|Hey, I was recently talking with a friend about
alternative fuel sources (maily for automobiles)
and primarily nitrogen. I am not 100% sure how
the nitrogen that is used for nitrogen powered
cars is obtained, but my friend thought that it
is usually just taken from the atmosphere and
purified. This is what brought about my
question, as we then got into a discussion as to
what would happen to the atmosphere if nitrogen
powered cars became very popular, and the
nitrogen was just taken from the atmosphere. My
friend pointed out that if this became the case,
that since nitrogen makes up a considerable
amount of our atmosphere, something would have to
replace it's void if we were to take a percent of
it out of the air. He then presented his two
opinions on what would happen: 1. Oxygen, or some
other gas, would make up a larger percent of our
atmosphere to replace the void of the
disappearing nitrogen, and in the case of oxygen,
we could suffer from oxygen intoxication if the
percent of it in our atmosphere became to great.
His other opinion was that, if nothing was able
to replace the nitrogen, our atmosphere would
more or less implode. So my question is: what
would happen? Because after we discussed it a
little further, we realized that the second
opinion might not be right, given the fact that
space is void of all matter, and therefor could
not make the earth's atmosphere implode. Thanks.
1. Nitrogen is not a viable fuel
source.Nitrogen in its gaseous form is largely
inert - energy must be used to combine it with
other compounds to do so.
The alternative fuel
source that you probably heard about is hydrogen.
Go to the US Department of Energy website if you
want to learn more about this technology at:
If you removed gas from the atmosphere, the
atmospheric pressure would drop. However, if you
somehow managed to take only nitrogen from the
atmosphere, the oxygen concentration would remain
the same. It would take up a larger fraction of
the atmosphere, but would be no more abundant
(there being less atmosphere to begin with).
Thus, you would not notice anything trying to
breathe, but several physical effects would be
felt, these being (1) water would evaporate more
redily and boil at a lower temperature, and (2)
the entire atmosphere would become cooler for
exactly the same reason that it get scold when you
go up into the mountains. However, since you are
not reducing the amount of oxygen, you would not
get altitude sickness.
Actually, this does not present a problem at
all.To use nitrogen to power a car, I believe you
would use pressurized nitrogen to mechanically
move something while expanding the nitrogen back
to atmospheric pressure. So any nitrogen removed
from the atmosphere would eventually be returned.
There would be some amount of nitrogen that would
be removed from the atmosphere at any given time
and stored in cars and other places waiting to be
used but I suspect this is a relatively small amount.
Hmm -- it is a bit difficult to make a fuel out of
nitrogen, despite the enormous binding energy of
the molecule. Nitrogen really sticks to itself.
Unfortunately, if you made monatomic nitrogen,
you would have the problem of storing it until you
wanted to use it. It doesn't need any media to
re-bind -- releasing all that energy. This is not
to say that it cannot be done, just that I don't
On the related question, Nitrogen
makes up 78% of the atmosphere, and there is a lot
of it: most of the earth is at sea level, where
the mass of the atmosphere is 14.7 lbs/sq inch. So
the mass of the Nitrogen
9.2x10^18 lbs or 4.6x10^15 tons. Assume that each
person can drive and uses 20 lbs or nitrogen a
week (which is somehow lost). Everyone could then
drive for4.6x10^17/5x10^9=9.2x10^7 weeks or 1.77
In practice, it would be
impossible to lose the nitrogen -- and very likely
it would be released back to the atmosphere. If
you did use up the nitrogen by making a solid or
liquid waste, you would very slowly decrease the
partial pressure of nitrogen which would lower the
total air pressure, but not directly change the
partial pressure of oxygen.If you have a reference
or more information on how to make a nitrogen
based power cycle, I'd like to see it. There are
ways to use nitrogen compounds to release energy
and produce nitrogen as a by-product. NASA uses
such compounds in rocket fuels for
Unfortunately, most of these
compounds cyanide, azide, etc. are very poisonous.
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