Compressed air engines aren’t new, they’ve been around since the 1920s, but they’re just now getting the mainstream notice that will allow them to flourish.
Back in Feburary, Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM) announced that they’d be offering their compressed-air engine Air Car in the United States starting in 2010. They’ve been pushing back the date for when they’d start accepting orders for the car, and it’s finally settled at “Mid-2009″.
All this talk about the Air Car, but how the hell does it work?
The air car is actually surprisingly simple. Instead of mini explosions forcing the pistons up and down like in a traditional internal combustion engine, the Air Car just uses the compressed air in it’s tank to power the pistons. That’s it, mostly. Compressed air only powers the engine up to 35 miles per hour. Anything over that, and the car burns a small amount of fuel to heat the incoming air which expands the volume of the air and so, increases the power.
According to ZPM, 1 tank of air + 8 gallons of gas = 848 mile range. Pretty impressive.
Of course power is reduced compared to an internal combustion engine, that’s why the car needs to be much lighter than most of the cars on the road now. The engine and almost the entire car is built from aluminum or other lightweight materials. ZPM’s Air Car weighs only 1874 pounds.
The carbon fiber tank in the air car can hold roughly 3200 cubic feet of compressed at 4500 psi. Carbon fiber is used because, while it’s extremely strong, it’s more likely to split apart instead of explode if punctured.
The beauty is that the infrastructure for air cars is easy to set up, unlike hydrogen or natural gas. Gas stations would just need to install an air compressor or two and the appropriate nozzle to fill it. The ZPM Air Car also has an on-board compressor that can be plugged in to your home outlet and refill the air tank in about 4 hours.