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Ammonia plan to take emissions out of transport

An American billionaire plans to decarbonise domestic and commercial transport by using vast quantities of ammonia as an alternative fuel, NCE can reveal.

Speaking last week, chairman and CEO of Simmons & Company International investment bank, Matthew Simmons said: “I believe peak oil [the time when oil production begins to permanently decline] has passed – in fact I think peak oil was reached in 2005.

“I’m now looking at alternatives to gasoline [petrol] and I believe I can use ammonia to fill this gap.”

Simmons says ammonia (NH3) is of particular interest because it can be used in both diesel and petrol engines, but when burnt it does not produce any greenhouse gases. Emission products are water and nitrogen, both climate-change neutral.

However, Simmons’ approach is novel – he proposes to erect offshore wind turbines: “And use the energy to desalinate seawater, and then electrolyse this pure water to produce hydrogen. This can then be reacted with nitrogen in the atmosphere to make ammonia.

“The ammonia is a liquid at room temperature and behaves rather like liquid propane. The ammonia can then be distributed using the existing gasoline network,” he said.

Simmons says he will launch a trial later this year or next year in the Gulf of Maine and would be keen to begin a second pilot in the EU, although he would not reveal the cost of the pilot.

Dr Mark Delucci, chief research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis told NCE: “The idea is nice and it would indeed be a zero-carbon fuel. But ammonia is pretty noxious stuff. Then there is also the problem of ammonia being the starting point for bomb-making.

“Ammonia can be used as an aircraft fuel, so there could be an opening for this idea to remove carbon emissions from aviation,” he said.

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