Ammonia was used during World War II to power buses in Belgium, and in engine and solar energy applications prior to 1900. Liquid ammonia also fuelled the Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine, that powered the X-15 hypersonic research aircraft. Although not as powerful as other fuels, it left no soot in the reusable rocket engine and its density approximately matches the density of the oxidizer, liquid oxygen, which simplified the aircraft’s design.
Ammonia has been proposed as a practical alternative to fossil fuel for internal combustion engines. 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. It can be used in existing engines with only minor modifications to carburettors/injectors.
Ammonia engines or ammonia motors, using ammonia as a working fluid, have been proposed and occasionally used. The principle is similar to that used in a fireless locomotive, but with ammonia as the working fluid, instead of steam or compressed air. Ammonia engines were used experimentally in the 19th century by Goldsworthy Gurney in the UK and in streetcars in New Orleans. In 1981 a Canadian company converted a 1981 Chevrolet Impala to operate using ammonia as fuel.
Ammonia and GreenNH3 is being used with success by developers in Canada, since it can run in spark ignited or diesel engines with minor modifications, also the only green fuel to power jet engines, and despite its toxicity is reckoned to be no more dangerous than petrol or LPG.
It can be made from renewable electricity, and having half the density of petrol or diesel can be readily carried in sufficient quantities in vehicles. On combustion it has no emissions other than nitrogen and water vapour.