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Hydrogen Engine Center Building Ammonia-Fueled System

Hydrogen Engine Center will work together with Sawtelle & Rosprim to design and build the world’s first Ammonia-Fueled Irrigation Pump System for the purpose of meeting California’s new emissions requirements scheduled to go into effect in 2010.

Plans include integrating HEC’s ammonia-powered engines with Sawtelle’s pump technologies and expertise to complete a prototype system for testing and evaluation. The prototype system is being designed to run 24 hours a day and is expected to be tested in California during the 2007 irrigation season. HEC intends to begin selling the finalized system into California during 2008.

We believe that the demonstration of this engine will complete years of development work and will allow the sale of our systems worldwide without concerns about hydrogen storage, cost, availability or permitting. With the success of this project, we hope to move ammonia-fueled engines into the genset market.

—Ted Hollinger, HEC President

Ammonia (NH3), also known as anhydrous ammonia, which the agricultural industry has relied on as a fertilizer for many years, contains no carbon, stores like propane and is the second most prevalent chemical in the world. Ammonia contains more hydrogen per cubic foot than liquid H2. Hollinger considers ammonia the “other hydrogen.”

An infrastructure for ammonia is already in place, as transporting and storing the fuel is much like that of propane. Usage and safety regulations for ammonia are already in place, therefore, the process of obtaining a permit to use ammonia is usually relatively simple. Ammonia pipelines can be found in many areas of the United States, including Iowa, and distribution of the fuel is already established.

HEC has established an Oxx Power engine line-up capable of running on a multitude of fuels, including hydrogen, and sees the decision to design ammonia-fueled engines the next logical step.

Work on ammonia-fueled combustion engines goes back at least to 1967 with some demonstrations of spark- and compression-ignited ammonia-fueled engines by the US Army. In a 2005 report, Hollinger noted that HEC has a proprietary controller that can run a fuel-injected spark-ignited engine fueled by ammonia.

Work done on advanced internal combustion engines by Sandia National Laboratories in 2000 found that:

The combustion of ammonia exhibits ideal Otto cycle performance in our free piston combustion experiment, and produces conversion efficiencies comparable to hydrogen.

Ammonia is comparable to gasoline as a fuel for combustion engines. Three gallons of ammonia is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline in energy content. In other terms, 2.35 pounds of ammonia is equivalent to one pound of gasoline in energy content.

HEC projects two versions of its ammonia engine: a 4.9-liter inline 6 and a 7.5-liter V-8, both fuel injected, and both using a new Oxx Boxx engine controller.




Where does the ammonia come from, "well to wheel" analysis, ROEI?
How much does it cost?


A few points to ponder

1) Anhydrous ammonia is nasty stuff, I remember a friend of mine that ended up in the hospital due to a farming accident involving anhydrous.

2) Anhydrous ammonia is produced using natural gas, and because cars can run on natural gas directly...


Per Wikipedia, industrial ammonia is typically synthesized from H2 (steam reformed from natural gas) and N from the atmosphere. Don't know about cost/well-to-wheel.

I'm guessing the reason for this development is that since ammonia is widely used in agriculture, it's already available close to the irrigation pumps. Will farmers save money using ammonia for fuel vis-a-vis gasoline or diesel? Depends on cost of natural gas, no doubt.

tom deplume

Biomass can be put through a F-T conversion to produce the H2 for the ammonia manufacturing process.

Paul Dietz

F-T is something that consumes syngas, not produces it. You mean gasification.

Ammonia as a fuel makes little sense to me, with one exception: it might make sense for use with alkaline fuel cells, since it can be converted to nitrogen + ammonia without having to scrub away CO2. You'd still need to scrub the air of CO2, but presumably that's easier due to the lower concentration compared to the gas from reformed carbonaceous fuels.


Industrial ammonia is cheap


As I mentioned before, fuel cell could be considered seriously only when it will be fueled by liquid hydrogen carrier. Ammonia, as being murderously toxic, is not a good candidate for such carrier (same with my previous example of hydrasin). But the direction is certainly right.

John Schreiber

My preliminary research into this indicates ammonia weighs approximately 6 pounds per gallon, roughly the same weight as gasoline.
So range would be less than 50% of gasoline in a motor vehicle. To that I say: give me ethanol, at least the vapor won't kill me.
HEC is all about replacement electricity production during times when a wind or solar energy plant is unable to operate. Perhaps there is some energy savings in storing excess renewable energy as ammonia over H2.

jitendra singh

give details about the fuel cell system.

Earl Klaubert

Good show! I have been trying, obviously ineffectively, to create support for a demonstration engine using anhydrous ammonia in a fuel-injected system since about 1994. I'm glad to see it coming to fruition. I am a retired chemical engineer with experience designing and operating a short-lived (4 years) dynamometer lab for a US department.
I would appreciate being kept informed of your progress.


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Ammonia has great potential as an easily transported fuel for motor vehicles. Ammonia is made from nitrogen and hydrogen by an efficient and well proven technique. The hydrogen source is typically natural gas, but it could be any source of energy used to split water. If the energy source were nuclear, wind, or solar, there would be zero carbon emissions. The other key here is that we don't need oil from the world's tyrants to make it. As long as we have any source of energy it can be made right here at home from air and water without financing world terror and corrupt regimes!

alan holsapple

I don't think that there is a higher density hydrogen carrier than ammonia. This coupled with the portability and low volitility make it a clear favorite for a carbonless fuel. Toxicity is clearly a hurdle. What is the next best carbonless fuel? Let's see.... uhhh, hummm... I dunno. Any one have a canidate?

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