seawater

http://thomasinst...bly.com/
Nik_2213
not rated yet Jun 26, 2014
http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

This team came up with something resembling a 'Stirling' engine for minimising the huge, high-pressure system for ammonia production.

The article also has a wry caution about ammonia's smell...
Porgie
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2014
How many times have we heard this in the last 5 years? Its like fuel cells, they have been on the verge of being commercially viable since the late seventies. The basic problem is that Hydrogen does not have enough energy to do much. At 340 mm BTUs per standard cubic foot compared to natural gas at 1040, you have to make up for the storage of 3 times as much. It has 3 times less energy. We need to stick to coal and gas for a while. Face it, green energy is 30 years away from being viable.
Bob_Wallace
not rated yet Jun 28, 2014
You've got some stuff right. But not the "green energy" part. Renewables are very viable and now producing 12.9% of US electricity (6.6% hydro, 6.3% non-hydro renewables).

12.9% is closing in on nuclear's 19% share. It's almost half what we get from natural gas (27.5%)
Anonym
1 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2014
I suppose the car of the future then will come with a catheter instead of a reserve fuel tank. And "piss off," as that phrase is used in the UK, will acquire a literal meaning.
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
You've got some stuff right. But not the "green energy" part. Renewables are very viable and now producing 12.9% of US electricity (6.6% hydro, 6.3% non-hydro renewables).

12.9% is closing in on nuclear's 19% share. It's almost half what we get from natural gas (27.5%)


As of 2011, renewables were 9% and nuclear was 9%.

Coal, due to the manner of it's usage, is actually the easiest fossil fuel to replace, because it's used almost exclusively in power plants on land. The manner in replacing this is to use wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, or nuclear.

People who use natural gas for cooking and heating(winter) are actually about 3 times cleaner than people who use coal-fired electricity for the same purposes. In fact, direct usage is actually about 3 times cleaner than would be using natural gas-fired electricity too.

A solar farm which uses natural gas as a backup is not efficient for heating a home during the night time phase, since burning the gas on site is 3x cheaper.
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
Anyway, replacing petroleum for cars, trains, trucks, and ships, is very hard, but manageable at the brink of technology, because you're dealing with on-board engines (or collectors).

Replacing Coal is cheaper because a Coal power plant is an off-board engine, for whatever it's running, therefore technology restraints are less. Your alternate power supply can be almost anything, as long as it's clean and profitable.

If you replace diesel trains with electric, you could cut some of this by having off-board power. Existing Diesel trains already use electric engines in a two step process, so it would actually be much more efficient to just remove the fuel tank and the ICE, and replace with a battery for backup, and powered rail along the track, just like sub-ways. But maintenance and hazards (to children) goes up.

Cargo/container ships -> Nuclear power plants (with military compliment vs pirates).
super-tanker ships -> become obsolete, or transport Hydrogen, etc.

Trucks are still...
Bob_Wallace
3 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2014
"As of 2011, renewables were 9% and nuclear was 9%."

In the US nuclear was 19.3% in 2011. 19.5% in 1988. Since then nuclear has maintained a 17.9% to 20.6% "market share".

We have a major leakage problem with our natural gas delivery system. While the electricity might be cleaner than that from coal, the leaked methane really needs to be stopped.

Electricity used for resistant heating is a poor choice. Instead use heat pumps and geothermal.

Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
Bob_Wallace:

I got my information from a government site, so where idd you get yours?

Though admittedly the nuclear value posted there seemed low, it was consistently written as being between 4% and 9%, not 19%.

So who is right?
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
You can use solar thermal preheaters.

55 gallons of water pre-heated to 150f is equivalent of 10 kw-h worth of heat energy above "room temperature" for every 55 gallons water.

You could store this in a 55 gallon drum (in an insulated box with a front door) at the back of a hall closet, boiler room, or other utility room, and a small 50-100 watt water pump. Pipes are vacuum insulated, except for radiators which are fed by same pipes into the rooms. Add a small, 50 watt fan to blow air across the radiators. even in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house I figure 8 x 50 watt fan, 1 x100watt water pump, gives 500 watts for moving water and air around. You collected 10kw-h per 55 gallon drum, so this amount used on fans is meaningless.

With enough storage tanks, radiators, and collectors, you could heat your home in any climate, except on the cloudiest days, for just 500watts, even at night time.

Cold water is fed back to the drums at night, but during day you open valve and feed back to collectors.
Bob_Wallace
4 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2014
Data from the EIA. http://www.eia.go.../annual/

In 2011, for example, nuclear produced 790,204 Million kWh out of a total 4,100,656 Million kWh generated from all sources.

Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
I've calculated that heating the volume of the air in my house by 1c requires 716kj of energy.

So if it was 32f outside and I wanted it to be 72 inside I'd need to calculate the heat loss (which I can later since I can get the R-value of the panels and bricks, forget what it is), and figure out how much heat is lost through the walls.

At any rate, the amount of energy that is reasonably, safely stored in a 55gallon drum is enough to heat the entire house by 50 degrees celsius(ideally), but I only need a net gain of 22 of that, after all heat losses, to maintain 72f inside the house on a 32f night.

So yeah, this should work easily, with just one drum for someone in Lousiana.

For people farther north you'd need more collectors and more drums, since you won't have as much solar energy density and won't get as high an initial temperature. Even if you only get 100f in the drums, but have 2 drums or so, you'd be fine.

I know of some other ways to heat a house in winter during the day.
Bob_Wallace
4 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2014
Thermal storage is something that is likely to increase. Currently some commercial buildings are using cheaper off-peak electricity to chill water/salts solutions and then using that stored "cold" to assist with air conditioning.

Winter storage of hot water along with a heat pump might be a very good idea for people who can't afford to do geothermal heat pumps. Put some solar water heating on the roof and use that to store away heat for building heat as needed.

Air to air heat pumps are not very expensive ($1k to $2.5k was what I found on line). It shouldn't cost much more to build a water to air heat pump although prices would likely be higher until they were manufactured in sufficient numbers.

An insulated water tank would work for both winter heating and summer cooling.
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
Winter, daytime.

Black metallic blinds with black curtain backing (your side). The metal collects the heat and it conducts it to the air quickly, the black curtain just makes sure all visible light is collected.

Summer cooling
White shutters, external, not internal. Some heat (IR) is converted by windows, even "insulated" windows, which you don't want, therefore reflective surface should be on the outside of the window, and NOT the inside of the window.

Discussion of a dirty cheap, DIY solar forced air heater, for moderate climates:

https://www.youtu...mswE70dM

This system should pay for itself in energy savings in the first season alone.

Combine with the water thermal energy storage scheme I outlined above, for storing thermal energy for night time, and you'd be paying almost nothing for energy during the gulf state's winters. Even if it snowed, just go out and brush the top of the collector of (2 minute job) and you're back in business...
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
You don't need 50w fans nor 100w water pump. You can get away with a tiny fraction of that,a nd get more cost-effectiveness out of it. Also, to be safe, not sorry, double up on the drums.

So you can storm 20kw-h of heat energy.

Use much smaller fans, like 5-10watt fans, and a 50w water pump. You just need the water to barely circulate from the hot water out side of the storage system, to the cold water in side. I don't have this installed, but hey, I just might do it.

I'm thinking of a double loop between collector and tank.

I, collector
A, Tank outside (can be diverted to hot water for washing too).
B, cold water in
C, hot water out
D, safety release valve (prevent boiling/explosion)
E, drain valve
F, valves hot
G, valve cold

II, Storage
A, 2 or more of 55 gallon (metal) drums in insulated box to be opened at night: conduction.
1, Hot out to radiators
2, 50w water pump
3, radiators w/ 5-10 watt fan
4, cool in to drums, still above room.
5a, cool out to collector
5b, valve on 5a
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 29, 2014
I've calculated that heating the volume of the air in my house by 1c requires 716kj of energy.


A cold room with warm air still feels cold, because the warmth you feel is not due to the air that is in contact with your body, but the infrared radiation that you're constantly exchanging with the walls and furniture. In fact, air is such a good insulator for convective heat transfer that the millimeters thick layer of air warmed by your own skin is enough to make it feel comfortably warm even if the air was otherwise freezing cold. Tha'ts why patio heater lamps work.

So it's not the heat capacity of the air you should be calculating - it's the walls and floors and ceilings that need to be warmed up.

And the walls have to be warm inside out so water doesn't start to condense inside them in cool weather, so your house doesn't rot. That's why there can be such thing as too much insulation. They've tried to solve that issue with plastic tarps, but they always leak eventually.
Eikka
4 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2014
this ammonia thing cant directly been used in any type of vehicle


A combustion engine can run on ammonia. It does burn.

It just requires an ignition booster, like a small portion of gasoline or plain hydrogen to get it started.

You just get 40% the mileage running on ammonia because it's worse in energy density than gasoline or diesel, or natural gas.
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
And the walls have to be warm inside out so water doesn't start to condense inside them in cool weather, so your house doesn't rot. That's why there can be such thing as too much insulation.


House is properly designed for that. internal walls are actually not insulated (except a few).
External walls, including all surrounding garage, are foam panel construction. Six inch thick foam panels instead of ceiling joists. All joints are caulked.

The windows and doors are really the only weak points in the house in terms of thermodynamics or hydrodynamics. Freaking windows still sweat, no matter how much they are called "insulated," which produces a mold problem on the window sills, which pisses me off. This happened, I think, because for some bone-head reason we put metal window frames, instead of the plastic ones. So the "insulation" is wasted, which I didn't realize this was being done at the time.
Returners
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2014
The other ones are made of a similar substance to Vinyl Siding, maybe the same thing I guess, which doesn't conduct heat and doesn't corrode, and the internal spacer is also made of Vinyl, which means it has better insulating properties all around, and has better sealing properties on the edges.

Soo, if you're doing remodeling, DON'T use the freaking metal frame windows. They suck, even if they're called "insulated".

If you want to replace windows on a brick house, you're basically going to spend several hundred or thousand, dollars on repairs. Either way, it would cost more money than the window would ever save in it's lifetime.

Which is why I thought of other solutions, including the external shutters AND internal shutters, to maximize positive results for summer and winter.

Really, the way new homes in the south have been designed by architects for the past 20 years is about the complete opposite of what they needed to be doing to maximize efficiency.
DonGateley
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2014
@Returners: Please stop blathering. I'm subscribed to the thread and your incessant inanities keep giving me false notifications.
Koen
3 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2014
"We estimate"
nilbud
not rated yet Jun 30, 2014
FastEddy
not rated yet Jul 01, 2014
The only way its going to work in our current political environment is if its cheaper....


But that is the criteria for almost everything: cheaper and less energy intensive is almost always better when it comes to raw materials production and/or energy production.
FastEddy
not rated yet Jul 01, 2014
"... We have a major leakage problem with our natural gas delivery system. While the electricity might be cleaner than that from coal, the leaked methane really needs to be stopped ...


And that will be a big challenge as natural gas "leaks" from the natural reservoirs easily and everywhere. Swamp gas also occurs naturally and prolifically. And since Methane (CH4) is the most abundant complex molecule in this Solar system and rains down on the Earth regularly, well ... How are you going to put a diaper on that?

But your idea is right. The conversion of natural gas to electric power on site (at the well head) needs a more efficient conductor for energy transport to the customers in the cities. (The North American power grid is way less than 70% efficient, 30% being wasted in transit by resistance and radiation.)
FastEddy
not rated yet Jul 01, 2014
... The basic problem is that Hydrogen does not have enough energy to do much. At 340 mm BTUs per standard cubic foot compared to natural gas at 1040, you have to make up for the storage of 3 times as much. It has 3 times less energy. We need to stick to coal and gas for a while. Face it, green energy is 30 years away from being viable.


Ditto that! There may be plenty of opportunities to cultivate "renewable" and "greener" resources, but the basics of Newtonian physics (as you note) keep getting in the way. Over all thermal inefficiencies of Hydrogen (and most other "green" alternatives) remain below par ... par being the standard set by natural gas, for one.

BTW: Natural gas could be considered as "renewable" or at least very long term viable. If North America were to rely on natural gas for all power needs, the best guess estimates are that we have a 400+ year reserve supply ... plenty of time to bring on line alternates.
FastEddy
not rated yet Jul 01, 2014
It sounds to me that on a weight basis and a 3 to 1 split, this solid form of storing hydrogen is going to be very hard to beat.


... also very hard to manufacture and maintain. The high compression and very low temperatures required may be the deal breaker.
mikegilli
not rated yet Jul 07, 2014
Amazing. Scientists patting each other on the back for seeing the obvious!
There were ammonia powered buses running in Belgium perfectly well in 1945!

There's a simple answer to climate change that's been available all along. Really? You don't believe me? The answer is to switch to a proven, cheaper, safer, CO2-free fuel that is also non toxic when used and would have saved, according to the WHO, seven million air pollution deaths last year.
All internal combustion motors can be converted easily to run on NH3 fuel, which with new tech can be made anywhere from solar energy, wind and water.
Plus converting renewables to ammonia is a great way to store energy for when there's no wind or sun.
see my modest blog here http://co2freefue...ess.com/
So why not do it??