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by Larry

October, 2008

Running on Air

As the world comes to terms with a potential energy crisis and a global warming threat, many bizarre solution attempts are coming to light, but few rival for strangeness the claims made by the would-be producers of air-powered cars. Nonetheless, there is a lot of serious buzz about their viability, particularly if combined with hybrid technology, and there apparently are now contracts signed for production of various models starting as early as the spring of 2009. So I guess sometime soon, certainly in the next year or two, we shall find out if it really is possible for an energy efficient car to run on compressed air. Already a version has won the Time "Tailpipe Dream" Best Invention of the Year Award.

I find myself skeptical even as I hope the hype turns out to be true. Assorted names appear for these odd vehicles, from simply air cars to CityCATs (compressed-air-technology [vehicles] for use in the city) to OneCats, MiniCATs, MultiCATs, and AirPods.

There apparently are two basic types, one for families, that may go hundreds of miles at a stretch, and a smaller one for 1-3 individuals who want to flit about town in typical city driving commutes or errands.

The idea as I understand it is that, rather than gasoline engine combustion powering the pistons that turn the crankshaft that energizes the front or back wheels, propelling the conveyance, air under extreme pressure would push the pistons up and down, etc. Alternatively, a series of compressed air jets could directly provide the transfer of energy now accomplished by pistons. Canisters of compressed air presumably would be obtained like regular fuel is now but at special air car service stations or, for longer distance driving, the highly pressured air might be provided in a hybrid system by an onboard compressor that is partially operated via electricity and/or gasoline.

Doubters say it would take so much energy to provide the great air pressure required (over 4000 pounds psi in some models) that a net energy savings could not be achieved. Also, the chassis models proposed so far seem too lightweight to pass car safety standards in this country.

Nonetheless, if these challenges could be overcome, the air car potential is intriguing. According to claims by those proposing to manufacture them, the most exciting of the models that might be available here, starting in just the next several months, would be able to be driven 800 or more miles without refueling (the hybrid version), go up to 96 MPH, get 100 miles per gallon (and so need only a small fuel tank), seat up to six, and cost less than the best hybrids now on the market.

Let us see if the manufacturers can deliver on that kind of promise. If so, we could before long be seeing a revolution in how we get ourselves about!

Air-Powered Car Coming to U.S. in 2009 to 2010 at Sub-$18,000, Could Hit 1000-Mile Range. Matt Sullivan in Popular Mechanics; February 22, 2008.

Compressed-Air Car. In Wikipedia.

New Air-Powered Car Looks WEIRD. Hank Green in Yahoo! Green; October 13, 2008.

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