High school student's argument for ammonia-fueled cars is awesome

Illustration for article titled High school students argument for ammonia-fueled cars is awesome

Carbon emissions from cars and other vehicles are a huge part of what is driving current climate changes. Now a high school student has made a passionate argument for ammonia-fueled cars, and he even got it published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Doo Won Kang is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. Ammonia fuel isn't a new idea, but Kang does a great job explaining how it works, and why it would be a good solution scientifically and economically.

In the Bulletin, Kang explains why ammonia is a good candidate for an alternative fuel:

An ammonia molecule is composed of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. Ammonia can be burned in internal combustion engines with minor modifications — emitting only nitrogen and water vapor from the tailpipe, even when only low-cost emissions controls are used. Unburned ammonia and nitrogen oxides in the engine's exhaust would be removed by a selective catalyst reduction system. Ammonia can be produced, at an affordable cost, by a catalytic reaction between nitrogen (obtained from air, which is 78 percent nitrogen) and hydrogen (obtained by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen).

Ammonia-fueled vehicles operate in much the same way as gasoline-fueled vehicles: Liquid ammonia is burned with oxygen, producing energy that is harnessed to drive the vehicle's wheels. This familiar technology means that ammonia-fueled vehicles can generally be built and maintained in the same way as the current vehicle fleet. But unlike conventionally fueled vehicles, ammonia-powered cars would not emit carbon dioxide.

Most cars on the road can run on a mixture of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent liquid ammonia, and could be modified to run on a mixture of up to 80 percent ammonia—at a cost of $1,000 to $5,000 per vehicle. An engine that could run entirely on ammonia is currently under development.

A 2005 study by the Risø National Laboratory in Denmark concluded that ammonia would be no more dangerous than current fuels. Ammonia has been used as an industrial and agricultural chemical for more than a century, and it dissipates rapidly when released because it is lighter than air.

The infrastructure for large-scale production and distribution of ammonia already exists worldwide. Gas stations would require only modest changes to dispense ammonia. It can be stored easily in pressurized tanks at relatively low pressure.


Read more at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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Captain Gladys Stoatpamphlet

What supplies the energy to produce the ammonia? Thermodynamics is not impressed.