European Commission highlights innovative liquid air technology – Laura Gilmore

2017-05-22T16:47:21+00:00 February 26th, 2016|Viewpoints|

The European Commission is taking on the ambitious task of developing a continent wide ‘Energy Union’. This has the potential to improve the efficiency of the way we generate, distribute and use energy across the whole of Europe.

When we talk about energy people generally assume we mean electricity. Power stations, wind farms, pylons are all visible in our landscape and we all obviously rely on electricity to power our homes.

But to think of energy in this way is too narrow. It overlooks that alongside electricity we rely heavily upon thermal energy. We need heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. Add in the vast requirement for both heating and cooling in industry, from steel making to keeping food cold from the farm to the fork, and this makes up a huge proportion of our energy needs.

The Commission has recognised the challenge of delivering thermal energy and as a result has launched its long-awaited Heating and Cooling Strategy.

This is the first time that any national or internal body has taken a proper look at the issue of cooling, and although the strategy its still at an early stage, it could make very real strides towards us all ‘doing cold smarter’.

Excitingly for Dearman and everyone else involved in the development of liquid air technologies, the role they can play in delivering a more sustainable energy system has been recognised within the strategy documents. In fact, the commission has highlighted the Dearman Engine as a potentially important ‘enabling technology’ which could help unlock the opportunity of liquid air to address our need for cold and power.

This validation reflects Dearman’s long-term vision, the huge impact that liquid air could have and the role it can play in meeting the world’s growing need for cold.

Transport Refrigeration

Importantly, the Heating and Cooling strategy has set out to address the need for cooling in a very broad set of industries and applications.

Cooling is central to the food industry and is essential to ensuring that we have access to the type of food we want, when we want it, in a convenient location or even delivered to our door.

That whole network of logistics, retail and delivery relies on an all too often overlooked workhorse – the refrigerated truck. There are approximately 1 million refrigerated trucks on the road across Europe and most use auxiliary diesel powered engines to provide cooling, many of which are disproportionately polluting.

In fact, if we could replace all the diesel refrigeration units in Europe with zero emission alternatives, we could save the same amount of pollution as taking up to 56 million diesel cars off the road.

Reflecting this problem, a section of the Heating and Cooling Strategy has been dedicated to transport refrigeration. It highlights that the Commission has begun to consider the disproportionate impact of these small, often overlooked polluters, and the end result could be tougher regulations which would bring transport refrigeration units more into line with cars and trucks.

Waste Cold

As well as addressing how we use cold, the Heating and Cooling strategy has also considered how cold is currently wasted and whether it could be harnessed in order to maximise energy efficiency.

In particular, it looks at the opportunities that exist around liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. LNG is central to the Energy Union plans, but it is also a colossal source of waste cold. The Commission has recognised the opportunity this presents, saying that:

“Waste cold is generated in sites such as liquefied natural gas terminals and gas grids. It is rarely reused, although the technology to do so is already used on a commercial basis in some district cooling systems. Integrating the production, consumption and reuse of waste cold creates environmental and economic benefits and reduces the primary energy demand for cold.”

The Future

The Heating and Cooling strategy is the European Commission’s first formal statement on cooling and they have recognised the impact it has today and into the future. The strategy will form a key element of the Energy Union package, which is thought to be the single biggest upheaval in energy policy that Europe has ever seen and will dictate energy policy through to 2050. Cold will be an important part of that policy.

Crucially for Dearman and all other companies seeking to develop innovative, efficient and clean cold and power technologies, current inefficient cooling techniques are being recognised, and the potential of liquid air to make a very real impact has been acknowledged.

This could be a springboard to us all making Europe both cleaner and cooler.

An EU Strategy on Heating and Cooling can be viewed and downloaded here, with the accompanying documents here and here.