Mindfulness and Ammonia
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
On the eve of Labor Day I arrived at Grant Village Campground in Yellowstone. I was tired from a seriously pre-dawn start from Gardiner, starting with a remote dirt road, in the dark, in an area with lots of big animals (bears and buffalo). My main fear, though, was the later part of the day amongst the equally famed Yellowstone traffic - especially the novice drivers of rented RV’s.
Anyway, I made it to camp still possessing three dimensions, and set up my hammock for a quick afternoon nap. I did get some shut-eye, but soon was jolted by a bright voice: “You awake?” I sat bolt upright and suddenly was awake, though I’m not sure what I said in response. A friendly white-bearded face appeared. “You're riding across the country for climate change issues, I hear? I have some thoughts about that.”
My new friend was the camp host, Steve Pearl, who had heard about my ride from the check-in staff. He’d come from the California redwoods outside Santa Cruz to host for the summer. In California he was the caretaker for a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center - continuing a spiritual practice he began 50 years ago as an 18 year-old Vietnam draft-dodger traveling in Asia. Steve's clear, precise, and joyful presence attested to his decades of practice.
He wanted to tell me about a pretty strange idea: using ammonia as a bridge away from liquid fossil fuels. That would allow us to use the cars, trucks, and ships we already have without burning more gas, diesel, or bunker oil. Essentially, ammonia (NH3) can be a safe and stable way to carry hydrogen energy into existing engines, which can, with slight modifications, burn it. This process makes engines go "Vroom!" and produces water and nitrogen as exhaust. New catalysts reduce burning temperatures and harmful nitrogen compounds.)
Steve says electric vehicles are definitely the future, but we need a way to get there that uses the carbon-fueled vehicles we have in a better, cleaner way. The ammonia can (and in a climate sense, must) be made using electricity from solar and wind generators instead of natural gas. The ammonia effectively is a battery holding that renewable power.
I am surprised I had not heard about these ideas. There are loads of technical details about this promising technology in the links below - I will investigate further to see how feasible it looks. Besides the interesting ideas about ammonia I gleaned some other good take-aways from meeting Steve:
Tell people what you are up to. If I’d been my normal reticent self with the campground registrar then Steve never would have found me.
Interesting ideas on climate and energy abound these days, and can come at you from unlikely sources. Keep an open mind.
Traveling by bike makes you interesting to all manner of interesting people. Bike touring is a conversation starter like nothing I’ve known - except maybe having an unusual dog!
Sustained meditation and spiritual practice can have real life benefits. I can feel Steve’s warmth and humor now, and I am smiling.
Ammonia power links:
Steve also wrote a book about his adventures; Kalamazoo to Kathmandu. I'm just starting it on my Kindle.