Reaction Engines spinout hails ammonia reactor success

Sunborne Systems, a spinout of Reaction Engines, has run the first operational test of its ammonia reactor, claiming that it has ‘exceeded all expectations’.

Sunborne Systems

Founded in 2021, Sunborne is focused on ammonia-based power solutions to help decarbonise sectors such as shipping and heavy transport, as well as high-energy industrial processes. Its ammonia reactor incorporates elements of the thermal management used for Reaction’s air-breathing rocket engine, SABRE, paired with catalytic chemistry expertise provided by the the UK Science and technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is a co-founder of Sunborne.

According to the company, the reactor converts stored liquid ammonia into an ‘optimised blend’ of hydrogen, nitrogen and uncracked ammonia. Sunborne said its tests have produced a fuel blend capable of powering a 56kW (75bhp) engine, equivalent to a small vehicle or mobile generator unit. It also claims that the thermal efficiency of the test demonstrated the potential for the technology to be scaled into larger internal combustion engine systems and other industrial power applications. The test programme was undertaken at Reaction Engines’ test facility at the Culham Science Centre, Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

“We are delighted that our test results have exceeded our expectations and showcased the significant potential of our ammonia cracking technology,” said Dr James Barth, co-founder and CEO of Sunborne Systems. “The potential impact of our technology is unprecedented, with significant potential to partner with major engine OEMs and bring a fuel revolution to drive the transition to net zero.

“Ammonia is already a widely traded commodity and will be traded even more in the future as hydrogen production facilities come online around the world. While our initial focus is on the maritime industry, which is leading decarbonisation of internal combustion engines, our technology could easily be applied to adjacent industries such as power generation and large heavy equipment, with significant potential for use with gas turbine technology in the future.”

Despite its toxicity, ammonia is seen as having huge potential as a low-carbon fuel, particularly for deep sea shipping where electrification is currently not viable. Ammonia-burning internal combustion engines are under development, with many viewing the technology as the quickest route to decarbonising the maritime sector.

“Ammonia will be central to the net zero transition for the simple reason that it does not contain carbon,” said Professor Bill David, co-founder and CSO of Sunborne Systems. “And, importantly, no carbon atom is involved in our keystone technology that converts carbon-free stored energy to an optimised fossil-free fuel.

“This test confirms that our technology operates at an already relevant scale with existing engine architectures. It is also a technology that asserts that we do not need to turn our backs on the existing two billion internal combustion engines, hundreds of thousands of gas turbines and gigawatts of industrial burners worldwide. With around forty million tons of existing global ammonia excess capacity, our technology can immediately help make worldwide inroads into the transition to zero-carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors.”