Storage, Transportation, & Distribution
Hydrogen, touted as a promising alternative energy source, presents several challenges when it comes to storage, transportation, and distribution. One solution that is gaining attention is storing hydrogen as ammonia, but the idea of storing ammonia raises many concerns.
Hydrogen storage, transportation, and distribution
One of the biggest hurdles in utilizing hydrogen as an energy source is its extremely low volumetric density compared to natural gas or gasoline. To be cost-competitive, hydrogen needs to be compressed or liquefied, which poses technical difficulties and safety hazards. Compressed hydrogen is highly explosive, and liquefaction requires energy-intensive processes and expensive infrastructure.
Building new hydrogen pipelines demands a significant upfront investment. Alternatively, existing natural gas pipelines would require a lot of monitoring to ensure the hydrogen-natural gas mix is safe.
Ammonia has emerged as an alternative storage medium for hydrogen. Ammonia (NH3) is a compound composed of nitrogen and hydrogen. It is a colorless gas with a pungent odor. It can be produced by combining hydrogen and nitrogen through the Haber-Bosch Process. Ammonia is commonly used in industries such as agriculture, refrigeration, and manufacturing processes. It is also present in certain cleaning products and fertilizers. Ammonia is easier to liquefy and transport compared to hydrogen, making it a viable option for storage and distribution.
However, concerns arise when considering the storage of ammonia. Ammonia is highly corrosive, and mishandling or accidents can have severe consequences. The potential hazards associated with ammonia storage call for careful consideration and adherence to strict safety protocols to mitigate any risks to nearby communities.
Ammonia can be dangerous for several reasons:
Toxicity: Ammonia is toxic to humans and animals. Inhalation of high concentrations of ammonia gas can cause severe irritation and damage to the respiratory system, leading to difficulty breathing, coughing, and lung damage. Exposure to lower concentrations can still cause eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Corrosiveness: Ammonia is corrosive to certain materials, including metals. Contact with liquid or concentrated forms of ammonia can cause burns and tissue damage to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system.
Flammability: Ammonia is flammable and can form explosive mixtures in the air when its concentration is within a specific range (15% to 28% by volume). Ignition sources, such as open flames or sparks, can cause these mixtures to ignite or explode.
Ammonia is lighter than air, so it tends to rise and disperse rather than hug the ground. However, if released indoors or in a confined space, ammonia can accumulate and create a hazardous environment.
The extent of harm caused by ammonia depends on the concentration of ammonia, duration of exposure, and individual sensitivity. High concentrations of ammonia can be lethal, particularly in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
Additionally, in a recent CNN report, Tyson Foods, one of the largest meatpacking companies, faced scrutiny for their use of ammonia in meat processing. The report highlighted the potential dangers associated with ammonia leaks in Tyson’s facilities. It shed light on cases where workers were exposed to ammonia, resulting in severe respiratory issues and even fatalities. The Tyson CNN story serves as a reminder of the importance of stringent safety measures and proper handling when dealing with ammonia in industrial settings.
Ammonia, while offering benefits as a hydrogen storage medium, requires careful handling and safety precautions to mitigate its inherent risks. The industry must prioritize employee safety, proper training, and effective containment systems to minimize the likelihood of accidents and protect both workers and nearby communities from ammonia-related hazards.