The developers of a process to inexpensively manufacture ammonia, virtually on demand, as an eventual carbon-emission-free vehicle fuel have walked their process far enough along to begin seeking investors.
And that’s only one part of an overall technology train envisioned by SilverEagles Energy using research at Texas Tech’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Laboratory.
Researchers went public with the process Thursday afternoon with a briefing on the potential — a line of applications, moving from an inexpensive replacement for acetylene gas in welding uses, to using ammonia in fuel blending now, to high-efficiency engines with far fewer moving parts, to a machine that would produce nitric acid — used in manufacturing ammonium nitrate for farm fertilizer use.
Actually, ammonia isn’t really the fuel, said Cyd Fleming-Chase, the managing member of the corporation. Instead it’s a non-flammable way to store and deliver hydrogen — which is highly combustible — by mixing it with nitrogen, which doesn’t burn.
And, says consulting engineer John Fleming, because there’s no carbon involved in using ammonia as a combustible fuel, exhaust hydrocarbons would be non-existent.
Tim Maxwell, a mechanical engineering professor at Texas Tech and a member of the partnership, said the absence of carbons in the fuel also would mean no problems with sooty or other combustion deposits building up on engine intake or exhaust valves.
Maxwell added that because it runs at lower temperatures than gasoline engines, an ammonia-fueled engine would mean little or no production of the other pollutant from vehicle exhaust, oxides of nitrogen, also known as NOX.
An ammonia engine’s emissions would be nitrogen and water vapor, Maxwell said.
Company officials Fleming, Maxwell, Fleming-Chase and James Anderson said the company’s goal is to attract local investment — about $8 million — for the venture.
Even as they seek funding, the company already has been in talks with other local companies that could manufacture components for the various products in the technology train, which would include a generator that uses electricity to extract hydrogen gas from water.
That machine, the called the Hydrogen, is the key first step toward making the string of ideas fall into place, said Fleming, a New Zealand-born engineer who holds several patents for developing cleaner-burning home heating appliances.
The next step would be production of the ammonia machine, which would combine the Hydrogen’s technology with a way to extract nitrogen from the air.
The ammonia machine could be packaged in a shipping-container-size box and placed at a gas station or other site.
Fleming said the idea of ammonia as fuel isn’t new, adding wryly, “we applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation, and they turned us down because ‘it was not new science.”
Now, most ammonia is synthesized by the Haber process, named for German scientist Fritz Haber, who developed the process in 1910. It was used for such things as bus fuel in Europe during World War II.
Ammonia could be used now, instead of ethanol, as an “A-10 — “10 percent” — fuel additive in cars and trucks with no change at all in gas tanks or engines, said Fleming adding flexfuel vehicles could run now on an A-85 fuel blend if a different gas tank were used.
Ammonia-powered engines would represent a radical departure from what’s under the hood of today’s vehicles. The engine would generate electricity to be sent to the wheels, similar to the propulsion system in today’s hybrids and electric vehicles, rather than using a drivetrain and transmission.
Because the piston process creates its own electricity, there would be no need for an alternator to power lights and other items. Engines would be air-cooled, eliminating the radiator, as well, Maxwell said.
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Building the deal
John Fleming, consulting engineer with SilverEagles Energy, said some potential investors have been surprised at the depth of detail in the plan, which includes:
■ A business plan to build and take to market the Electrogen, a machine that uses electricity to separate hydrogen gas from water molecules on an on-demand basis. The device would be marketed toward welders and other companies that now use oxyacetelyine as a flammable gas.
■ An “ammonia machine,” which is an electric-powered device about the size of a shipping container that combines the Electrogen’s hydrogen product with nitrogen extracted from the air to make liquid ammonia, at a cost of about 80 cents a gallon, on site. Such a container has military fuel uses, and could also be installed at gas stations for fuel blending. It’s an alternative to shipping ammonia, especially in the United States, the world’s largest importer of ammonia according to TradeData International, a global trade analysis service based in Australia.
■ Research into fuel blends that could be used in current gasoline or Diesel engines while manufacturers develop ammonia-powered cars.
■ High-efficiency engines being designed and soon to be tested in cars at Tech’s vehicle laboratory.
Patents already secured in the U.S. and globally for much of the technology to be developed in connection with the various aspects of the “technology train.”
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