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Air Car- runs on compressed air and/or combustion
Old 07-17-2008, 12:43 AM   #1
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Air Car- runs on compressed air and/or combustion

Sorry of this has been posted previously.

An Air Car You Could See in 2009: ZPM’s 106 MPG Compressed-Air Hybrid : Gas 2.0

The approach is interesting for a couple of reasons. The cars use compressed air, but it is fed into a 4-6 cylinder piston engine, which produces the mechanical energy that drives the wheels. Think of the "engine" as just a pump in reverse--it's just turning the high-pressure air into mechanical energy to drive the wheels.

Below 35 MPH it uses the compressed air straight from the 4500 PSI carbon-fiber tank. At speeds above this, it burns fuel (gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas--whatever) to heat the air enroute to the motor to give it more pressure. There's no burning of fuel in the engine itself.

The car produces zero emissions below 35 mph, and above 35 MPH reportedly produces half the CO2 per mile as a Prius.




With a full tank of air and 8 gallons of fuel the car can go over 800 miles.

The car's small onboard compressor can be plugged in at home, it will refill the air tank in about 4 hours at a cost of $2 in electricity. When stations become available, it can refill from a high pressure connection in 3 minutes.

Of course, the car might not be truly zero emission, depending on the type of fuel used to produce electricity for your home.

Still, it's got the advantage of very long range (like a hybrid), very low emissions, and economical operation. I especially like the fact that it avoids the chemical battery and all the issues that accompany it (cost, heavy weight, limited lifespan, toxic production chain, recycleability issues, etc). It also offers an easy route to alternative fuels (burning a fuel in an Otto-cycle or Diesel engine places some fairly stringent demands on the fuel especially regarding pre-detonation characteristics. This car should be able to burn a much wider variety of fuels). It also doesn't absolutely require special infrastructure at remote places (e.g. high-voltage electricity, etc), so these facilities can be built gradually over time. It avoids the chicken/egg problem we often have with new vehicle technology and supporting infrastructure.

The major challenges I can see are safety (not too worried about the carbon fiber tank, but just the very light structure of the car), and acceleration/performance. The web site says the 6 seat version weighs less than 1900 pounds and that the motor puts out 75 horsepower (enough to get it up to 96 MPH--but my guess is that it takes about 2 minutes to get there. But, hey, almost all of the VW minibuses had engines smaller than 75 HP). They claim the vehicle will be safe--air bags, ABS, and a "tubular frame" that will be strong. We'll see--I want to see it hit by that S-Class Mercedes that hit the Smart Car in the UTube video).

I also wonder why they are using piston motors for this application, as a Wankel (e.g. "rotary") would offer a lot of advantages and their efficiency as pumps is well known.

Expensive gas is going to produce a lot of options without need for any additional government incentives.
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Old 07-17-2008, 07:39 AM   #2
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...it uses the compressed air straight from the 4500 PSI carbon-fiber tank...
Right away I'm thinking how I can make money if this takes off.

I know I started a thread on Carbon Fiber a few months ago, but it looks like someone deleted it. Anyway, I had listed some companies that specialize in making carbon fiber. They could do very well if these cars are mass produced.
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Old 07-17-2008, 08:22 AM   #3
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I've been curious about this type of engine. About 6-7 years ago my son worked at NRL and was involved in a project having to do with a future Mars landing. After the landing a small aircraft would launch and take photos while flying over the huge canyon. Some sort of compressed gas would be used to drive a conventional engine. Of course, once the fuel was spent the plane would crash, but the data would have been saved. I've wondered if this could be applied to a more earthly need. Looks like I wasn't the only one.
Interesting subject. Thanks for posting.
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Old 07-17-2008, 08:47 AM   #4
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The article says they are licensing the technology from MDI, and they have been around a while, we've probably discussed them here before. But it's still interesting to see this being more widely adopted.

I'm all for any efficient storage device, flywheel, compressed air, batteries, aluminum/hydrogen pellets,whatever works.

I'm curious how far it runs on air alone, if you keep most of your driving below 35mph? The Volt is shooting for 40 mile battery-only range. I'd be happy with a 20 mile range, if it would reduce the cost of the battery pack (or air tank). But I bet the range is a by-product of how much battery they need for performance. That's how it works in the Tesla, a 200 mile range provides amazing acceleration. If you were to settle for more average acceleration, the range would go down. They go hand-in-hand with present battery technology.

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Old 07-17-2008, 08:59 AM   #5
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Looking at the web site, it appears the car also does a bit of self-recharging of the air. If the vehicle is producing high-pressure air (using the onboard fuel), it's possible that the "exhaust" air from the engine will be at higher pressure than the air in the tank (as it depletes). I think they shunt this exhaust air into the air tank until the pressures equalize. It's not "something for nothing", just a smart use of otherwise wasted energy.

To optimize this for the US, I think they could go with a larger motor (to produce more HP for more acceptable acceleration), a larger air tank (to maintain the same range they have with the present, smaller motor) reduce interior volume (4 seats is plenty, don't need 6), and, while keeping weight low, increase the exterior volume to allow for stiffer-but-lighter beams in the safety cage, more ample crumple zones, and a plethora of airbags.
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Old 07-17-2008, 09:39 AM   #6
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From their website it looks like you might be able to get 90+ miles on a fillup around town.

I wonder about winter operation, most of us would need some kind of heat and window defogging for it to be really practical. Maybe a small propane heater, maybe some warm bricks under your feet.

I'm really interested is something for short trips, grocery store, hardware store type jaunting around.

Zero Pollution Motors - Air Car
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Old 07-17-2008, 10:38 AM   #7
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The safety is the only issue I'd be really worried about with a car like this, which is purposely designed almost freakishly light so that the range without the ICE is extended. The sticker price would be another worry of mine, but it said that they were looking to sell it for $18,000 or so... if it makes America, I would expect them to sell it at a good amount higher than that at around $32,000 plus, just for the fact that they will be able to profit a lot off of this car if it ever catches on.

By the way, how much energy is used (fossil fuels) to compress the air for the car and how efficient is this process?
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Old 07-17-2008, 10:41 AM   #8
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By the way, how much energy is used (fossil fuels) to compress the air for the car and how efficient is this process?
Depends on the source of air compression now doesn't it. If you get your electricity from a coal-fired plant then a lot. If you get your electricity from a large solary array in your back yard, then none.
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Old 07-17-2008, 10:50 AM   #9
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I watched something several years ago that showed college students increased the efficiency of a vehicle by making the wheels a pump and compressing hydraulic oil when the brakes were applied. The compressed oil was then used to assist acceleration. A similar design could be used with the air feature to assist in refilling the compressed air tanks.
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Old 07-17-2008, 11:27 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by lets-retire View Post
I watched something several years ago that showed college students increased the efficiency of a vehicle by making the wheels a pump and compressing hydraulic oil when the brakes were applied. The compressed oil was then used to assist acceleration. A similar design could be used with the air feature to assist in refilling the compressed air tanks.
That is just another form of a hybrid, utilizing regenerative braking. Fed Ex or UPS was experimenting with this, I think there is some info on their website.

You can't compress oil though. They compressed a gas in an oil tank, and the gas forced oil in/out of a pump.

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Old 07-17-2008, 12:48 PM   #11
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This would be a very good application for solar power. The big problems with solar today are the intermittent nature of sunlight and the high cost of making electricity from the sun (the cost is coming down, but the dollars/watt still makes sense only in very expensive electric markets and with government subsidies).

BUT, converting sunlight into mechanical energy skips the expensive PV step. A collector/tracker and a heat engine capable of utilizing low-grade heat (e.g a Stirling cycle motor) could directly compress air at your home while the sun was out. When you get home, you've got a tank of compressed air ready to "refuel" your car. And, the intermittent nature of sunlight is no problem--if the day was cloudy, just plug in the electric compressor instead.

retire@40: Do some careful research before plunging into carbon fiber stocks. IIRC, the market was tight and carbon fiber prices were high because of demand for the stuff from Airbus and Boeing who were cranking out airliners--I think their business is down now. Furthermore, if carbon fiber prices go up, I'd think a price-sensitive, weight-not-so-sensitive application like this car could switch to E-glass (fiberglass) relatively easily. You can't do that with a critical piece of a 777
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:27 PM   #12
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By the way, how much energy is used (fossil fuels) to compress the air for the car and how efficient is this process?
As Marquette said, maybe no fossil fuels, maybe a bit, depending on the source of your home's electricity. If the plant is burning oil, then burning liquid hydrocarbons directly in a vehicle is probably more efficient than burning them in a remote plant, converting heat to motion to electricity, then converting back to motion in your home compressor. OTOH, most electric generation in the US now uses coal, which is dirty but plentiful. If you're using nuclear power, you aren't producing any CO2.

How much juice? They say the electric cost is 2 bucks to fill the tank, so that's about 3 or 4 times as much as a refrigerator/freezer. 60 bucks/month would be a bump-up in my home power bill for sure, but it would be worth it to most folks if they could get 105 mpg for the fuel they burn in the car.
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:31 PM   #13
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I wonder what happens to that 4500psi tank when you smack it with an F-250.
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:34 PM   #14
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I wonder what happens to that 4500psi tank when you smack it with an F-250.
Bottle rocket?
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:35 PM   #15
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I wonder what happens to that 4500psi tank when you smack it with an F-250.
It becomes a 0 PSI tank. My guess is the fun is what happens in between those two points.

It probably cracks and leaks out rapidly with a nice pop sound. I'd imagine one could use materials and shape the canister such that you don't get shrapnel.
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Old 07-17-2008, 01:42 PM   #16
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I was sort of thinking along the lines of the huge surge of compressed air combining with all the bits and pieces of stuff already flying around from the collision damage.

Fragmentation bomb?
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Old 07-17-2008, 02:56 PM   #17
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That is just another form of a hybrid, utilizing regenerative braking. Fed Ex or UPS was experimenting with this, I think there is some info on their website.

You can't compress oil though. They compressed a gas in an oil tank, and the gas forced oil in/out of a pump.

-ERD50
That might be what they did. I watched the show about 12 years ago so the details are fuzzy.

SAM--I thought the car went 800 per tank. That would mean less than $2 per day in "refueling" charges, unless you drive 800 miles per day. For me it would be $2 per month to fill it with air and probably another $24 per month in gas. Now that is a savings almost worth buying the second car over!
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Old 07-17-2008, 03:13 PM   #18
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SAM--I thought the car went 800 per tank. That would mean less than $2 per day in "refueling" charges, unless you drive 800 miles per day. For me it would be $2 per month to fill it with air and probably another $24 per month in gas. Now that is a savings almost worth buying the second car over!
It's a little tricky. It costs $2 to fill the compressed air tank. If you want to drive only 35 MPH (and are happy with slow acceleration) you can just use that and never put gasoline in the car. UncleHoney explored the web site and apparently the range in this mode (burning no gasoline) is about 90 miles.

To go faster than 35 MPH or to accelerate more quickly, the car burns gasoline (or another fuel) to heat the incoming air and drive up the pressure a lot. If you have a full tank of compressed air AND you have 8 gallons of gasoline in the car, you can go over 800 miles in this mode.

I think that when you run out of compressed air in the tank, you are truly SOL. But, since you can refill the tank in 4 hours wherever there is electricity, I wouldn't think that would be a serious problem for most users. Eventually there would be a small kiosk at the gas station where you could buy compressed air for $4 to refill the car at the same time you buy gasoline. Until that time, just plug it in at home or at the hotel where you're spending the night and let the onboard compressor fill the tank for $2 in electricty.

Regarding the F-150 collision: The light weight of the casing and the way it ruptures tends to keep all the parts together. Keepinf it out of the passenger compartment helps. And, just maybe those jackasses riding 5 feet off my bumper will give me a little more breathing space if they think that hitting me will have bad consequences.

Of course there's much less PE in that tank than in a tank of gasoline. If someone were to propose today that we drive vehicles with 10-40 gallons of highly explosive liquid fuel, nobody would think it was sane.
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Old 07-17-2008, 03:25 PM   #19
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Here's an air car video:

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Old 07-17-2008, 03:26 PM   #20
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I was sort of thinking along the lines of the huge surge of compressed air combining with all the bits and pieces of stuff already flying around from the collision damage.

Fragmentation bomb?
Sounds like a job for Myth busters..
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