Chinese automotive heavyweight, Guangzhou Automotive Corporation (GAC), has revealed what it says is the world’s first internal combustion engine for passenger vehicles powered almost exclusively on ammonia.
Unveiled at the company’s annual technology showcase in Beijing, the environmentally friendly, two-litre, 161-horsepower motor produces 90 per cent fewer harmful emissions than gasoline and diesel engines.
While speaking at the tech day, GAC research and development chief, Qi Hongzhong, told attendees the company had found a way to make the foul-smelling fuel burn more efficiently during combustion cycles, especially at low engine loads and high engine speeds.
Although considered a poor fuel for passenger vehicles, the nitrogen-based compound has occasional use in trucking and freight shipping where its flaws as a combustion agent are not as exposed.
Ammonia is highly toxic to humans and animals and corrosive to certain alkaloids – another reason it primarily sees use in an industrial sector equipped to manage harmful substances of many types.
Ammonia has seen a fair share of action in the field of rocketry too. Perhaps most notably in October 1967 when Vietnam War veteran William J. “Pete” Knight flew the experimental X-15 spaceplane, reaching Mach 6.7 or 7 274 kilometres an hour at an altitude of 31 090 above sea level, still a record for the program.
The first passenger vehicle to use ammonia was developed and constructed by the Korean Institute for Energy Research in 2013. Called the AmVeh, the passenger hatchback runs on a mixture of 30 per cent gasoline and 70 per cent ammonia, resulting in a carbon emissions reduction of roughly 70 per cent, as ammonia is not a carbon-based fuel and has none to relinquish.
While not a perfect answer to fossil-based fuels, GAC representatives say introducing as many alternatives to traditional combustion engined transportation is the key to China’s mission to carbon neutrality.
GAC was China’s fourth largest electric vehicle producer, according to 2021 figures cited by technology and renewables website, InsideEvs. GAC sold a reported 535 000 EVs and hybrid EVs in 2021, accounting for roughly 4 per cent of the market share.
The company recently committed a further $7 billion to the relatively young industry when it announced plans to build an industrial megapark in Panya, Russia. This will add a further 600 000 units to GAC’s annual production capacity and bring its total production volume past a million units per year if accurate, according to planners.