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Surprising Science

Liquid Nitrogen May Expand to Zero-Emission Car Market

New developments in liquid nitrogen fueled engines may lead to a cheaper, better alternative to other zero-emission vehicles on the market.

What’s the Latest Development?

Liquid nitrogen, most likely remembered for its use in wacky science demonstrations, is being considered as an alternative zero-emission fuel source to hydrogen and electric fuel cells. One of the most obvious advantages to liquid nitrogen is how cheap it is: it “sells in America for a tenth of the price of milk.” A recent advance in engine technology allows the energy released by vaporizing the nitrogen to be used in a much more efficient way, which has spurred engineers in England into more research on liquid nitrogen technology.

What’s the Big Idea?

While hydrogen and electric powered cars are seen as zero emission alternatives to using fossil fuels, the cost of these “green” cars is still very high. “Unlike the industrial hydrogen used to make ammonia fertiliser, or for converting heavy oil fractions into petrol, the hydrogen needed for fuel cells must be 99.999% pure.” And electric cars’ batteries can account for a third of the cost of the car: at $500 to $600 per kilowatt-hour a Nissan Leaf’s 24 kilowatt-hour battery costs $13,200. This leaves liquid nitrogen engines in the unique position of being cheap to fuel yet little emphasis is being put on their use by major car manufacturers. As more research is put into liquid nitrogen engineering, car manufacturers may look towards nitrogen as the best “green” option for fueling vehicles of the future.

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