liquid air dearman garage
'Nutty Professor' stores liquid air
04:05 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

British inventor Peter Dearman develops novel engine powered by "liquid air"

The 61-year-old says his technology can be used to power cars and store energy

British engineering company, Ricardo building an engine based on Dearman's design

UK pilot power plant demonstrating how liquid air can be used to store intermittent renewable energy

CNN  — 

Watching Peter Dearman at work amid the clutter in his garage cum workshop, it’s easy to see why one of his sons refers to him as a sort of “nutty professor.”

The British inventor has been tinkering with “liquid air” engines at his home in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire for more than three decades.

“I don’t think it’s any good having ideas and not being able to make them. It’s very difficult if you just go to people with ideas – you can’t actually show them it working,” Dearman says.

All that hard work is starting to pay off, as interest in the 61-year-old’s invention – which has applications for both motoring and renewable energy storage – gathers pace.

Liquid air is essentially air which has been cooled to very low, or cryogenic, temperatures (around -190 degrees Celsius or -310 degrees Fahrenheit) and can be stored in insulted containers.

Read: Mine Kafon: The low-tech tumbleweed minesweeper

When exposed to heat, the liquid starts to expand as it turns back into a gas. If this process of reheating is conducted in a confined space, say, an engine cylinder, it creates high pressure air which can drive a piston.

Whilst building a car powered by liquid air is nothing new – a model was demonstrated as early as 1903 – Dearman’s adaptation is.

“The unique thing about this engine is that it uses a heat exchange fluid (in this case, anti-freeze) which is placed on top of the piston in the cylinder,” Dearman explains.

“Into that we introduce liquid nitrogen which is atomized and gives us good heat contact. The heat exchange fluid keeps the gas warm (as the piston moves up and down) and increases the efficiency.”

Dearman has come a long way since he developed his first working prototype using a modified a lawn mower engine. Today, he demonstrates a custom-built car which runs smoothly around a farmyard near his home.

Read: Shutter shades creates new fashion code

The technology has caught the eye of British engineering company Ricardo who are currently building an engine based on Dearman’s design for use in agricultural vehicles and mining equipment.