Clean driving skills enable cleaner rocket fuel

The rocket was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in 2013. Credits: NASA / Bill Ingalls

According to a new study at the University of California, Riverside, the chemicals used in electric vehicle batteries could also provide carbon-free fuel for space flight.

In addition to reducing emissions, this chemical has several advantages over other types of rocket fuel. energyIt is low cost and does not need to be stored frozen.

Chemical substance, Ammonia boraneIs currently used to store hydrogen in fuel cells that power electric vehicles. UCR researchers understand how this combination of boron and hydrogen can release enough energy to launch a rocket or satellite.

“For the first time, we have demonstrated that we can use ammonia borane in addition to electric vehicles to move rockets under the right conditions,” said Prithwish Biswas of UCR. Chemical engineer And the first author of a new study. Their demonstration is now Physical Chemistry Magazine C..

The most commonly used rocket fuels are hydrocarbon-based and are known to have a variety of environmental consequences. They can pollute the soil for decades, cause cancer, and generate greenhouse gases such as acid rain, ozone holes, and carbon dioxide.

In contrast, once burned, ammonia borane releases the benign compounds boron oxide and water. “It’s far less harmful to the environment,” Biswas said.

Compared to hydrocarbon fuels, ammonia borane emits more energy and requires less energy to power the same flight, which can lead to cost savings.

To release energy from the fuel and allow it to burn, additional catalysts and oxidizers are added to supply the fuel with additional oxygen. Fuel cells often use catalysts for this purpose. They increase the burning rate, but keep the same shape before and after the reaction.

“The use of catalysts is not ideal because spacecraft require large amounts of energy in a short amount of time and do not contribute to the required energy. It is like a dead mass in a gas tank,” said the University of Maryland. Pankaj Ghildiyal said. He is a PhD student in Maryland Chemistry and a co-author of research and is currently working at UCR.

The unique chemistry of ammonia borane decomposition prevents its total energy release in reaction with most oxidants. However, researchers have discovered an oxidant that alters the mechanism of this fuel’s decomposition and oxidation, leading to the extraction of its total energy content.

“This is similar to the use of catalytic converters that allow complete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels,” said Ghildiyal. “Here, by using the chemistries of the oxidizer itself, without the need for a catalyst, we were able to create a more complete combustion of the chemicals and increase the energy of the entire reaction.”

In addition to producing unwanted by-products, some rocket fuels also require storage at sub-zero temperatures. “NASA uses very low density liquid hydrogen,” Gildyar said. “Therefore, maintenance requires a lot of space and cryogenic conditions.”

In contrast, this fuel is stable at room temperature and resistant to high heat. In this study, researchers created very fine nanoscale ammonium borane particles that can decompose in a month in a very humid environment.

The research team is currently studying how ammonium borane particles of different sizes age in different environments. They are also developing methods for encapsulating fuel particles with a protective coating to increase stability in wet conditions.

This study was supervised by UCR Professor of Chemical Engineering Michael R. Zachariah and funded by the University Research Alliance Program of the US Department of Defense Threat Reduction and the Navy Research Department. The agency has funded the production of cleaner and more efficient flight fuel.

The quantum chemistry calculations needed to support the experimental observations in this study were performed in collaboration with UCR material scientists Hyuna Kwon and Bryan M. Wong.

“We have decided on the basic chemistry that drives this fuel A combination of oxidizers and oxidizers, “Biswas said.

Chemists discover new ways to harness the energy from ammonia

For more information:
Prithwish Biswas et al, Rerouting the path of solid ammonia borane energy release, Physical Chemistry Magazine C (2021). DOI: 10.1021 / acs.jpcc.1c08985

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Clean driving skills enable cleaner rocket fuel

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