Carbon-Neutral Rocket Fuel... for Your Car?
Ask any 8-year-old what the fastest plane ever was and, from those who respond with anything more than a shrug, you'll get the same answer nine times out of 10: the SR-71 Blackbird.
The legendary Air Force spy plane from the Cold War era that flew so high and so fast that no missile could ever catch it, to say nothing of any rival power's puny jet fighters.
It would be the predictable answer and the one I would have given at age 8, but it would also be incorrect.
While the SR-71 did fly at an incredible speed of just under 2,200 miles per hour (mph), or about three times the speed of sound, and still holds the coast-to-coast flight record at one hour and four minutes, it's nowhere near the fastest winged aircraft to ever take to the sky.
Excluding the space shuttle, which is either a rocket or a glider, depending on which stage of flight it's in, the fastest powered airplane ever is North American Aviation's experimental X-15, operated by both the Air Force and NASA.
If you want to see one for yourself, you can. The one at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., still bears the scorch marks of its hypersonic dashes through the sky above the Nevada desert.
The X-15 differs from your traditional airplane in a few ways.
First of all, it didn't take off from a runway. Instead, to minimize the fuel requirements of having to start from zero altitudes and zero speed, the X-15 was dropped from the belly of a B-52 bomber (just like a cruise missile) and immediately ascended into the thin air of the stratosphere to execute its high-speed run.
The differences don't end there.
In place of air-breathing jet engines, the X-15 got its motivation from two liquid-fueled rocket motors, which produced 57,000 pounds of thrust.
Powered flight lasted less than two minutes, during which time the X-15 would add about 4,000 mph to its speed and between 70,000 and 300,000 feet to its altitude, bringing it to the very edge of space.
Finally, when it came time to land, the X-15 glided to the earth and deployed skis instead of landing gear to coast to a stop on whatever flat patch of desert was available.
It'd Pass Your SR-71 Like You're Standing Still
All of these idiosyncrasies were there for a reason: to optimize performance.
It first flew in 1959, and in 1967, with William J. Knight at the controls, the X-15 hit Mach 6.7, or 4,520 mph, at an altitude of 102,000 feet to take the record for fastest flight in a powered, manned aircraft.
Had the SR-71 been flying alongside the X-15 on that day, it would have been overtaken at a speed differential of more than 2,300 mph.
During high-altitude flights of the early '60s, the X-15 flew so high that five of the Air Force pilots who participated in testing were awarded astronaut wings.
Much about the machine is unique and amazing but perhaps nothing more so than the fuel which took it to those heights and speeds.
The X-15's principal fuel is a chemical you probably associate more closely with household cleaners: ammonia.
Yet, despite its decidedly unglamorous reputation, ammonia is actually an incredibly versatile, potent, and environmentally friendly energy source.
It's highly stable and, therefore, not explosive under normal conditions, and after it's burned, the only byproduct is water vapor.
And it doesn't just work for military planes and rockets. With minor modifications, any of today's mass-produced internal combustion engines can be set up to burn ammonia while retaining all of the same benefits.
Sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true stories, but it's true. Ammonia fuel is so clean that its exhaust can be cooled and safely sipped from a glass... and yet, still deliver enough power to bring airplanes to the edge of space.
So what's the catch? If it's so great, why isn't ammonia our primary fuel for the consumer and commercial markets, instead of gasoline?
Ammonia, up until very recently, was a problem to produce en masse. It was an expensive process that left behind toxic remnants and made its production in the volumes necessary to sustain an energy market simply not feasible.
But all of that is now about to change.
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Meet Gasoline 2.0
There is a new technology on the radar now that's about to change the paradigm.
It's an already-patented ammonia production process that's currently undergoing trials in a series of progressively larger production facilities.
The benefits over the current standard are as simple as they are dramatic. Ammonia can now be produced using nothing more than water, air, and electricity, and it can be done at a final cost lower than that of gasoline or diesel.
These two improvements to the production process instantly give ammonia the potential to compete in the $3 trillion-per-year global fossil fuel market.
In five–10 years, your local filling station could be dispensing this stuff right alongside gasoline. In another five to 10 years, it could dispense only this stuff, with gas and diesel a distant memory.
Ammonia's potential for transforming the world goes further than just powering our various modes of transportation.
With production now requiring only the most basic raw materials, ammonia can actually be produced by wind and solar farms as a method for storing energy during high-production, low-demand periods.
Right now, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, but nobody is home running their washing machines, lithium-ion batteries are used to soak up excess kilowatts. In the future, ammonia production facilities could be adapted to produce and store ammonia to either sell or transform back into electricity during peak-demand hours by using that ammonia to run a carbon-free generator.
Trading Electrons for Fuel, and Back Again
The potential is so great, it's hard to enumerate... but it's safe to say that by the middle of the century, we could easily be running on an ammonia-dependent economy.
The company that holds the patent came into existence, in its present form, for the sole purpose of bringing this technology to the mass market.
It's so new that it started trading under its current ticker symbol just last week.
Since then, the stock has already nearly doubled.
But even with the incredible attention it has received from the investment community, this company still barely cracks a $40 million market capitalization.
In other words, it's an embryo — a tiny speck compared to the giant market its technology could soon be disrupting.
It's one of the most fascinating and prospective investment stories I've seen in years, and because the opportunity here is so new and so volatile, I had to rush a research report and presentation through production to get it in front of your eyes before the stock ran away.
Or wait another day and watch the stock go up another 25%.
The choice is yours.
Fortune favors the bold,
His flagship service, Microcap Insider, provides market-beating insights into some of the fastest moving, highest profit-potential companies available for public trading on the U.S. and Canadian exchanges. With more than 5 years of track record to back it up, Microcap Insider is the choice for the growth-minded investor. Alex contributes his thoughts and insights regularly to Wealth Daily. To learn more about Alex, click here.
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