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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

Liquid Air: Doing Cold Better

Published on 29 Aug 2014  |   Written by    |  

The world needs cooling – air conditioning, industrial cooling, data cooling, medical cooling as well as a ‘cold chain’ of refrigerated food storage and transport. And global demand for cooling is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades.

India projects it needs to spend more than $15bn on its cold chain over the next five years; China had 250 million cubic feet of refrigerated storage capacity in 2007; by 2017, it is on track to have 20 times that. The US and Europe are all seeing double-digit growth. In fact, global projected growth to 2030 for cooling equates to three times the total power output of Brazil.

Yet cold is the ‘Cinderella’ of the environmental debate. Almost every country has energy policies covering power, transport and heat, but cold demands are simply embedded in final energy demands for various sectors. Given the environmental and economic challenges facing the energy industry, it is crucial that the primary energy demands for providing cold do not grow at the same rate as cold demand itself.

There are promising opportunities for changing the way we meet and think about cold needs: ‘doing cold better’. There are currently significant volumes of ‘wasted cold’ e.g. ‘cold packaging’ of imported LNG and bulk cryogenic gases, ‘coolth’ generated in gas let-down stations. It is likely that these cold sources will grow in volume in the coming decades. There are also significant volumes of wrong-time energy which is either wasted or stored just as power to be converted into cold later. With the continued growth in renewable energy, the demand for storing/warehousing wrong-time energy is growing.

Dearman is designing and developing sustainable and clean solutions for transport and off-grid cooling and power needs. Dearman’s proprietary technologies include zero-emission transport refrigeration units; high efficiency hybrid engines that harness low grade waste-heat; zero-emission power-trains for off-highway applications such as mining, where the exhaust of clean cold air is a major advantage; and larger MW-sized distributed power & cooling (e.g. air conditioning) units to work alongside renewables and displace diesel gensets.

The core of our technology is the Dearman engine – a novel piston engine whose ‘fuel’ is liquid air, which is increasingly recognised as a powerful new energy vector. Liquid air stores ‘wrong time’ energy such as off-peak wind power as both power and cold – giving two bangs for one buck. It has about the same energy density as an advanced battery in terms of stored power or mechanical work, but also stores two thirds of its energy as cold on top, making it an ideal form of energy storage wherever there is a need for cooling as well as power.

But liquid air does not just offer another means to harness and store ‘wrong-time’ energy for use on demand. Within the cold debate, the Dearman engine and liquid air is the new piece of the jigsaw, allowing “waste cold” to be economically stored, moved and used as ‘packets of energy. Suddenly we can integrate waste cold resources and cold needs. By allowing “cold and power” to be moved in time and place, liquid air allows us to start thinking about a Cold Energy System in terms of cold flows and the technical opportunities for integration and efficiency improvement, and through this many additional benefits emerge.

Benefits of a Cold Energy System – or a Cold Economy – can include meeting cold needs in a more resource efficient way; spatial & temporal balancing of dynamic needs; environmental benefits including reduced GHG emissions and improved local air quality; lower overall cost; and as with any new industry - new business opportunities.

The Dearman engine is already in on-vehicle trials in the UK, first engines will be in manufacture from 2016; and with it the opportunity to recognise the environmental and economic value of doing cold better.

Toby Peters

Toby Peters is the CEO of the Dearman Engine Company.

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