Liquid air made a splash. Sadly it's not often that an engineering story – unless it's a nuclear reactor going into meltdown or an aircraft downed by a birdstrike – gets a lot of airtime in the mainstream media. But yesterday's carefully co-ordinated effort by the IMechE, Highview Power Storage, a number of academics and the automotive engineering consultancy Ricardo to make the world sit up and pay attention to liquid air paid off.
At the IMechE last night, a tired but typically enthusiastic Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and climate change at the institution, said he had done a day's back-to-back interviews on the technology, beginning with Radio 5 Live at 6am and taking in the Today programme as well as newspapers, journals and TV. Newswires picked up the story as the day went on and internet chatter soon followed: were we now to be 'taxed for air' some wondered; others thought the technology likely to be stamped on by Big Oil should it ever prove viable as a transport fuel. Food for thought, but what will be most gratifying for all involved is the impact of the day's events.
For Fox, liquid air is important because it represents an opportunity for “renewables to come online in significant volumes”. “It's really about wrong time energy,” he says – or capturing the intermittent generation of offshore wind at times when there is no demand for electricity. Richard Williams, head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, says: “Energy storage is needed because of energy not being generated at the right time, at the right place.” Developed nations relying on renewables would need robust energy storage. And liquid air – and this is what should perhaps interest the government more than anything – could be a “major opportunity to stimulate the economy”.
Whether the technology is now developed in the way in which these parties envisage is open to debate. Serious engagement with it by policymakers will be needed if it is not to become a “Cinderella story”, as Fox likes to call it. But proponents of liquid air could awake this morning knowing they achieved just about everything that might have been expected from this opening salvo.