I had a very inspiring tour of the Hydrogen Engine Center in Algona, Iowa a couple days ago. They have created internal combustion engines that will run on either hydrogen or ammonia.
What makes these engines so exciting is parallel technology that is under development right now to create wind turbines that can make hydrogen or ammonia using wind power. When we can couple these two technologies, we will be able to run farm machinery or automobiles on wind power, using ammonia or hydrogen as the energy exchange medium.
According to Ted Hollinger, the mastermind behind the hydrogen/ammonia engine, the technology for making hydrogen and/or ammonia using wind turbines is just a year or two away, and Ted thinks that the cost of making hydrogen or ammonia with wind turbines, and using it as fuel in an internal combustion engine, will be less than the current cost of gasoline.
The exhaust of the engines that burn hydrogen is just water. When ammonia is the fuel, the exhaust is water and nitrogen gas (N2) – which is what 78% of the earth’s atmosphere is comprised of. Ammonia is a preferable fuel to hydrogen in a moving vehicle because ammonia is a liquid at low pressure, which makes fuel storage easier.
Engines that run on ammonia or hydrogen that was made with wind power will have no carbon footprint, other than the energy required to make the vehicles and wind turbines.
Imagine: A farm with a wind turbine that makes more than enough electricity to power the farm’s electrical needs. The excess wind power is used to make ammonia to power a backup electrical generator when the wind is not blowing, and to power farm tractors and other machinery. This scenario is very likely in the near future as peak oil forces all fossil fuel costs up. Of course, energy efficiency will become increasingly important at the end of the cheap-oil era.