A new concept for an ammonia-based aircraft is 70% more powerful than liquid H2

The more alternatives to jet fuel, the better.

That is why a company in the UK has announced a new joint venture to build lightweight and compact ammonia reactors capable of supporting efforts to decarbonise slow-adapting industrial sectors, such as off-grid energy production and shipping, according to initial report from New atlas.

But now ammonia-based reactors are trying to transform sustainable aviation.

Ammonia-based aircraft can be an alternative to hydrogen

Compared to hydrogen, ammonia is much easier and cheaper to transport and store, although it can only carry approximately 20% of the energy that hydrogen produces by weight. But on the other hand, it can carry approximately 70% more energy than liquid H2 by volume, according to the report. Usually, the weight problem usually excludes ammonia when it comes to new aviation technologies. It has less than half the specific energy of jet fuel, it seems less attractive than hydrogen. But hydrogen has problems with volume: modern airplanes are made for jet fuel, which makes the idea of ​​refitting high-volume, long-distance hydrogen tanks can reduce space in passenger seat vehicles. It may be a while since you are book a flight, but we can say that the economy class is definitely no less narrow than it was before the pandemic.

This could bring ammonia back to the table for the future of commercial aircraft propulsion technology, and the British company Reaction Engines is preparing for this potential industrial change by joining the IP Group and the Scientific and Technological Equipment Council (STFC), which is funded by the United Kingdom Government. The new partnership aims to use the heat exchanger technology developed by Reaction for its Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABER), designed for space travel and hypersonic capabilities. SABER will be combined with the experience of STFC with ammonia catalysts.

Ammonia-based combustion can contribute to acid rain

Reaction originally came up with this new idea a few months ago, According to New atlas, but the basic design looks like this: First, the heat exchanger captures the heat from the exhaust gases of a jet engine and then uses it to generate energy for a cracking reactor that catalytically converts pure ammonia into a mixture of ammonia and hydrogen capable of operating simply as other combustible fuels. This would make Reaction’s plan to use ammonia an adequate jet fuel additive. In this way, the airline operator can decide what the balance between volume and weight will look like and can eliminate the need for a completely new electric drive, simplifying the adaptation from fossil fuels to a sustainable alternative.

But sustainable for whom? While the combustion products of this new engine will be nitrogen and water, the combustion of ammonia and hydrogen creates nitrogen oxides (NOx emissions). Carbon emissions are linked to the climate crisis, but NOx emissions can be directly harmful humans, animals and even entire ecosystems, leading to smog air and acid rain. Suffice it to consider whether this happened just before the events of the movie “Blade Runner”. Together with recyclable aluminum-air batteries, ammonia-based aircraft engines could provide a compelling alternative to hydrogen in start-up industries around cleaner experiments in commercial aviation and space endeavors. But the cost and efficiency of these engines, fully installed and tested on aircraft, will be the ultimate determinants.

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