Next Steps in Liquid Nitrogen Car Research

Hertzberg is seeking a follow-up grant to design a more efficient motor that could achieve top speeds of 60 m.p.h. and two to three miles per gallon in an optimally designed vehicle. This would enable the LN2000, using a 100-gallon tank, to match the average range for gas-powered vehicles of 250 miles between fill-ups. As large as the 100-gallon tank sounds, Williams says it would still weigh less and take up less space than the batteries used in electric cars.

The liquid nitrogen vehicle also has the potential to be more economical to operate than electric vehicles, according to the UW researchers. Assuming a 10-cent-per-gallon price for mass-produced liquid nitrogen, they predict the LN2000 would cost about 4 cents per mile to drive compared with an estimated 7 cents-per-mile cost of driving electric cars (including the cost of battery replacement every two to three years).

The LN2000 fills up from liquid nitrogen from a tank outside of a UW engineering building. Scientists say the average gas station could be easily converted to liquid nitrogen delivery.

Another advantage Hertzberg sees for liquid nitrogen cars is that they don't require a new infrastructure for mass utilization. Today's filling stations can easily be converted to dispense liquid nitrogen instead of gasoline. And users will be able to fill up in minutes rather than the 4-6 hours required to fully re-charge an electric car battery.

"What's more, any mechanic with a wrench and a soldering iron will be able to fix one of these cars," Hertzberg says. "We purposely have not used any exotic or expensive technology so that it would be easy to maintain and repair."

Despite the potential benefits of liquid nitrogen vehicles, UW researchers realize it will be difficult to attract the interest of an automotive industry and public in love with gas-guzzling cars and only warily accepting of electric interlopers even after years of hype. But Hertzberg hasn't let that stop him.

"This has become a bit of a Holy Grail for me because it's the right thing to do," he says. "This is a car that will work with the environment instead of against it. I didn't expect any trouble in proving that a liquid nitrogen vehicle could work. I do expect trouble in selling the idea."

But what's a little marketing for a guy who has already turned a fanciful cartoon into reality? * Greg Orwig is the engineering writer in the UW News & Information Office.

Abe Hertzberg: The Reluctant Idea Man
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