UWA to collaborate on ammonia as clean fuel

The University of Western Australia has signed a collaborative research agreement with China’s National Institute of Clean and Low Carbon Energy to research the use of ammonia as a clean transport fuel.

Under the agreement, the UWA Centre for Energy, led by internationally renowned energy expert Professor Dongke Zhang, will receive $1.8 million in research funding.

Professor Zhang said the successful completion of the project was likely to yield the world’s first practical ammonia-powered vehicle and ammonia-based hydrogen production plant, placing China and Australia in the leading pack of the global ‘hydrogen economy’ race.

“Liquid hydrocarbons derived from crude oil have emerged as the most convenient transport fuels because of their high energy density, flexible shape and easy handling for on-board storage and use,” he said.

“But in a carbon-constrained world, there are two strategies for de-carbonisation of transport: electrification and carbon-free alternative fuels. In the concept of a ‘hydrogen economy’, hydrogen is considered as the ultimate carbon-free fuel and energy carrier for both transport and electric power applications.

“However, the fact that pure hydrogen does not exist naturally and has a low volumetric energy density, even in the liquid form under cryogenic conditions, means that hydrogen is faced with immense technical, economical and infrastructure challenges before it can play a major role in powering transportation. It is clear that hydrogen would require a suitable carrier.”

With its high content of hydrogen per unit of mass or volume, Professor Zhang said ammonia was an excellent hydrogen carrier.

“Ammonia is itself a carbon-free liquid fuel possessing many advantageous properties,” he said. “Ammonia can also be synthesised by using renewable energy sources only so that the entire life-cycle process of ammonia production and use can be made absolutely free of carbon.

“In the meantime, ammonia can also serve as a hydrogen carrier for easy storage, transport and distribution of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicle applications.”

Dr Wayne Xu, chief technology officer of the National Institute of Clean and Low Carbon Energy (NICE), said he was confident that the collaboration would lead to the greatest innovation in mass transport since Rudolph Diesel’s invention of compression ignition engine.

“The success of this research will deliver an immediate benefit in combating the urban air pollution challenge in China and many other rapidly rising economies,” Dr Xu said.

Professor Zhang said the project would also enhance science, technology, economic and cultural ties between the two institutions and between China and Australia.

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