The NH3 or ammonia for fuel effort has no central point to focus one’s attention, but constant watching has turned up an interesting effort centered in Lubbock Texas at the Whitacre College of Engineering at Texas Tech.

Ammonia Molecule in 3D 1Blue Nitrogen Atom and 3 Gray Hydrogen Atoms. Click image for the largest view.

September saw the school tour Dr. Keith Kozlowski of the Air Force Research Lab at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida with an eye to teaming up for research grant efforts.  News from The New Zealand Herald suggests sometime about then the school attracted consulting engineer John Fleming from New Zealand to join with the faculty and students. These by themselves don’t look like much in the U.S. until one has an idea of what Fleming is capable of as known down under explained in part by the Herald report.

Fleming, an Auckland University engineering graduate, is responsible for a string of inventions that produced more efficient, cleaner-burning heating appliances and holds a number of patents. He rose to prominence in New Zealand with Kent Heating, then with its parent Shell Oil. Now a consulting engineer, he has turned his attention to cutting the big issues raised by hydrogen down to size.

John Fleming Consulting Engineer Now at Texas Tech.

The attraction about Fleming is tangible contributions. The first is a small, cheap processing plant that converts hydrogen and nitrogen into ammonia using a compression and decompression system. The little plant provides on-site production of hydrogen-carrying liquid fuel, NH3.  That solves the problem of storing and distributing (with considerable energy loss from transport) NH3 gas from large and expensive centralized plants.

The Texas Tech effort seems either based or improved from an electrolyzer Fleming devised for potential use in gas fireplaces.  The Fleming designed NH3 processor offers huge cost savings in the production of hydrogen using electricity. The processor is suggested to cost $200US and is predicted to produce fuel for about 27¢ a liter, about $1.00 a gallon.

Shudders of dread might be passing through fertilizer producers at that news.

More encouraging is that Fleming can be just barely spotted at Texas Tech from orders for machining work to build what Texas Tech is calling the “Electrogen”.

The key man in all of this is Dr. Timothy Maxwell at Texas Tech, who was the guide for touring Dr. Kozlowski back in September.  One might think Dr. Maxwell has high expectations of Fleming and goals that go right to an alternative fuel solution free of carbon, focusing on hydrogen with nitrogen as the molecular carrier, instead.

Fleming’s processor uses water as the hydrogen source, nitrogen from air and electricity. Because the plants can store electricity, they can make use of renewable sources such as wind, wave, solar and hydro-electric plants at off-peak times, making them even more efficient and viable. He says several investors are vying for the rights to commercialize the process.

Fleming was back in New Zealand over the holidays to garner support and identify opportunities for Auckland University’s engineering department to collaborate with Texas Tech. Fleming, an Auckland alumni class of 1968, credits the engineering school’s broad-based curriculum for his ability, and other New Zealand engineers, to solve problems outside their discipline – unlike overseas-trained colleagues whose skills are compartmentalized.

Fleming sees NH3 a little differently than most; in the short term ammonia fuel would be blended with petroleum fuels to run in existing vehicles.  Over time though, vastly more efficient engines could emerge, because ammonia allows much higher compression ratios.  A blend step with methanol or ethanol might be a diesel solution fully freed of fossil fuel.  Fleming points out, “If you really want to take advantage of it (NH3), you go to much higher compression ratios using rapid injection devices with huge thermal efficiency improvements.”

NH3 poses some difficulties.  Even though NH3 is already widely used in industry, safety codes are in place and, unlike hydrocarbons and hydrogen gas, it won’t blow up.  Making NH3 safe to use and consumer friendly, developing high-pressure storage tanks to replace petrol tanks in vehicles are matters of prime interest.

NH3 can be liquefied, a solution in part for safety.  Small processors solve the transport and distribution issues in a major way.  The Texas Tech effort seems to be closing in on the production cost, too.  That leaves the storage matter – a problem looking for solutions more likely answered by demand for engineering than research.

One would think that an economy faced with a fundamental need for very cheap energy supplies would move more hastily towards a very low cost source that bypasses the hydrogen era and goes directly to a nitrogen-hydrogen economy.

The motives are very basic.  Cheap. Limitless. No carbon.  Think about it.

4 NH3 + 3 O2 → 2 N2 + 6 H2O (g) (ΔHºr = –1267.20 kJ/mol)  About half the energy density of diesel.


13 Comments so far

  1. jp straley on February 2, 2011 11:14 AM

    Can use urea to store NH2 simply, 2 NH2 per molecule with one C=O. Easy to store and convert.

  2. willG on February 3, 2011 1:50 PM

    The GreenNH3 people in Canada have been doing similar things in Canada for at least 4 years. They run many types of vehicles on the fuel and stress one of the main advantages being decentralized low cost safe fuel supply.
    The Canadian government was not interested since it was very close tied to BigOil.
    Maybe someone should get these two together to speed things up?

  3. Chelley Chase on February 3, 2011 4:52 PM

    Liquid Ammonia apparently IS the storage medium (carrier for the Hydrogen) and can, if and when needed, be converted back into electricity. This is the key storage element that has been missing as far as renewables are concerned, isn’t it…easily convertible liquid storage at low pressures? As far as safety issues, remember that our grandmothers (or greatgrans) used household ammonia as a cleaner generations ago…the Sears catalog was listing it in 1897.
    I’m surprised that, since Fleming (who, by the way, I understand does NOT work directly for Texas Tech University) was in New Zealand at the same time, Oprah (or rather her research staff) did not glom onto the lengthy article in the New Zealand Herald since she was in Australia (which New Zealanders often refer to as the West Island.) One would think that this is exactly the thing that President Obama (Oprah’s friend) is looking for as the answer to beginning to a. disconnect us from the mess in the Middle East and b. provide a viable, rapid-rollout, cost-effective energy source that is clean (even in the production process) and carbon free. Also, what an economic opportunity for a struggling USA for new business and new jobs! I’m blown away by the concept of this as a LIQUID fuel that can be blended with gasoline and used in existing vehicles AND produced at point-of-sale without lengthy and costly transport. Nothing else I’ve seen has offered such an opportunity to quickly/readily utilize EXISTING infrastructure. I’m with you guys: the Powers That Be need to be taking a serious look at this one!

  4. nick on February 4, 2011 4:34 PM

    how would i go about buying the unit that converts hydrogen into ammonia we are successfully running our cars on hydrogrn with a 10 to 30 percent saving but we found it can be inconsistent so we run a number of units together is their a process we can set up or build ourselves to produce the ammonia from hydrogen any forthcoming would be very appreciated

  5. Rolanda on February 6, 2011 2:27 PM

    I’m still learning from you, as I’m improving myself. I definitely enjoy reading everything that is written on your blog. Keep the tips coming. I like it!

  6. Gyoergy Kohut on February 17, 2011 10:59 AM

    A paradigm change in the engine + energy-future with sunshine-wind-solar fuel/ Wind and Solar Power Combined – The Hybrid Systems/
    The key to NH3 fueled ICengine&energy they are my engines

    Best Regards, Gyoergy Kohut naturlandian
    Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions
    “Unlimited bio-economics evolution of ICengine & energy technology Shamsergyharvester”

  7. Steve Gruhn on February 23, 2011 12:51 PM

    This is something that our group Freedom Fertilizer has been working on for a number of years. NH3’s potential as fuel and energy storage is very exciting and has not received the recognition it deserves. There is an existing organization started by the Iowa Energy Center that its main focus is just that Ammonia as fuel.

    Both of these website contain a wealth of information.

    As far as NH3 electrolysis being something new I hate to tell Texas Tech that the Aggies patented this several years ago through an SBIR partner Lyntech

    Our research shows that the energy required for this type of reaction is much more than what Dr Fleming states. If he has something truly different I would like for him to contact me as we have done lots of work in this area and have patented something similar ourselves. In the mean time Freedom Fertilizer is focused on the time proven Haber reaction that can do the same thing and be 100% green if renewable sources of energy are used to drive the process. If in the future there is a true break through we are ready to adapt it. When NH3 can be produced for $500 per ton using renewable sources of energy it is equal to $3.50 per gallon gasoline and today we can come very close to that using existing technology. Seems to me we are not seeing the forest for the trees on this one…….Wake up America with Ammonia Fuel

  8. William Hanners on March 9, 2011 12:59 AM

    Ammonia is toxic. Hydrazine is explosive. Urea has carbon and is low in hydrogen by weight. If you are making ammonia from electric power, then this is power storage, not power production. Ammonium nitrate yields “green” gasses as products of energy release, but . . .?
    So who is jealous of this research? Me. Good fortune to all of you.

  9. Gyoergy Kohut on March 9, 2011 1:50 AM

    The engine is not only for NH3 as fuel.
    My engines are flex-fuel, biogas and steam engines.
    Objectives are the advanced kinetic-mechanic-thermodynamic,
    and frictionless-min. An the energy-plunder, quench-effect, reduction with VCR.
    The H2-NH3 is only an alternative for me and for my Shamsergy harvester, as the energy-storage for c-hcci-kohut engines. To understand need a truth fast brain without “mainstreaming”. What is “MAINSTREAMING”?
    Your BRAIN makes the decisions you THINK you make six seconds before you make them. “Paranormal? No, pure science…
    Only the laws in the UNIVERSE the are dominant.
    Regretting that my response could not be more favorable, I nevertheless thank you for your interest in C-HCCI engines because my way is the 65% and more fuel efficiency in the advanced constrained-hcci reciprocating engines/ Wind and Solar Power Combined – The Hybrid Systems NH3 is a little fraction. My work is One Planet One World opposed to dirty not efficient engines – having only 40% eff, and endless toxic soot, NOx.
    Current engines are dirty with cancer toxic emission full/not the all/
    Have good luck with MAINSTREAMING petrol industry/mind control INDUSTRY
    the c-hcci engines they are so perfect like the Rubik´s-cube from 43trillions only one is perfect, and this perfect solution, killing with lack of the knowledge, lack of the understanding, lack of the HUMANITY (not the NH3 is the question)
    The old economy of greed and dominion is dying. A new economy of life and
    partnership is struggling to be born. The outcome is ours to chose.
    The institutions of Empire will not act from within to voluntarily relinquish their power. Leadership for the turning must come from popular civic initiatives centered outside the institutions of Empire.
    Empire has always met resistance from those with a larger vision of human possibility. Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among the more visible examples.

  10. Gyoergy Kohut on March 10, 2011 2:31 AM
  11. Michael Turner on March 10, 2011 10:46 AM

    This is a subject I have been working at for very many years.
    I think I have most of the answers you are needing in this research.
    Please contact me as this should be progressed as soon as possible.
    Initial supplies, carriers etc. Simple answers. Mike.

  12. Gyoergy Kohut on March 10, 2011 12:36 PM

    Thank You Mike Well right the NETOCRACY, without the mainstreaming.
    Are we too blind to see, do we simply turn our heads and look the other way,? well the world turns?; – not! the knowledge, innovation,
    pioneer soul, the true free market is the only good answer for
    actualities, here and now, HUMAN, ZEITGEIST, What Can We/ You/ Do to Help Save Our Planet? True FREE MARKET,Economics, Not Environmentalists, Will Save the World,
    Please see below my contact

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