The Economist published an article on their web site last week entitled “End of the Electric Car?”. According to the Economist’s columnist “Babbage”:
A breakthrough in engine design has made liquid nitrogen an even more attractive alternative than the lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. An invention made by an independent British engineer called Peter Dearman dispenses with the costly heat exchanger that is needed to vaporise the liquid nitrogen quickly.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, the leading standards-setting and registration body for the profession, was so impressed with the Dearman Engine Company’s developments that it has now established a working group comprising engineers, academics, government officials and industry leaders, to explore ways of exploiting liquid-nitrogen technology.
An aspect of the story that the Economist unaccountably failed to mention can instead be found on the web site of the Liquid Air Energy Group, where Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers is quoted as saying:
We’re coming out of the cave blinking on this one and we’re only just getting an inkling of how great the energy benefits of liquid air could be.
which the Liquid Air home page follows up with:
Cryogenic liquids are widely used in industry already, but their adoption as an energy vector is only just beginning. A number of British organisations, research teams and Universities are already developing ways to use liquefied air (or liquid nitrogen, its major constituent) as a zero emission energy storage medium and transport fuel.
Note the emphasis on energy storage rather than transport fuel? The Economist story has thus far attracted 422 comments, only one of which mentioned energy storage. That was one I made myself! I did get one recommendation for it, so perhaps at least one other Economist reader understands what I was on about? Heading back to the Liquid Air Energy Group home page, they share the following video:
The first minute or so is spent on the Dearman Engine, but the video then goes on to point out that:
Liquid air could also have helped to keep the lights on
and then takes a look at a:
Liquid air pilot plant near Slough [that] uses up excess electricity from power stations and wind farms when consumer demand is low. It’s cheap energy storage that could reduce the need for so many power stations.
As I pointed out to the Economist, I’m afraid that cheap energy storage that’s already connected to the UK National Grid is a concept that gets me a lot more excited than speculation about liquid nitrogen pumps at motorway service stations.