Iowa Company Turns to Ammonia for Fuel

An Iowa alternative fuel engine manufacturer has reached an agreement with an irrigation pump maker in California to make the world's first ammonia-powered irrigation pump system.

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa alternative fuel engine manufacturer has reached an agreement with an irrigation pump maker in California to make the world's first ammonia-powered irrigation pump system.

The system will help meet California's new strict emissions requirements scheduled to go into effect in 2010, the companies said.

Hydrogen Engine Center Inc., of Algona, said Tuesday its is working with Corcoran, Calif.-based Sawtelle & Rosprim Inc. to integrate HEC ammonia-powered engines with Sawtelle's pumps "to complete a prototype system for testing and evaluation." The prototype system will be designed to run 24 hours a day. It will be tested during California's 2007 irrigation season.

If testing is successful, HEC plans to begin selling ammonia-powered irrigation systems in California in 2008.

"We believe that the demonstration of this engine will complete years of development work and will allow the sale of our systems worldwide without concerns about hydrogen storage, cost, availability or permitting," says Ted Hollinger, HEC President.

He said the company hopes to market ammonia-fueled engines into the generator market.

The engines developed by HEC run on anhydrous ammonia, or NH3, which has been used by farmers for many years as a fertilizer.

Sawtelle & Rosprim President Terry Kwast said most of his customers who need irrigation systems already are accustomed to handling, storing and working with anhydrous ammonia, so it presents none of the problems that hydrogen would.

Anhydrous ammonia contains no carbon, stores like propane and is the second most prevalent chemical in the world, Hollinger said. Ammonia contains more hydrogen per cubic food than liquid hydrogen. Hollinger frequently refers to ammonia as the other hydrogen.

He said using ammonia to power engines has advantages:

--An infrastructure for storage and transportation is already in place.

--Usage and safety regulations for ammonia are already in place, therefore, the process of obtaining a permit to use ammonia is usually relatively simple.

--Ammonia pipelines can be found in many areas of the United States, including Iowa, and distribution of the fuel is already established.

Kwast said he's been searching for years for alternatives to the diesel engines currently used in irrigation systems. With federal and state air quality regulations making it increasingly more expensive to reduce the engine emissions, alternative fuels such as ammonia are becoming more cost effective.

"The agriculture industry out here needs to do something to comply with the new air emissions standards that will be coming," he said Tuesday. "This ammonia system looks pretty promising because you don't have the emissions issues you have with diesel, it's a green cycle. The only question at this point is whether economically, it will be a solution. I believe it will be."

Anhydrous ammonia is currently derived mostly from natural gas and as a result, it's price is tied to natural gas prices, which have been high in the past few years.

However, new ways of extracting anhydrous from coal through a gasification process, are becoming more common.

Kwast said the engines provided by HEC will be tested to determine efficiency and its combustion rates compared to diesel to determine how much more costly it will be to run pumping systems on ammonia rather than diesel.

"We're pretty excited about the prospects," he said. "This is a real world solution,"

HEC manufactures and sells its brand named Oxx Power internal combustion engines capable of running on a multitude of fuels, including ammonia, hydrogen, propane, natural gas, ethanol and gasoline.

The company's products are marketed to power generation, agricultural, industrial, airport ground support, vehicular and home and business customers.

HEC shares were up 25 cents, or 6.3 percent, at $4.25 on the over-the-counter bulletin board.

Source: Associated Press

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