Approximately 83% (as of 2003) of ammonia is used as fertilizers either as its salts or as solutions. Consuming more than 1% of the man-made power, the production of ammonia is significant component of the world energy budget.“
“For remediation of gaseous emissions
Ammonia used to scrub SO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, the resulting product is converted to ammonium sulfate for use as fertilizer. Ammonia neutralizes the nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollutants emitted by diesel engines. This technology, called SCR (selective catalytic reduction), relies on a vanadia-based catalyst.
As a fuel
Ammonia was used during World War II to power buses in Belgium, and in engine and solar energy applications prior to 1900. Liquid ammonia was used as the fuel of the rocket airplane, theX-15. Although not as powerful as other fuels, it left no soot in the reusable rocket engine and its density approximately matches that for the oxidizer, liquid oxygen, which simplified the aircraft’s design. Ammonia is proposed as a practical and clean alternative to fossil fuel for internal combustion engines (the combustion products are nitrogen and water). In 1981 a Canadian company converted a 1981 Chevrolet Impala to operate using ammonia as fuel. The use of ammonia as fuel continues to be discussed.
The calorific value of ammonia is 22.5 MJ/kg (9690 BTU/lb) which is about half that of diesel. In a normal engine, in which the water vapour is not condensed, the calorific value of ammonia will be about 21% less than this figure.”
Note that the second use (scrubbing SO2) is highly important for the absolutely vital technology of coal liquification. I want to argue that people ought not get too excited about the direct substitution of Ammonia for hydrocarbon liquid fuel. Its a better deal than Hydrogen but this still begs the question as to where the energy is going to originate from in the first place. Rather I see a more perfect fit between wind and ammonia. Which is in itself a hydrocarbon substitution and one of the sort of magnitude that might realistically be handled by wind power.
I wouldn’t consider wind power to be cost effective in the more general sense. Its really the case of needing the biggest blade-width in the best places with the strongest and most consistent wind…. and even then only where you have proximaty to a population with a good grid system.
So you really want to be able to use that wind power on the spot and intermittantly. Using the wind power to produce hydrogen-through-electrolysis seemed like a good idea. You could produce the hydrogen and purified oxygen whenever the wind blew and store it for local use. But even in this case what was needed was a whole slew of tractors, cars, machinery, hydrogen storage facilities and so forth, in order to make this localised use work.
There is obviously no transmitting wind-electricity from Antarctica. And so it was hard to see how a lot of projects could get off the ground without infrastructural investment by government or outright subsidy. Both of which ought to be considered no good.
Matt Simmons was talking about an associate of his who located a small sweet spot off the coast of Maine. He found this spot where in the winter there is basically a small mini-cyclone and they can whack in a wind-farm and get consistent electricity throughout the winter. Heating costs are pretty high in the Maine winter apparently and this is a way of saving on heating oil even if the summer production is not really there. But Simmons was thinking in the summer they would use the more intermittant power for ammonia production. And then the ammonia production could be used as a transport fuel.
I suspect when it comes down to it that won’t be the commercial option. Ammonia-based fertilisers are now manufactured from methane. Which is one of the best fuels around and so it ought to be a direct substitution. If you can make the ammonia via wind-power and save on the methane than thats the sort of development that needs no government subsidy or infrastructure.
The windiest continent is of course Antarctica. And whereas America has its wind corridor and Tasmania has its roaring 40’s the Antarcitic probably has a great deal more good spots for wind power and stronger winds. The production of ammonia doesn’t pose the same transmission or problems as power and if its for fertiliser not even the same transport problems as methane.
The ammonia can be dissolved in water if the preferred option is not to compress it. And while this might be not OK for NH3 for fuel its fine for Ammonia for fertiliser. Then huge amounts of it can be towed back in very slow yet very cheap barges or tankers.
So I suspect this could be a catalyst industry for putting together the full spectrum of industrial development in Antarctica. But we first need to trash that outrageous Antarctic treaty.
Later on down the track if there is this glut of Ammonia then you will get niche vehicles using it as an energy source and you can get a supply-driven ammonia-transport-industry going on right there. But for the moment such notions are getting ahead of themselves. And to have plentiful cheap fertiliser, which doesn’t eat into our methane supply, is an energy winner right there. One doesn’t have to be too fancy and ambitious about it. We have the energy-saving and we have the Antarctic-industry catalyst. The rest can follow in its own good market-driven time.
This is the catalyst we needed to get the whole ball rolling in Antarctica. First comes the ammonia production. Than the resting place for fishermen and resources prosopectors. The tourism. The fish processing plants and the fisheries transport companies. Then the oil, coal and general mining. But we needed something to start off the wind harnessing and the Antarctic infrastructure and commerce. And I think we have it right here.