Can Liquid Nitrogen Be Used to Fuel Cars?

What if car engines no longer emitted greenhouse gases?

Europe has been leading the way toward this dream, as countries like Germany have advocated for the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs)--by 2020, the German government is aiming to have one million registered.

As the EV market receives a boost, other alternatives have fallen out of favor. Liquid-nitrogen fuel, for example, can run an engine while solely emitting carbon-free air. Problems of efficiency and practicality, however, have impeded its market growth.

Peter Dearman, an engineer who resides just outside London, was tinkering in his garage when he realized a solution. By incorporating a heat-transfer fluid into his liquid-nitrogen engine, Dearman managed to scale-down what is normally a heavy, expensive process and tuck it under the hood of a passenger vehicle.

“The big advantages are, obviously, the cost of the engine,” Dearman said, “And the fact that you can refuel it very quickly.”

At the moment the infrastructure for liquid-nitrogen products is limited, and it must expand before ordinary drivers will see it at the pumps.

“One way to start that is to use the liquid nitrogen to fuel certain limited numbers of vehicles in limited areas,” said Tim Fox of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, “For example, fork-lift trucks or refrigeration trucks belonging to distribution companies.”

Already the auto-design company Ricardo is working on a prototype, which it plans to release next year.

If carbon-free energy is a priority for our planet, it could behoove companies to look beyond hybrids and EVs to ideas like liquid-nitrogen fuel.

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