LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
"Filling Up with Hydrogen" by David Schneider (Science
Observer, September-October) notes that regeneration of the
ammonia borane "is critical." But it must be cheap too.
Hydrogen-as-hydride in boranes is a large, difficult, and expensive
thermodynamic step from the elemental molecule or the hydrogen ion.
The post-Sputnik High Energy Fuels (HEF) program, in which I had a
part, expended tens of millions of dollars and failed to get boranes
production costs below the dollars-per-pound range, far higher than
the cents-per-pound requirement for a hydrocarbon replacement fuel.
Richard A. Carpenter
To the Editors:
I read "Filling Up with Hydrogen" with much interest. The
article says that ammonia borane and ammonium borohydride were
studied in the 1950s for their possible use in rocket fuel. I would
appreciate it if you could tell me why this idea was later abandoned.
Dr. Schneider replies:
My article noted that regeneration of ammonia borane "by
somehow putting the hydrogen back" was "necessary for this
scheme to be economical for anything but niche applications."
And it suggested that such regeneration indeed remains a great
technical challenge. But Mr. Carpenter is correct that my reporting
gave short shrift to the history of attempts to make and use such
fuels in the past. According to an article by David Schubert of U.S.
Borax, the HEF program, in fact, began in 1956 (a year before the
launch of Sputnik) and was the last of three secret military
programs in the United States to develop boron-hydride fuels for
rockets and jet aircraft. My article noted only that these compounds
were investigated in the 1950s for possible use in rocket fuel, so I
thank Mr. Carpenter and Ms. Budny for prompting me to look further
into this fascinating piece of aerospace history.