The foul-smelling fuel that could power big ships

Posted: November 6, 2020 by oldbrew in Emissions, Energy, ideology, Travel
Tags: ,

Design concept

Another attempt to play the imaginary ‘human-caused climate’ game gets underway. This time it’s ammonia (NH3), a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, used as fuel to appease the legions of carbophobes in power today.
– – –
An enormous engine, the height of three floors, growls loudly at a test centre in Copenhagen.

Nearby a team of engineers supervise it from a control room resembling a ship’s bridge.

Usually such an engine would be propelling a large ship across the sea, but this one is being prepared to take part in a ground-breaking project, says BBC News.

Engineers want to see if they can make it run on liquid ammonia.

Ammonia has long been a key component in fertiliser, cleaning products and refrigerators.

But in the search for new cleaner fuels, the foul-smelling substance has emerged as a frontrunner to power ocean-going ships.

Around 90% of all goods traded globally are transported by sea. But ships are gas guzzlers. Marine transport produces around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) wants to halve emissions by 2050, from 2008 levels. That requires a substantial shift to green technology.

Brian Soerensen, a research and development chief at Man Energy Solutions, says several fuels are being explored: “One of the options we believe will be ammonia. Methanol could be another one, biofuel could be a third.”

Ammonia has an advantage as it contains no carbon, so can burn in an engine without emitting carbon dioxide.

By early 2024, Man Energy Solutions plans to install an ammonia-ready engine on a ship. The first models will be dual-fuel, able to run on traditional marine gas oil as well.

While it is less energy-rich than today’s marine fuels, liquid ammonia is more energy-dense than hydrogen, another zero-emission fuel.

Hydrogen has already powered cars, planes and trains. It’s cheaper to produce than ammonia, but harder to handle as it has to be stored at minus 253C. Ammonia becomes liquid below minus 34C and at higher temperatures if under pressure.

“Ammonia sits very nicely in the middle,” says Dr Tristan Smith, an expert in low carbon shipping from University College London. “It’s not too expensive to store and not too expensive to produce.”

There are challenges. Burning ammonia can create polluting nitrous oxides, therefore the exhaust needs cleaning up. It is also toxic, so requires careful handling and storage.

However, safety know-how and some port infrastructure are already in place, says Mr Soerensen, because the fertiliser industry is well-established.

“It’s being transported seaborne today. We know how to handle ammonia on board a ship, not as a fuel, but as a cargo.”

Full report here.

  1. Adam Gallon says:

    Consulting Wiki (No problems with it for factual content)
    “Ammonia does not burn readily or sustain combustion, except under narrow fuel-to-air mixtures of 15–25% air.”
    “The combustion of ammonia in air is very difficult in the absence of a catalyst (such as platinum gauze or warm chromium(III) oxide), due to the relatively low heat of combustion, a lower laminar burning velocity, high auto-ignition temperature, high heat of vaporization, and a narrow flammability range.”

  2. stephen richards says:

    Around 90% of all goods traded globally are transported by sea. But ships are gas guzzlers. Marine transport produces around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

    90% of goods for 2% of emissions. That’s a great deal, then . Not

  3. oldbrew says:

    Japan carbon pledge boosts hopes of ammonia backers
    Nov 02, 2020

    ‘it won’t be considered environmentally friendly unless produced renewably’
    – – –
    Just one obstacle after another for deluded climate paranoiacs.

  4. Gamecock says:

    Ammonia has been demonstrated to be a viable fuel for ships. That part is real.

    Ammonia has been demonstrated to have about 40% of the energy of bunker crude. You can run your ship on ammonia. You will need 2.5X the fuel. Less cargo; more fuel. A bad deal.

  5. JB says:

    “It is also toxic, so requires careful handling and storage.”

    That is an understatement. It destroys metals, plastics, and lungs. Working with it on farm fertilizer rigs was nasty, fraught with endless problems, and can tear your lungs up in seconds. The last thing these designers ever address is failure modes and their hazards.

  6. Jc Collins says:

    Wasn’t ammonia supposed to take over from freon as a refrigerant? Ooh, yeah. That’s right. Banned as unsafe many decades before.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    IF, for whatever brain dead reason, you want to reduce the total CO2 coming out of a Diesel engine, the easiest way to do that is to fumigate methanol into the air intake as a “co fuel”. You let the injected Diesel act as a kind of “spark plug” to ignite the flammable gas mixture from the air intake.

    Instead of 10 carbons surrounded by 22 hydrogens, you get one carbon with 3 hydrogens and an OH group.

    This is NOT a hypothetical. It is commonly done with methane for standby Diesel generators and some ships that haul methane. I’ve done it with my boat. A couple of decades back. A Volvo Penta Marine Diesel with methanol in the air intake as a co-fuel (about 80%+ of fuel burned).

    Does’t take anything exotic. Just a hose and a spray spreader nozzle at the end. Adjust the Diesel to about 10% to 25% of throttle then turn on the methane or alcohol for the rest up to 100% power. (Computerized controls on Caterpillar generators let you optimize this better. Low compression 18 : 1 Diesels work best. High compression makes it harder without pre-ignition and do not do it in a Dodge Cummins Diesel as they use an air heater box for preheat in winter and are prone to ping / knock if the mix gets off )

    Ammonia is a horrible fuel and worse chemical exposure risk. It acts as an alkali (you can make ammonia soaps substituting ammonia for sodium lye in the process…) and can be lethal.

    Oh, and Diesels already have “issues” with NOx formation. You have to put “blue goo” in special tanks to try to control it (urea injection). Load them up with Ammonia and your NOx levels will be catastrophic. NOx with water vapor makes a variety of nitrous and nitric acids… Good luck with those exhaust valves and pipes…

  8. oldmanK says:

    E.M.Smith says: November 7, 2020 at 4:49 am Q ” It is commonly done with methane for standby Diesel generators”. Brings memories.

    Fairbanks Morse supplied such a generator in 1950, part of a Marshall Aid package. Complete with the gas equipment/fittings. Just 375kW. Cut my teeth on that one, firing up a station from blackout.

    But that’s all in the past. Modern looks better, if one doesn’t look close under the cover. Maybe someday diesels will run on snake oil.

  9. hunterson7 says:

    Sorry to have killed the crew but at be happy!
    They died in a green manner, fighting global warming!

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