Ammonia FAQs: fossil fools use fossil fuels!

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Nature's Hydrogen TankQ: What is ammonia?

A: Ammonia is simply Hydrogen and Nitrogen (NH3). Notice there is no carbon (C) in “NH3”. That means when you burn ammonia, it cannot release carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, or other greenhouse pollutants.

Q: Why use ammonia for a vehicle fuel?

A: Ammonia is one of the few practical liquid high-energy density non-petroleum fuels that we will ever have. The laws of physics and chemistry limit the ways in which we can transfer energy efficiently. Ammonia is one of the few chemical compounds which is a liquid, rapidly releases energy in combustion and has a high energy density by volume. All of these parameters are needed for powering vehicles in a practical manner. And as wonderful added bonus, ammonia generates no greenhouse gases or carbon particulate emissions.


Q: Where do you get Ammonia?

A: Ammonia occurs naturally only in very small amounts. Almost all ammonia is manufactured. Most people are surprised to find out that ammonia is the 4th largest manufactured and transported commodity in the United States. This is because ammonia is used for fertilizer for growing many of the foods here and around the world. Because so much ammonia is used by farmers everywhere, ammonia is available almost everywhere. On the trip across the US, the NH3 Car “filled up” just once at welding supply store in Wyoming, about half way between Detroit and San Francisco.

Q: What is needed to manufacture ammonia?

A: Ammonia can be made from air, water and a source of energy. Nitrogen from the air, and hydrogen from the water. Really!

Q: Can ammonia be made from renewable or “green” energy sources?

A: Yes. This is one of the huge benefits of ammonia as a fuel. You can’t make crude oil or gasoline at any price. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. But ammonia can be manufactured from any source of energy including great renewables like hydro-electric, solar or wind power! And manufacturing ammonia does not involve shifting vast quantities of land from producing food to producing plants for biofuels.

Q: What are the emissions from a converted ammonia fueled vehicle?peak-oil2

A: The emissions from the burned ammonia are nitrogen and water vapor. When operated dual fuel, the gasoline or other hydrocarbon may still generate a small amount of CO and CO2, etc. However, this emission is typically reduced by roughly 60 to 70%.

The World Health Organisation estimates 7,000,000 of us a year die from air pollution, mostly caused by toxic motor exhausts. Ammonia powered vehicles have existed for more than 100 years. So over 100 million of us have died horribly and needlessly early deaths over the last century due to the choice of petroleum instead of ammonia as motor fuel.

Q: Is ammonia Dangerous?

A: All fuels and energy sources, including even charged batteries have some potential hazard associated with them. However, ammonia will not explode like gasoline, natural gas or hydrogen. In fact, it is difficult to get ammonia to burn, even though it makes an excellent fuel for cars and trucks. Ammonia vehicle fueling and storage takes place safely without any human access to the ammonia liquid or gas, just like the fueling process for natural gas vehicles. NH3 Fuel risk analysis report carried out by Quest Consultant  see Here

Also, ammonia does not represent a long term toxin to cellular biology, whereas gasoline is quite poisonous. Ammonia is classified as a caustic substance, which means inhaling it or getting it on your skin isn’t healthy, but overall it is far less dangerous than gasoline.

NH3 truck worked fine 100 years ago!
NH3 truck worked fine 100 years ago!

Q: Is ammonia a liquid or a gas?

A: Ammonia quickly turns to a gas when exposed to air. But ammonia is easily and indefinitely stored as a liquid at about 150 PSI , a very low pressure which doesn’t require special high pressure tanks like hydrogen.

Q: How does ammonia use compare to natural gas?

A: Ammonia contains no carbon and releases no green house gases, but natural gas does. So, although natural gas is somewhat cleaner than gasoline, its use still releases green house gases in significant quantities. And one day natural gas will run out and there won’t be any more, but ammonia can always be manufactured.  CO2-free fuel. NH3 Cost benefit analysis…

Q: How does ammonia use compare to Hydrogen as a fuel?

A: Although hydrogen has received a lot of press recently, it has several fundamental technical problems which will always dramatically limit its practical rollout for vehicular use on a broad scale. These problems are not limited to the fact that hydrogen’s energy density is a tiny fraction of that of ammonia by volume. This means that you’d have to refuel your hydrogen vehicle as much as 7 times as often to go the same distance on hydrogen as you would using ammonia. Hydrogen must also be stored at very high pressures (ie. 10,000 PSI), or at very low cryogenic temperatures. Both high pressure storage and cryogenic storage require significant additional power input, further reducing hydrogen’s energy efficiency. In fact, when we burn ammonia, we’re actually burning hydrogen, since that’s the element in ammonia that combusts and provides the energy.  Toyota’s CO2-free ammonia car.. to hell with fossil fuels!thunderclap

adapted, with thanks, from

17 thoughts on “Ammonia FAQs: fossil fools use fossil fuels!”

  1. a comment from a 1043mabovethesea reader:
    I think your point about thinking about our responsibility to reduce pollution, is a very good one, especially when it comes to delving deeper into what appear to be ‘magical solutions’ like ammonia for fueling cars. What the nhc3 car web site (where your article is sourced from) doesn’t tell us, is that ammonia is highly toxic and deadly, even in very dilute concentrations, to aquatic animals. For sufficient ammonia to be made in order to fuel the insatiable energy appetite of the worlds automobile fleet, production from current levels would have to be massively ramped up, and this large volume of ammonia, just like oil, would need to be transported around the globe, frequently in ships. If we think that an oil spill is harmful to the environment, it would be nothing in comparison to the devastation an ammonia spill would have.
    Also, outside of the enormous chewing up of resources required to ramp up ammonia production, each and every 4 stroke vehicle would require engine modifications, including new pistons, to lower compression ratios, enabling them to run on ammonia, or, all of the current worldwide fleet of cars retired, and new cars with new engines made that could run on ammonia. The resource intensive process of either of these options is crazy.
    Cars are an unsustainable, total environmental disaster, not only because when it comes to how they are fueled, there is no ‘silver bullet’, but also because of the large numbers of animals that are directly killed by them on roads, and indirectly killed from the environmental toxicity of plastic, rubber, glass and aluminium production.
    It is very obvious to me that human beings, even those who profess to care about the environment, are stubbornly going to hang onto their love affair with their cars, no matter what…….

    1. Check out for more detail on ammonia fuel – in car engines, vehicle conversions, safety.

      Re: toxicity to aquatic life. Yes, ammonia isn’t a good thing to put into your rivers. I’d suggest the main problem here is fertilizer run off. In the US, we inject more than 10 million tons of pure ammonia into our soil every year, to boost crop production. If you count the other nitrogen fertilizers (made from ammonia) like urea, ammonium nitrate, UAN, etc, the amount of nitrogen is way more. If you apply the fertilizer at the wrong moment, or use too much of it, or rain falls unexpectedly, the nitrogen leaches into the water supply. Check out the National Geographic article about farmers using more nitrogen than they need, and the damage it causes:

      Ammonia fuel reverses this problem: you aren’t pouring it onto the land, you’re burning it in an engine, and what comes out of your tailpipe is inert nitrogen (N2 – 78% of the air) and pure water vapor.

      If we’re talking about leaks from ammonia production plants or pipelines, yeah, that could be an issue, but this is already very highly regulated, in every country in the world. Don’t forget – ammonia is a known quantity. We make and use about 200 million tons of it every year, everywhere. 25 million tons are shipped internationally every year. There are accidents, of course, but because ammonia is so obviously and immediately dangerous to people, it’s got a much better spillage record than other things – like oil, or natural gas. How many leaking oil pipelines are there today? Plenty, everywhere. How many leaking ammonia pipelines are there today? Next to none. If there were, everyone near them would be in hospital. You could say, it’s so dangerous, it’s safe. Handle with respect.

      Re: ramping up production. Look into alternate ammonia production: from biomass, from wind, from any power source ( If you de-link ammonia production from areas where Natural Gas and Coal are cheap (traditional producers use fossil fuels to make hydrogen, which is the feedstock for making ammonia), you have a situation where you’re doing distributed production. Why ship it across the ocean if you can make it locally? It’s a completely different scenario from oil – only available in certain places. Any country with sunlight, wind, or waves can make ammonia for themselves. Or, at least, will in a few years when the new slate of technologies come online.

      Last point about aquatic safety: ammonia is toxic to sea life because it suffocates them (hypoxia). That’s not good. On the other hand, unless there’s an ongoing leak that isn’t addressed, it’s a short term problem. Bacteria will break down the ammonia, oxygen will get back into the system, life will return to the area. A sickly fish can get better: it processes synthetic ammonia the same way it processes the organic ammonia it produces every day: it pees. There’s no contamination up the food chain. Compare that situation to oil spills, or contamination of aquifers from fracking – toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that stay in the system for ever, and become more concentrated the further up the food chain we go.

      Finally – what would it take to retire the entire world’s fleet of oil-burning cars? About 15 years. No effort required. It’s called buying a new car, and people do it in every economy around the world. Make a good product, and allow people to use a fuel that’s clean, efficient, locally produced, and cheaper than oil … the problem could take care of itself. It won’t happen quickly, but it can happen.

  2. Great to get comments on this blog!, I may paste them in to a new post to illustrate the safety debate and try and share with somewhere more widely read.
    Kade, did you look at the CO2-free fuel. NH3 Cost benefit analysis… ..seemed convincing to me.
    You’re right of course that NH3 is no silver bullet, I think what we’re probably talking about is ways to mitigate already inevitable ecocide and the destruction of the biosphere, playing for time for our kids.Tell me I’m wrong please!
    I did recognise the aquatic danger in a few posts, I look after a natural pond myself, and reached the same conclusion that spills are ‘manageable’ already in the fertiliser industry and burning it is relatively safe compared to spreading it on the land.
    All the best… mike

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