Midlands universities in cold energy tie-up

A prototype refrigerated lorry cooled by liquid nitrogen rather than diesel is set to be the first beneficiary of a £60m energy research collaboration by six Midlands universities - including the University of Leicester.

The Energy Research Accelerator, first announced in March and being finalised ahead of George Osborne’s July Budget, aims to help entrepreneurs and academics bring their inventions to commercial use.

The research into cold energy products is expected to create 10,000 jobs by 2025, exploiting the demand for thermal technologies to meet growing global demand for cooling in food and drug distribution, as well as in air conditioning systems in buildings such as data centres.

Professor Martin Barstow (pictured), Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Head of the College of Science & Engineering, Professor of Astrophysics & Space Science and President, Royal Astronomical Society said: "The University of Leicester is pleased to be part of the Energy Research Accelerator. This is an important opportunity for the world-leading research in Midlands universities to address one of the most important challenges facing the UK, the security and sustainability of its energy supply. The project will develop test projects based around new energy technologies that improve the efficiency of energy storage and use as well as monitoring their environmental impact.”

The M6 universities research collaboration is part of the region’s response to the English devolution debate, and the perception that the Midlands was losing out to Manchester and the so-called Northern Powerhouse in attracting government funding.

The first “demonstrator” project involves Dearman Engine Company, a four-year-old venture capital-backed start-up. It is testing its refrigerated lorry product at the Mira circuit near Nuneaton in Warwickshire and expects to have it in use on a trial on public roads with a large food haulier this year. With the help of the accelerator, the company expects to be in commercial production by 2019.

The science of so-called cryogenic liquids — liquids stored at very low temperatures — has been around a long time with the Liquid Air Company of Boston testing a liquid nitrogen-powered car in 1902. Liquid nitrogen — unlike hydrogen, which requires an infrastructure of filling stations — is readily available in all big cities as a byproduct of the industrial gas industry.

In the UK there are 84,000 refrigerated lorries on the road. Globally, there are between 2.5m and 4m and the growth in the lorry fleet is expected to rise to 15m in the next 10 years in line with the growing middle classes in China and India.