A revolutionary new zero-emission engine could save truck operators thousands of pounds in fuel costs and the environment millions of tonnes in emissions through new cool chain systems for food distribution and in motive power applications.

The Dearman engine, which has been developed in the UK, runs on liquid air (liquid nitrogen) and is on track to undertake full on-vehicle testing by the summer of 2014. The engine, designed to provide the power for refrigerated trailer applications, could be in production within two years and, with a network of industrial gas plants across the UK already producing liquid nitrogen, there is no infrastructure barrier to rapid deployment. 

The Dearman liquid air engine - an innovative heat engine that uses liquid air as a ‘fuel’ - completed its ‘shakedown’ testing milestone at the end of 2013 at Imperial College, London, and is moving into a three-month programme of tests and performance mapping. The developers, Dearman Engine Company, confirm that the engine remains on track for integration and installation on a vehicle by MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in the first half of this year. 

The project - in partnership with MIRA, Air Products and Loughborough University and jointly funded by the consortium partners and the UK Government (IDP8) - will demonstrate and test the Dearman Engine on a refrigerated truck providing zero-emission cooling and power during 2014, before moving to full on-road field trials.

MIRA’s Commercial Manager for Future Transport Technologies and Intelligent Mobility, Chris Reeves said, “MIRA is proud to lead a project delivering the world’s first demonstration of a liquid air engine in a commercial vehicle. 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.”

The adoption of liquid air technologies in heavy-duty vehicles could reduce the UK’s diesel consumption by 1.3 billion litres and its carbon emissions by over a million tonnes by 2025. It could also reduce local air pollution dramatically: introducing liquid air trailer refrigeration alone would cut emissions of carcinogenic particulate matter by 180 tonnes per year, equivalent to taking 367,000 modern diesel lorries off the road.

The concept for the new technology includes a diesel hybrid application. By harnessing the low grade waste heat of the ICE cooling loop, the Dearman engine can deliver 25%+ reduction in fuel consumption for a diesel heavy duty engine. The ability to work alongside other waste heat recovery systems is an additional advantage. Further development work is underway in this area.

These are some of the preliminary findings of Liquid air on the commercial highway, a major new report from the Liquid Air Energy Network (LAEN), Centre for Low Carbon Futures (CLCF) and University of Birmingham, to be published in early March.

The report has also identified that the roll-out of liquid air vehicles could be fuelled entirely from existing spare industrial gas plant production capacity until at least 2019.

The engine is the brainchild of archetypal British garage-inventor, Peter Dearman, and subsequently developed in partnership with top UK engineering consultancy, Ricardo, and a number of leading UK Universities including Leeds, Birmingham, Loughborough and Brighton.