A UK company is launched on Policeman26 Friday’s summit will unveil a technology that is claimed could enable carbon-free flights using liquid ammonia by 2030.
It aims to build lightweight reactors to “crack” the chemical to produce hydrogen to burn as fuel.
Hydrogen is currently seen as the only possible “clean” fuel for future long-haul aviation, but the difficulty of safely storing it in fuel tanks, either as a gas or a highly cooled liquid, has made aerospace manufacturers argue that very much different aircraft used are required.
Small reactors could be retrofitted on passenger planes to make hydrogen from ammonia, according to Oxford University scientists from the UK’s government-funded Science and Technology Facilities Council, who have shown a mixture of cracked ammonia with properties similar to that normally found as kerosene used paraffin.
The new joint venture, which has no name yet, will combine its findings with Reaction Engines rocket propulsion technology with seed funding from cleantech investor IP Group.
They believe the first sector likely to adopt their technology is shipping. Ammonia has already been seen as a clean fuel for shipping and could be an easily available fuel as the product is currently widely distributed and transported and stored around the world.
Most of the world’s ammonia, however, is produced from fossil fuels in an energy-intensive process, which is responsible for 1-2% of global CO2 emissions. In order to be truly CO2 neutral, the new aircraft would have to be running to “green ammonia”made from water and air Use of renewable energies.
When the ammonia cracks in the reactors in the aircraft, hydrogen and nitrogen are produced, while the emissions are water and nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx is an indirect greenhouse gas and can lead to formation harmful air pollutants like fine dust.
The cost of ammonia or hydrogen would far exceed paraffin as a jet fuel, but companies hope that carbon taxes and laws will change the future economy.
Aviation and shipping currently account for 5% of global CO2 emissions and their impacts are expected to increase without significant technological or behavioral changes.
The British government set up a Jet Zero Council last year with the aim of decarbonising air travel, which Boris Johnson proposed Britain could build a truly zero-emission transatlantic aircraft by 2050.
The industry has committed itself to a net zero commitment for 2050, which is heavily reliant on compensation and sustainable fuels. Cracking ammonia on board, if proven feasible, could enable carbon-free flight 20 years earlier, the new joint venture suggests, although major challenges remain to decarbonize ammonia production, reduce NOx and the Combat the effects of aircraft contrails that contribute to global warming.
Bill David, STFC Senior Fellow and Professor of Energy Materials Chemistry at Oxford, said, “I am delighted with the impact our technology can have in facilitating a smooth transition in difficult-to-reduce energy sectors.
“Our cracker technology leverages the complementary strengths of ammonia and hydrogen and can rely on the global ammonia infrastructure to provide large-scale mixed ammonia-hydrogen fuels that mimic the performance of fossil fuels and offer affordable retrofitted energy solutions.”
David said they were “on a journey” to show that with the right mix and temperatures, NOx emissions could be reduced. Ammonia itself is a large part of the AdBlue used to reduce NOx emissions from diesel engines.
Robert Trezona, head of Cleantech, IP Group, said the combination of technologies was “a profound breakthrough” with “myriad applications”. He added, “This is a believable, amazing combination of science and technology … it’s a possible thing.”
The company is aiming to raise tens of millions in the next year from other investors to build larger demonstrations – initially very locally, said Trezona: “It works – but we know that we have to show hardware in order to attract investment.”