World’s first liquid air engine is on schedule 21 January 2014

A revolutionary zero-emission engine that could also save temperature-controlled truck operators thousands of pounds in fuel is on track to undertake on-vehicle testing this summer.

The Dearman heat engine – developed by UK-based Dearman Engine Company with engineering consultancy Ricardo and UK universities including Leeds, Birmingham, Loughborough and Brighton—runs on liquid air (liquid nitrogen) and is designed to provide power for refrigerated trailer applications.

According to Chris Reeves, MIRA's (Motor Industry Research Association) commercial manager for future transport technologies and intelligent mobility, it could be in production within two years.

Further, with a network of industrial gas plants across the UK already producing liquid nitrogen, there is no infrastructure barrier to deployment.

Reeves explains that the engine completed its 'shakedown' testing at the end of 2013 at Imperial College, London, and is now moving into a three-month programme of tests and performance mapping prior to installation on a vehicle at MIRA.

The project – in partnership with MIRA, Air Products and Loughborough University, with joint funding by the consortium and the UK government (IDP8) – will demonstrate and test the Dearman Engine on a refrigerated truck, providing zero-emission cooling and power, before moving to full on-road trials.

"MIRA is proud to lead a project delivering the world's first demonstration of a liquid air engine in a commercial vehicle," comments Reeves.

"Liquid air is an exciting new energy vector and has the potential to make a major contribution to the low carbon challenge facing the transport sector," he continues, adding that adopting liquid air technologies in heavy-duty vehicles could reduce the UK's diesel consumption by 1.3 billion litres and its carbon emissions by more than a million tonnes by 2025.

It could also reduce local air pollution. Indeed, MIRA estimates that introducing liquid air trailer refrigeration alone would cut emissions of particulates by 180 tonnes per year, equivalent to taking 367,000 modern diesel trucks off the road.

The concept for the new technology includes a diesel-hybrid, which harnesses low grade waste heat from the internal combustion engine cooling loop, with the Dearman engine delivering over 25% reduction in fuel consumption for a heavy-duty diesel engine.

Furthermore, preliminary findings from a major report ('Liquid air on the commercial highway', by the Liquid Air Energy Network (LAEN), Centre for Low Carbon Futures (CLCF) and University of Birmingham), suggest that liquid air vehicles could be fuelled entirely from existing spare industrial gas plant capacity until at least 2019.

Liquid air sprang to national prominence in May last year, with a report from CLCF entitled 'Liquid air in the energy and transport systems: Opportunities for industry and innovation in the UK'.

Contributors to the nine-month study included National Grid, Arup, Ricardo, Messer Group, Spiritus Consulting and academics from the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham, Strathclyde, Brighton, Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College.

The CLCF report found that liquid air could reduce diesel consumption in buses or freight vehicles by 25% using a liquid air / diesel hybrid, while using a liquid air engine would cut emissions from refrigeration on food lorries by 80%.

"Liquid air offers significant potential benefits as a future energy vector, both for use in light duty propulsion and as an enabler for other promising low-carbon power train innovations, particularly waste heat harvesting," says Neville Jackson chief technology and innovation officer at Ricardo.

Brian Tinham

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