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Zero-carbon future fuel for ships and lorries


It’s a stinky gas mostly used to make fertiliser for farming. But researchers at Brunel University London are using ammonia to develop a new carbon-free transport fuel.

Ammonia has great potential as a 100% renewable liquid fuel to power ships and lorries and power generators in the move away from fossil fuels towards net zero.

But ammonia doesn’t have enough flame speed to burn properly, which means poor engine performance.

In the first-ever research into storing of hydrogen in liquid ammonia, Brunel willdevelop a new liquid ammonia blended with hydrogen that can be pumped like petrol into existing engines.

It is one of 10 novel ideas for new materials, devices, fuels and technologies aimed at the net zero by 2050 target to earn £250,000 fresh UK Research and Innovation funding.

“Ammonia is a carbon-free fuel and the hydrogen density in liquid ammonia is even higher than liquid hydrogen,” said mechanical and aerospace engineer, Dr Xinyan Wang. “That’s why it is a promising candidate to decarbonise the transport sector. However, its application to transport is limited by its poor combustion.”

The new ammonia hydrogen liquid fuel blend is forecast to boost engine efficiency by 20% and halve the amount of unburned ammonia compared with pure liquid ammonia fuel. This could lead to a 100% cut in carbon dioxide emissions in long-haul transport, shipping and power generation. The fresh blend of fuel also takes less space to store than other zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen.

In future, it could provide carbon-free fuel for tens of millions of piston engines and gas turbines across several industries including the car, aviation, power and renewable energy and fuel industries.

“Harnessing Science, Technology and innovation is fundamental to achieving clean growth,” said Science Minister George Freeman announcing the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding. “By investing in innovative clean tech projects like those announced today we are supporting both UK research and our global clean tech sector.”

“We hope through this project we can successfully produce the proposed ammonia hydrogen blend and show its vast potential in raising efficiency and lowering emissions,” said Dr Wang. “Our evidence will then support future large-scale research and development for wider future use.”