We all know that one of the biggest issues with automobiles is that their exhaust gases pollute the air. Not only that, certain gases in the exhaust are major contributors to global warming, particularly carbon dioxide. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was possible to build a car that emits not just low pollution, but zero pollution? Consulting for this article was Kim’s Chrysler of Laurel, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Laurel, MS, and they point out that battery-powered cars or hydrogen-fuel cell cars don’t emit pollutants during use. That, of course, is true but these are expensive cars. In this article we are thinking about vehicles that would be inexpensive, cars that could be simple and cheap enough for use in developing countries; these are some of the places where air pollution is particularly bad.
As it turns out there is a car design that meets this criteria. Ready for this: It’s a car that is powered via compressed air. That’s right, the energy that powers the car is stored in a cylinder filled with highly compressed air. It seems like an unlikely way to store energy but several companies are looking into this concept and have been making some solid progress.
How it works
Compressed air cars are pretty simple. They make use of one of the fundamental properties of gas, that is, it can be highly compressed and stored. Extracting the energy from this compressed gas occurs when the gas is released out of the storage tank. When that happens the gas hits normal air pressure and it expands to propel a car, all one has to do is use that expanding gas to drive a piston engine or spinning turbine.
Compressed air cars are not being used commercially as yet, but there are several companies with plans to eventually make them available to consumers. Motor Development International (MDI) is one such company. Established by entrepreneur Guy Negre, MDI has been working on a car called the AIRPod for years. The wait might soon be over, though, as the U.S. licensee for the MDI technology, Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM), was recently backed by a $5 million investment from Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank fame.
One of the things that really sets the AIRPod apart from other cars, aside from its $10,000 price point and the incredibly low cost to “fill it up” with compressed air, is the way that ZPM envisions their distribution chain. ZPM wants to establish local “turnkey micro production factories” to not only build the vehicles, but to sell them as well. According to ZPM, this method represents a drastic decrease in costs and logistic problems associated with the conventional assembly processes.”
Back in 2012, the Indian automaker Tata announced its air-powered car, called the Tata Air Car, and claimed that it would be one of the cheapest and simplest cars on the road. It was claimed to have a 50 mph top speed and 80 mile range using only compressed air, which could be refilled in about two minutes. The drivetrain was going to be taken directly from the MDI AIRpod concept.
After that showing, Tata has been silent on the compressed Air Car concept. It’s doubtful that anything more will come of it.
Unfortunately, the idea of propelling a car on compressed air does not appear very realistic for real world applications. For very short distances at low speeds, it’s been proven but at higher weights (to meet safety standards) and realistic speeds, some very serious doubts remain.