By Holly Giles
After winning the Sustainable Innovation Award in 2019, Cardiff University’s School of Engineering has secured an additional £3m in funding to continue their work on ammonia as a potential fuel.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are now estimated to as the highest they have been in over 800,000 years as a result of human activity releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide accounts for 81% of the greenhouse gases we produce so a fuel that runs without this byproduct could revolutionise thousands of industries worldwide; this may be the promise of ammonia.
Ammonia is commonly used as a fertiliser but the team at Cardiff have shown it can be used for fuel, by burning in an engine or processing in a fuel cell for electricity. It does not produce any carbon dioxide in this process but creates the helpful byproducts nitrogen and hydrogen, of which hydrogen can then be used as a subsequent fuel.
Dr Augstin Valera-Medina, leader of the project, explained the process in the statement: “It turns electricity, water and air into ammonia and stores it in a tank, before later combusting it in a bespoke engine to generate electricity, feed back into the grid, or sell as a fuel, all without producing any carbon emissions.”
The £3m of additional funding secured this month will be used to make this process more efficient and to improve the scalability of the system, enabling future commercial use. It has already been suggested this could be used in aviation, the marine sector, heating and cooling applications in the home and large furnaces in industry.
Specifically for aviation, the team has been using the University’s Gas Turbine Research Centre within the School of Engineering to test the power of ammonia to drive jet engines. This is a four year project with the aim of developing “a unique, competitive technology that can be implemented to support the hydrogen transition.”
Dr Valera-Medina concluded:
“Using ammonia for combustion purposes has ramped up in the last five years as novel systems have been developed to use the molecule in small power applications.
However, medium-to-large power generation is still a concern that requires further investigation, development and improvement to unlock the stored power from ammonia’s hydrogen content.
This new batch of funding means that Cardiff University now has the largest ammonia combustion programme in Europe, with publications that go from state-of-the-art research to the first book on ‘ammonia techno-economics’ ever published, so we really are leading the way in terms of creating a viable ammonia-powered energy system that is fit for the future, placing Cardiff University at the core of this exciting topic.”
The “largest ammonia combustion programme in Europe” is a massive achievement for the University that will continue to flourish over the following four years of the project. This could revolutionise the aviation industry and may change the course of direction for many appliances we use today.