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Air fuelled zero emission road transportation: A comparative study

Haisheng Chen
a,b
, Yulong Ding
a,c,
*
, Yongliang Li
a
, Xinjing Zhang
a,b
, Chunqing Tan
b
a
Institute of Particle Science & Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
b
Institute of Engineering Thermophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
c
Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 17 April 2010
Received in revised form 24 June 2010
Accepted 2 July 2010
Available online 13 August 2010
Keywords:
Zero emission
Road transportation
Compressed air
Liquid air
Engine
a b s t r a c t
Road transportation using air as a fuel has attracted much attention over the past decade. The fuel (air)
can be in two forms, compressed gas form and cryogenic liquid form and engines based on both forms of
air have been investigated. Prototypes of air powered road vehicles are expected to emerge over the next
few years. However, there have been debates over the advantages and disadvantages of the two technol-
ogies. This paper aims to compare the two technologies from the technological point of view. Engines for
a typical small scale passenger car are used for the analyses and the comparison is based on the shaft
work, coolth, efciency and energy density. It is shown that the shaft work outputs and the coolth avail-
able to engines powered by both fuels increase with increasing working pressure and temperature. Given
the working pressure and temperature, liquid air powered engines have a slightly lower specic work
outputs than compressed air powered engines. The volumetric energy density of liquid air, however, is
much higher than that of compressed air, and liquid air has much higher coolth than compressed air.
On the other hand, the efciency of the compressed air powered engines is higher than that of liquid
air powered engines mainly because of the higher energy consumption of liquefaction plants. The anal-
yses also suggest that an effective use of coolth be a key to improve the overall efciency of liquid air
powered engines.
2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Pressure has been growing over decades to curtail global green-
house gas emission. A major source of the greenhouse gases is the
burning of fossil fuels in internal combustion engines (ICE) for road
transportation [1315,1,16]. This is particularly true in the urban
areas. Three types of zero emission road transportation technolo-
gies have been proposed and investigated extensively over the past
two decades, vehicles based on hydrogen energy (e.g. fuel cell vehi-
cles and hydrogen burning ICE), battery electric vehicles (e.g. nickel
metal hydride, Lithium ion batteries) and air vehicles [8,7,1315],
Kreeith et al. [6], [9,12,17,16,10,2]. A review has been published re-
cently [11] on the three technologies. It was found that, among the
three technologies, the battery electric technologies have the high-
est energy efciency but with toxic remains; the hydrogen energy
technologies have the highest energy density but with the lowest
efciency, the lowest maturity and toxic remains; the compressed
air technology promises an efciency similar to that of battery
electric technology, a high maturity and complete zero emission
[11,5]. This paper is concerned with road transportation using air
as fuel. Physically, air can be in three forms, compressed gas form,
cryogenic liquid form and slurry form (mixture of liquid and solid
air). Engines based on compressed and liquid air have been inves-
tigated and prototypes of the two types of air powered road vehi-
cles are expected to emerge in the next few years [2]. However,
there have been debates over the advantages and disadvantages
of the two technologies [8,7,18,4,17,10]. This paper aims to com-
pare the two technologies from a technological point of view. En-
gines for a typical small scale passenger car will be used for the
analyses and the comparison will be based on the shaft work, cool-
th, efciency and energy density. Note that only theoretical analy-
ses are carried out in this work, the engines considered are virtual
power systems.
2. Description of the technologies
Typical compressed air and liquid air power systems are shown
schematically Figs. 1a and b, respectively. The principle of the com-
pressed air power system is straightforward compressed air ex-
pands through an expander to release the pressure potential
producing work to drive the car. For liquid air engines, many ther-
modynamic cycles have been reported in the literature. The most
extensively investigated one is the Rankine cycle as shown in
Fig. 1b [8]. Liquid air stored in a tank is pumped in the liquid state
0306-2619/$ - see front matter 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2010.07.002
* Corresponding author at: Institute of Particle Science & Engineering, University
of Leeds, Leeds, UK. Tel.: +44 113 343 2747; fax: +44 113 343 2405.
E-mail address: y.ding@leeds.ac.uk (Y. Ding).
Applied Energy 88 (2011) 337342
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Applied Energy
j our nal homepage: www. el sevi er . com/ l ocat e/ apener gy
to the working pressure. The high pressure liquid air is then vapor-
ised and heated to drive an expander to do work. The expander can
be a reciprocating type or a turbine. It can be single stage or mul-
tistage. When the expander is multistage, inter-heating between
stages could be used to enhance the performance of the engine.
The work reported in this paper is based on the systems shown
in Fig. 1. A typical small scale passenger car is considered and
the following conditions are used in the analyses [16,11,2]:
Ambient pressure: P
1
= 1.013 bar.
Working pressure: P
2
= 300 bar.
Ambient temperature: T
0
= 300 K.
Volume of tank: V = 300 l.
The reasons to consider a fuel tank with 300 l volume and
300 bar working pressure include: (i) 300 l and 300 bar are techni-
cally feasible [8,16,11]; (ii) a high pressure and a large volume are
essential to give sufcient work output for an acceptable travel dis-
tance and (iii) compressed air vehicles with a 300-l fuel tank with
an initial pressure of 300 bar have been demonstrated practically
[2].
3. Methodology of the analyses
Fig. 2 shows the theoretical working cycles of the two engines in
the temperatureentropy plane (TS diagram). For the compressed
air engine, the working process is simple as shown in Fig. 2a. It
consists of only one expansion Process 10, in which the com-
pressed air expands isothermally to produce work. The working
process of the liquid air engine consists of three processes
(Fig. 2b): pumping Process 12 in which liquid air from the cryo-
gen tank (State 1) is pumped isentropically to a certain pressure
(State 2), heating Process 23 with the pressurised liquid air being
heated isobarically and isothermal expansion Process 30 with the
working uid expanding in the expander before being vented. The
liquefaction Process 041 occurs in an air separation and liquefac-
tion plant [3]. In the following, analyses of these processes are
detailed.
3.1. Compressed air engine
The specic ideal work of the isothermal expansion process
(Process 10) at the ambient temperature is given by:
W
T
W
10
T
0
S
0
S
1
h
0
h
1

The specic heat absorbed during the expansion by the working


uid from atmosphere (coolth) is:
Q
10
T
0
S
0
S
1

where W; T; S; h and Q are respectively work, temperature, entro-


py, enthalpy and heat, and subscripts represent the states in Fig. 2a.
The specic work needed to vent the gas inside engine cylinder at
the ambient pressure is:
W
EX
P
0
v
0
v
1

(a) Compressed air engine


(b) Liquid air engine
Fig. 1. Schematic diagrams of the engine systems.
(a) compressed air engine
(b) Liquid air engine
Fig. 2. TS diagram of engines.
338 H. Chen et al. / Applied Energy 88 (2011) 337342
where v is the specic volume of the working uid. The net work
output of Process 10 is therefore given by:
W
net
W
10
W
EX
T
0
S
0
S
1
h
0
h
1
P
0
v
0
v
1

3.2. Liquid air engine


The specic work consumed by the cryogenic pump (Process 1
2) can be given as:
W
12
h
2
h
1
The specic heat transferred in Process 12 is zero.
Q
12
0
The specic work in Process 23 is zero:
W
23
0
The specic heat absorbed in the isobaric process (Process 23)
by the working uid is:
Q
23
h
3
h
2
The specic work and heat of Process 30 are given respectively
as:
W
T
W
30
T
0
S
0
S
3
h
0
h
3

Q
30
T
0
S
0
S
3

The specic work for venting the gas inside the engine cylinder
at the ambient pressure is:
W
EX
P
0
v
0
v
3

The net work output of the Process 30 is therefore given by:


W
net
W
30
W
12
W
EX
T
0
S
0
S
3
h
0
h
3
P
0
v
0
v
3
h
2
h
1

The total heat adsorbed by the working uid (coolth) is:


Q
T
Q
30
Q
23
T
0
S
0
S
3
h
3
h
2

4. Results and discussion


4.1. Theoretical shaft work
Figs. 3 and 4 show respectively the theoretical total (W
T
) and
net work output (W
net
) for the two engines as functions of the
working pressure and temperature.
In Fig. 3, the working temperature is assumed as 300 K and the
nal pressure is 1.013 bar (discharge to the ambience). For the
range of working pressure shown (50400 bar), both the theoreti-
cal total and net work output increase monotonically with increas-
ing pressure and the increase tends to level off at high pressures.
The theoretical total work outputs of the two engines are the same.
However, at a given pressure, the net work output of the liquid air
engine is slightly lower than the corresponding compressed air
powered engine particularly at high pressures. The difference is
due to a small amount of work needed for the pumping process.
In Fig. 4, the theoretical total and net work outputs are plotted
as a function of working temperature at a working pressure of
300 bar; see Section 2 for the reasons of selection of the working
pressure of 300 bar. One can see from Fig. 4 that both the theoret-
ical total and net work outputs for the two engines increase with
increasing working temperature in a linear manner over the range
investigated (270320 K). Also the work output of the liquid air en-
gine is slightly lower than the corresponding compressed air en-
gine due to pumping process.
In summary, the theoretical work outputs of both the engines
increase with increasing working pressure or working tempera-
ture. At a given pressure or temperature, the liquid air engine
has a slightly lower net work output than the corresponding com-
pressed air engine. For example, at 300 bar and 300 K, the theoret-
ical total and net work outputs of the liquid air engine are
respectively 491.6 kJ/kg and 372.0 kJ/kg, while the corresponding
values for the compressed air engine are 491.6 kJ/kg and
405.5 kJ/kg. The net working output of the liquid air engine is
8.3% lower than that of the compressed air engine.
4.2. Practical shaft work
The expansion process inside engine cylinders is very likely to
be between adiabatic and isothermal. Such a process can be char-
acterised by a parameter called isothermality, c, dened as the ra-
tio of the actual work to the isothermal work:
c
W
ac
W
iso
The isothermality is typically between 0.75 and 0.90 for recipro-
cating engines [7] and can be improved further by enhancing heat
transfer during expansion. On the other hand the friction between
piston and cylinder wall is inevitable for both the engine and cryo-
genic pump. In order to account for the friction loss and other ther-
modynamic losses, an engine efciency, g
en
, and a pump efciency,
0 100 200 300 400
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
W
o
r
k

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Pressure (bar)
W
T
, Compressed air
W
net
, Compressed air
W
T
, Liquid Air
W
net
, Liquid Air
Fig. 3. Theoretical work output as a function of pressure.
270 280 290 300 310 320
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
W
o
r
k

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Temperature (K)
W
T
, Compressed air
W
net
, Compressed air
W
T
, Liquid Nitrogen
W
net
, Liquid Nitrogen
Fig. 4. Theoretical work output as a function of temperature.
H. Chen et al. / Applied Energy 88 (2011) 337342 339
g
pump
, are considered in calculating the practical shaft work. A typ-
ical value of 85% is taken for both the engine and the pump [6]. In
addition, a transmission efciency of 98% [11] is used for both the
engines. Accordingly, the practical shaft work for the compressed
air engine is expressed as:
W
net
g
trans
g
en
cW
10
W
EX

g
trans
g
en
cT
0
S
0
S
1
h
0
h
1
P
0
v
0
v
1
f g
whereas that for the liquid air engine is
W
net
g
trans
g
en
cW
30
W
12
=g
pump
W
EX

g
trans
fg
en
cT
0
S
0
S
3
h
0
h
3
h
2
h
1
=g
pump
P
0
v
0
v
3
g
Figs. 5 and 6 show respectively the net work outputs as func-
tions of pressure and temperature for the two engines at different
isothermalities, together with the data for isothermal and adiabatic
processes. Here the work output of the adiabatic expansion pro-
cess, W
Q
, is calculated by:
W
Q
g
trans
g
en
k
k 1
RT
0
1
P
0
P
1
_ _
k1
k
_ _
P
0
v
0
v
1

_ _
where k is the specic heat ratio, R is the universal gas constant, and
P
1
and P
0
are the gaseous pressures before and after the expansion.
If the engines are properly designed and manufactured, the net
work outputs under the isothermal and adiabatic expansion condi-
tions as shown in Figs. 5 and 6 give the upper and lower bounds of
the engine shaft work outputs. Take P = 300 bar and T = 300 K as an
example, the net work outputs of the compressed air engine at
c = 0.75 and 0.90 are 222.8 kJ/kg and 284.2 kJ/kg, whereas that of
the liquid air engine are 184.1 kJ/kg and 245.6 kJ/kg, respectively.
4.3. Coolth available
The thermodynamic analyses above also give the specic coolth
available (heat adsorbed by the working uid) for the two engines;
see Figs. 7 and 8. It is apparent that the liquid air engine has much
more coolth than the compressed air engine. This is because there
are two heat absorbing processes, Processes 23 and 30, whereas
the compressed air engine only adsorbs heat in Process 10. Under
the working condition of 300 bar and 300 K, the coolth available for
the liquid air engine is 885.1 kJ/kg, which is about 66% higher than
that of the compressed air engine (533.8 kJ/kg). Figs. 7 and 8 also
show that the coolth increases with increasing pressure or temper-
ature, which is similar to the pressure and temperature depen-
dence of work output. It should be noted that the data in Figs. 7
and 8 are based on the rst law of thermodynamics. If the grade
of coolth is considered according to the second law of thermody-
namics, the coolth available for the liquid air engine contains much
higher exergy due to the much lower temperature.
0 100 200 300 400
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
Isothermal, Compressed air
=0.90, Compressed air
=0.75, Compressed air
Adiabatic, Compressed air
Isothermal, Liquid Air
=0.90, Liquid Air
=0.75, Liquid Air
Adiabatic, Liquid Air
W
o
r
k

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Pressure (bar)
Fig. 5. Net work output as a function of pressure.
270 280 290 300 310 320
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
Isothermal, Compressed air
=0.90, Compressed air
=0.75, Compressed air
Adiabatic, compressed air
Isothermal, Liquid air
=0.90, Liquid air
=0.75, Liquid air
Adiabatic, Liquid air
W
o
r
k

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Temperature (K)
Fig. 6. Net work output as a function of temperature.
0 100 200 300 400
0
200
400
600
800
1000
Compressed air
Liquid air
C
o
o
l
t
h

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Pressure (bar)
Fig. 7. Coolth available as a function of pressure.
270 280 290 300 310 320
0
200
400
600
800
1000
Compressed air
Liquid Air
C
o
o
l
t
h

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Temperature (K)
Fig. 8. Coolth available as a function of temperature.
340 H. Chen et al. / Applied Energy 88 (2011) 337342
4.4. Efciency in terms of Energy in and Energy out
Estimation of the Energy in:Energy out efciency for the liquid
air engine is straightforward as the industrial energy consumption
data for liquid air production are available, 0.30.4 kWh/kg liquid
air or 10801440 kJ/kg liquid air for large scale operations [3].
However, precise estimation of the Energy in:Energy out efciency
is more difcult for the compressed air engine as the process for
producing compressed air is unknown. A logical and economical
way to produce 300 bar compressed air is through a multi-stage
compression process with inter-cooling to minimise work con-
sumption [2]. The work consumption for compression processes
is a function of stage numbers, m, and polytrophic factor of the
pressurisation process, n. Fig. 9 shows the ideal energy consump-
tion for different stage numbers and polytrophic factors for the
300 K and 300 bar operating condition, which is obtained by using
the method explained in the following.
The work for a polytropic process is calculated by:
W
poly

n
n 1
RT
0
p
n1
n
1
_ _
where the polytropic factor, n, has a value ranging between 1.0 and
k with n = 1.0 for the isothermal process and n = k for the adiabatic
process. For a multi-stage compression process with inter-cooling,
the expansion ratio, p
m
, for each stage is estimated by:
p
m


p
T
m
p
where p
T
is the total expansion ratio. The work for each stage of
compression is calculated by:
W
mp

n
n 1
RT
0
p
n1
n
m
1
_ _
The total work consumption for the compression process can
therefore be given as:
W
t

W
mp
From Fig. 9, one can see that the energy consumption for air
compression is a strong function of both polytrophic factor and
stage number. Considering an industrially realisable situation with
a polytrophic factor of 1.25 and a stage number of 5, the ideal en-
ergy consumption of compressed air is 551.0 kJ/kg and the results
under other conditions are listed in Table 1. The energy consump-
tion for the liquid air engine is from the real air liquefaction data
(0.30.4 kWh/kg), whereas a realistic compressor efciency of
7090% is used for the compressed air engine.
Table 1 also gives the energy efciency data. One can see that
the Energy in:Energy out efciencies of the two engines are in
the range of 12.853.1% and they are comparable to that of con-
ventional diesel engines which is about 21% according to Kreeith
et al. [6]. The Energy in:Energy out efciency of the compressed
air engine is higher than that of the liquid air engine. This is pri-
marily because of higher energy consumption of the liquefaction
process. Note that the coolth available in liquid air engines is much
higher than that of compressed air engines, the Energy in:Energy
out efciencies of the two engines should be closer if the coolth
is taken into account. This also suggests that an effective use of
coolth is a key to improve the overall efciency of liquid air pow-
ered engines.
4.5. Energy density
To estimate the energy density of two types of engines, a fuel
tank with 300 l volume and 300 bar working pressure are assumed.
The data are given in Table 2, where the working temperature is set
as 300 K. One can see that the volumetric energy density of liquid
air is about 2.45 times that of the compressed air. This indicates
that, given a volume of the fuel tank, the drive range of liquid air
powered cars can be 2.45 times that of the compressed air pow-
1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4
400
500
600
700
800
m=3
m=5
m=7
I
d
e
a
l

E
n
e
r
g
y

C
o
n
s
u
m
p
t
i
o
n

(
k
J
/
k
g
)
Polytrophic factor, n
Fig. 9. Energy consumption of compressed air engine.
Table 1
Comparison of Energy in:Energy out efciency.
Liquid air engine
(W
T
= 1080 kJ/kg)
Liquid air engine
(W
T
= 1440 kJ/kg)
Compressed air engine
(g = 70%)
Compressed air engine
(g = 90%)
Total energy in 1080 (kJ/kg) 1440 (kJ/kg) 787 (kJ/kg) 612 (kJ/kg)
Net work output (isothermal) 286.5 (kJ/kg) 286.5 (kJ/kg) 325.1 (kJ/kg) 325.1 (kJ/kg)
Net work output (c = 0.90) 245.6 (kJ/kg) 245.6 (kJ/kg) 284.2 (kJ/kg) 284.2 (kJ/kg)
Net work output (c = 0.75) 184.1 (kJ/kg) 184.1 (kJ/kg) 222.8 (kJ/kg) 222.8 (kJ/kg)
Energy in:Energy out efciency
(isothermal)
26.5% 19.9% 41.4% 53.1%
Energy in:Energy out efciency
(c = 0.90)
22.7% 17.1% 36.1% 46.4%
Energy in:Energy out efciency
(c = 0.75)
17.0% 12.8% 28.3% 36.4%
Table 2
Comparison of energy density.
Liquid air
engine
Compressed air
engine
Volume of fuel tank (l) 300 300
Fuel density (kg/m
3
) 875.6 314.7
Fuel mass (kg) 262.7 94.4
Energy density (isothermal) (kJ/l) 250.9 102.3
Energy density (c = 0.90) (kJ/l) 215.0 89.4
Energy density (c = 0.75) (kJ/l) 161.2 70.1
Total net work output (isothermal) (MJ) 75.3 30.7
Total work capacity (c = 0.90) (MJ) 64.5 26.8
Total work capacity (c = 0.75) (MJ) 48.4 21.0
H. Chen et al. / Applied Energy 88 (2011) 337342 341
ered cars. The reason for this is simply because of the much higher
density of liquid air than the compressed air although the former
has a slightly lower specic net work output per kilogram. It
should be noted that the energy density of liquid air engines is still
much lower than that of conventional diesel engines. The energy
density of conventional diesel engines (e.g. CAT-3216 Diesel En-
gine from Caterpillar Marine Power Co., Ltd.; see http://
www.CAT-marine.com) is at an order of 13.8 MJ/l, which is about
50 times that of liquid air engines.
5. Concluding remarks
Two types of air fuelled engines for zero emission road trans-
portation are compared in terms of their shaft work, coolth, ef-
ciency and energy density. It is found that the shaft work output
and the coolth of both the fuels increase with increasing working
pressure or temperature. Given the working pressure and temper-
ature, liquid air powered engines have a slightly lower specic
work outputs than compressed air powered engines. At
P = 300 bar and T = 300 K, the practical net work outputs of the
compressed air engine for isothermalities of c = 0.75 and 0.90 are
respectively 222.8 kJ/kg and 284.2 kJ/kg, whereas the correspond-
ing values for the liquid air engine are 184.1 kJ/kg and 245.6 kJ/
kg. The volumetric energy density of liquid air fuel, however, is
about 2.45 times that of compressed air fuel, and liquid air engines
produce much more coolth than compressed air engines. On the
other hand, the efciency of compressed air powered engines is
higher than that of liquid air powered engines mainly because of
high energy consumption of liquefaction plants. The analyses also
suggest that an effective use of coolth be a key to improve the over-
all efciency of liquid air powered engines.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank the following organizations for
nancial support of the work: UK EPSRC under Grant EP/F060955/1
(Y. Ding and C. Tan), China NSFC under Grant No. 50906079 (C. Tan
and H. Chen), China Scholarship Council (X. Zhang) and a grant pro-
vided by the State Key Laboratories of Multiphase Flow and Com-
plex Systems of Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese
Academy of Sciences (Y. Ding).
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