Saturday, February 16, 2008

Doom-mongering, or extremely prescient?

I came across this article in RIA Novosti considering the Kyoto protocol, and its potential outcomes, by chance, and it makes for quite interesting reading. The author is one Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Now some of you will undoubtedly dismiss his considerations as outright doom-mongery, others may regard them as quite plausible forecasts of just what could happen in the decades to come.

I'll leave you to make up your own mind. Me? I just hope his prescience does not turn out to be overtly accurate!

The alternative fuel of the future?

I mentioned the possible use of ammonia as a fuel the other day in a post about peak oil (see lower down) and having 5 minutes free this afternoon thought I'd have a quick look.

It seems that the technology is already just about in place. In fact nH3ydrofuel of Canada is literally on the verge of marketing a conversion kit allowing petrol engined vehicles to run on ammonia ($6000). Now at first sight that might seem a hefty price, but with petrol at $1+ per litre ammonia is comparatively cheap at ~50 cents per litre. The technology will also allow you to fill the special tank with LPG so you car effectively becomes a tri-fuel hybrid.

OK, so what are the environmental impacts of running an internal combustion engine on ammonia? The good news is that CO2 emissions are minuscule (you have to start the vehicle on petrol for 15 seconds in order to purge the equipment, but that's negligible) and once the ammonia feed kicks in it produces virtually no CO2. My immediate concern was that NOX emissions might be a problem, but they claim that they are only 25% of the NOX emissions from burning petrol. So this would appear to be an extremely environmentally friendly fuel.

They have filed some 20 patents covering all types of engines (including diesel) and several very interesting ones around power plants running ammonia for developing local electricity supplies. These also include patents for taking domestic, commercial and human waste and converting it to ammonia; the idea being that local authorities could generate their own electricity from waste that would otherwise go to landfill.

Despite the action of the Canadian government 25 years ago (Greg Vezina demonstrated a vehicle running on ammonia back in the 1980's but promised developmental assistance was withdrawn in preference to oil subsidies), ammonia energy technology definitely seems like one to watch for the future.

Remember, you heard about it first here on Junkk.

Just for the sake of providing balance, the potential downside to the use of ammonia as a fuel is that the only cheap way of producing it is from a natural gas feedstock, which is, of course, a finite and non-renewable source.

Addendum2 (via Junkk Male):

A welcome (if contrary) new contribution from, I believe, a new poster in the comments section. As this is an interesting and important issue I have updated the whole post, and it also gives me a chance to pop in his link hyperwhizzbang attached.

I think we need to figure a way of adding Dave's tip on how to do that on comments in the main body somehow. Maybe we should suggest it to Blogger?

Addendum 3 (Dave):
Geoff, thanks for the contribution. If you read through all of the posts in the forum discussion from the link you provided ( direct link above), it actually concludes that Ammonia could well be a viable alternative fuel, at least from a theoretical scientific viewpoint. "It takes 46 kj/mol to turn the ammonia into N2 and H2, then releases 363 kj/mol when you burn the H2. So you get a net energy output of about 317 kj/mol of NH3."

Addendum 4 (JunkkMale):

Greenbang - NEW - Chilled ammonia: the new carbon capture star - Would you like an olive with that? Not quite the right place, but the stuff is getting about!