Liquid Air in the energy and transport systems:
Opportunities for industry and innovation in the UK
Royal Academy of Engineering & Centre for Low Carbon Futures Liquid Air conference, May 9, 2013
One-hundred and fifty energy experts from industry, academia and policy gathered at the Royal Academy of Engineering on 9th May for a conference to explore the potential of liquid air as novel energy vector. The day-long event marked the launch of Liquid Air in the energy and transport systems, a new report from the Centre for Low Carbon Futures, which concludes liquid air is a storage technology that could play a critical role in Britain’s low-carbon energy future. The audience of senior academics and business-people heard that liquid air could increase energy security, cut greenhouse gas emissions and create a new industry in the UK worth at least £1bn pa and 22,000 jobs.
Presentations from the report’s authors provoked lively debate around the potential uses of liquid air, which include storing excess off-peak renewable energy (‘wrong time energy’) to displace carbon intensive power stations at times of peak demand, serving as a low carbon transport fuel, and converting low-grade waste heat into usable power.
The conference heard how the rapid increase in intermittent renewable generating capacity will increase the demand for grid storage both here and abroad. In Scotland, for example, which intends to generate 100% of its demand for electricity from renewables by 2020, there is a potential need for over 3GW of storage capacity by the end of the decade, equivalent to more than 30 x 100MW Liquid Air Energy Storage plants. The challenges in Germany are similar ‘but around ten times bigger’, according to Tim Evison of Messer Group, the German industrial gases company. The UK should aim for 2GW of new storage capacity by 2020, said Anthony Price of the Electricity Storage Network, of which liquid air might claim 25%.
The debate around potential transport uses of liquid air was led by presentations from Ricardo UK, E4tech and Professor Colin Garner of the University of Loughborough, which explored the substantial fossil fuel savings and emissions reductions that could be achieved by integrating liquid air or nitrogen in a range of novel engine designs. The conference also heard how early development of such technologies could be supported by the existing industrial gases industry, whose production and distribution sites are strategically placed around the country, and which currently produce large amounts of excess nitrogen that could be liquefied and used in place of liquid air.
The conference recognized the pioneering role of Peter Dearman, inventor of the ‘Dearman Engine’, which runs on liquid air or nitrogen, in an interview conducted by BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin. Mr Dearman explained how he came up with the idea in his garden shed during the 1960s, but only built a first prototype of the idea as the oil price began to soar in the early years of this century.
The conference concluded the UK will only develop a significant liquid air industry by developing a truly competitive offering in the global market. To achieve this, the UK needs to demonstrate to the world that the home market has itself deployed the technology in significant commercial scale projects. Building on the work so far, further research and investment is required from academic institutions and industry to explore issues around efficiency, integration and optimisation of the system both for grid scale storage and transport applications.
Professor Richard Williams discussed the potential of Liquid Air Energy on Sky News after the Conference