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Air Cars: Fuel For Free (Well Almost)
Jules Verne would be right at home with today’s emerging car technology. Although compressed air technology was used in pneumatic locomotives and trams in the late 1800s, widespread commercial use in cars was partially blocked by pressure from the oil industry by the 1930s. This is of course should not come as a surprise to the reader since new information about GM's electric car of the 1980s has recently surfaced (but that's another article). With the race on to find eco-friendly fuel alternatives, air cars rate up high on the efficiency vs. clean fuel alternative ratio. Although in the past people have bantered around the idea of an air car, the ultimate clean air car may be closer than you think.
How does it work?
An electric pump compresses air into a tank at high pressures and stores energy. As the air escapes, it pushes against the pistons, similar to a combustion engine. Compressed air is stored in large cylinders underneath the car, and the only emission into the environment is cold air. In fact, the tailpipe air emissions will be cleaner than the air going in since the air is run through carbon filters to remove dust, dirt and other impurities that could curb engine performance. This makes the car especially attractive to emissions activists, worried over global warming. Not only that, but the energy it does use is minimal compared to other future cars such as hybrids or bioethanol, which employ still controversial energy conversion techniques that can have an adverse effect on the environment and economy.
Zero Pollution Motors, the U.S. licensee of Luxembourg-based Motor Development International, has an air car scheduled for production in the U.S. in late 2009 or early 2010. To fill up, just stop by your local compressed air service station for a few minutes, or plug into an electrical outlet at home for four hours. At speeds over 35 mph this particular air car uses small amounts of fuel to heat air inside a heating chamber and allows the car to get to an estimated top speed of 96 mph.
No major infrastructure is necessary to support the air car, other than a high pressure recharger around 300 psi. This of course makes the Air Car very attractive since most of our stumbling blocks when it comes to finding an alternative to petroleum are infrastructure changes. Clearly, service stations could change system configurations to accommodate widespread needs for compressed air. While fossil fuels are still needed to generate electricity to recharge, there will still be a net energy savings and reduction in CO2 emissions and pollutants. Of course as wind and solar energy are used more and more as primary energy generators then the electricity used to run the car's electric pump will also be from clean sources.
Air cars have a promising future and are one of the major hopes for an easier than expected transition into a new clean fuel era. It is going to be exciting to watch these early air car prototypes transform and grow into viable vehicles for the 21st Century.
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