Back in March we looked at the efforts of Dearman: a small engineering firm operating out of rented test labs at the Imperial College, London, developing a zero emissions liquid air engine.
Three months on, thanks to a grant from Innovate UK, Dearman’s engine is undergoing full testing a brand new R&D facility.
Dearman claims theirs to be the first dedicated liquid air engine facility of its kind, and houses a range of custom test labs in which the liquid air engine will be tested for new applications, durability and efficiency refinements.
Created by Peter Dearman, the liquid air engine is powered by liquid nitrogen. The engine works by allowing the liquid nitrogen to boil which produces compressed gas which can generate mechanical or electrical power. Liquid nitrogen is not only more stable than hydrogen but it is equally abundant and a convenient by product of making liquid oxygen so there already exists a means to manufacture fuel, albeit in comparatively small amounts.
The by-product of the process is a harmless burst of nitrogen gas. Although it’s worth noting that too much nitrogen in the atmosphere would, in time, be just as harmful as excessive levels of carbon dioxide. One must assume that Dearman are working to resolve that issue.
Dearman hopes that their new hub will become a hub of liquid air engine design and engineering. When fully operation the facility will be able to test four engines simultaneously and even handle low level manufacturing. It also means that the company will be able to further accelerate their research and rate of development. This means bringing zero-emission cold and power technologies to new areas.
In 2014 the airlines carried 3 billion people all over the world and burned 63,180,000 litres of fuel. Needless to say the positive impact of developing liquid nitrogen fuelled turbofan and turboprop would be major. Aside from the reduction in pollution there would be a reduction in noise and the cost of travel should become cheaper as the heavy cost of fuel (and associated taxes) will drop significantly. The stumbling block is current designs adapted to take liquid nitrogen wouldn’t produce thrust. This means, whilst you could use liquid nitrogen engines once in flight, something more conventional would be required for take-off.
Images courtesy of Dearman
For now, though, Dearman are keeping their focus on the ground. The company already has a transport refrigeration system being tested at MIRA and is set to go out for commercial testing later this year on Britain’s roads.
The next project is a high efficiency auxiliary power unit for use with buses and heavy duty vehicles to cut emissions. With some reports claiming buses are responsible for 25% of the pollution on London’s roads, a zero emission power unit that could assist buses and goods vehicles pull away from stationery would have a significant impact on air quality in the UK capital.
The big question is whether or not it has defence applications. A vehicle that can travel long distances, with little noise is an obvious tactical benefit. However should a fuel cell be breached, and APC becomes a nitrogen bomb. Add in ammunition and explosives and it suddenly doesn’t seem such a wise move.
Needless to say liquid nitrogen technology has a great deal of potential and the engineers at Dearman’s engineers are in for interesting 12 months.
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