Saturday, January 12, 2008

The promise of air-powered cars

The promise of air-powered cars
By Hank Green
Fri Jan 4, 2008

More than 10 years ago, a French Formula One expert had an idea: Instead of running cars on the chemical energy of gasoline, why not run them on the physical energy of compressed air?

Now that vision is extremely close to becoming reality.

Prototypes of the "air car" are already on the road, and several companies have licensed the technology. According to a BBC report, the first air-powered cars could roll off the production line later this year, for sale in India and Europe.

The cars are powered by plain old air, which is compressed in ultra-strong tanks. The air is then released through a couple of pistons in the engine, which drive the wheels. Current prototypes get a bit more than 1 horsepower, and can push the cars up to 70 mph for about 120 miles.

It's not in any way comparable to something you might go and buy on a dealer's lot today. But there are some significant advantages.

For one thing, it costs only about $3.00 to fill up the tank.

For another, the car has no emissions. In fact, the air coming out is significantly cleaner than the air in most cities.

Of course, it will take some electricity (from coal power plants, yes) to compress the air, but the carbon savings are still very significant.

The refilling process is simple and quick, assuming your gas station has been retrofitted with ultra-high-pressure air compressors. Several companies, most of them fairly small, have licensed the technology to produce the vehicles. One very large company, Tata Motors (India's largest carmaker), has plans to produce air cars, and has released several designs of upcoming models.

Tata is planning on creating a hybrid version that uses compressed air for driving at low speeds, and then switches over to gasoline if the driver needs a speed (or range) boost.

As for a U.S. release, we're going to have to wait a little longer.

Though the technology has been licensed here, it might be a while before the cars can match up to the safety regulations of the United States - or the voluminous desires of American consumers.

But for the rest of the globe, especially for emerging markets that need cheap transportation, this could be a fantastic alternative that truly makes the world a much cleaner place than it would otherwise be.

1 comment:

Federly funded said...

I have seen this technology on TV. And am glad to hear that it is licensed in the U.S.

I think this technology could be used in controlling traffic in large urban areas, giving people a choice to use this vehicle, or pay some sort of user tax to operate their own vehicles in large urban areas, or something along these lines.

If you are able to drive to a parking facility and for a nominal cost exchange your vehicle with this type and are able to drive it yourself or the vehicle can in some way communicate on a grid bringing you to destinations as you select them then returning you to the facility where you are then Able to retrieve your vehicle.

I wouldn't however expect this technology or the concept of this idea to take off overnight, but I think the implementation of such a concept or something similar to it is going to have to be.