Saturday, December 29, 2012

Air-powered cars still right around the corner

The most powerful question you can ask about many new technologies is, “Where can I buy one today?”

That often leads to a response like, “Well, you can’t yet, but you ought to, and soon.”

(Image: MDI's Mini-CAT, hot little three-seater concept car. Credit: MDI)

Various forms of ocean energy fit that category, and commercial quantities of oil from algae, and compressed air cars.

Doesn't mean success isn't right around the corner, but often, it's been right around the corner for quite a while.

Cars running on compressed air have been around for years, but somehow have never made it to prime time, and none of the many firms working on them has put a line of cars on the open market.

One of the leading companies, MDI, has five models on its website, none in commercial production. The French firm is working with the Indian car company Tata to “industrialise a market ready product application over the coming years.” 

ZPM, Zero Pollution Motors, promised in 2009 to deliver an MDI-type air car to the U.S. market in 2011. Not here yet.

And there’s, “the grassroots movement to bring’s air cars to the North American market.”

APUQ, the Montreal firm that promotes its Quasiturbine compressed air engine design, promises it could be the death of the piston engine. APUQ stands for Association d Promotion des Usage de la Quasiturbine, which translates roughly ‘Group Promoting Quasiturbine Use.” It’s a rotary pneumatic engine, operated with an air hose attached. They’ve run a chain saw on it, and there are YouTube videos of carsretrofitted with Quasiturbines (they have compressed air tanks in the trunk and have a tendency to putt like a gocart.) But no commercial car, yet. 

AirCar Factories has a sexy website reminiscent of the desert, but you can’t really make out the shape of the car. Well, and you can’t buy one, either. As with several of the air cars, the website invites investor interest.

Honda unveiled a concept air-powered car in 2010, but no news after that.

Air cars promise great energy efficiency: it's pretty cheap to compress air, and you can get a good energy return from it. But there are bigger issues than you'd think. Not the least is that air cools quickly when it expands--meaning you could air-condition a car cheaply. But also meaning an engine could ice up unless you get every speck of moisture out of it. And dehumidifying air costs energy.

Here at RaisingIslands, we started writing about air cars back in 2007, and even back then, recommended folks not hold their breath.

Hope you haven’t been.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2012

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