Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Air Car, Say What?

By now we have all heard that we are choking this fragile planet in cloud of CO2 because we greedy, thoughtless, brutish, racist, homophobic, redneck, Bush-loving, fat and arrogant Americans drive our (big) cars to work. We all know that if we were even a little bit enlightened and eco-conscious, like all Europeans are, we would walk the twenty miles to work - or at least ride a bike or, if we absolutely had to we could take mass transit.

Many good people, people who take this "we're killing the planet" to heart, have already gone for the hybrid car. Of course, the hybrid car, while being cute as a button and the current pinnacle of viable green technology, still relies partially on the evil that is the internal combustion engine.

The true all-electric car is just around the corner! Again, the plug-in electric car still has to get energy from somewhere... Yeah, that would be a coal fired power plant, not actually that eco-friendly now is it?

What we need is a car that would run on air! Ha ha ha ha, why that's just silly! Wait, what did you say?

Yes, I said an air car, and it's not as crazy as you'd think. The first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production. Meet the MiniC.A.T. Tata, India’s largest automotive manufacturer, has signed a deal to produce a very cost-effective mass production Compressed Air Car.

Imagine a car that is incredibly cost-efficient to run. Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car - up to 190 miles. Currently in most urban environs 80% of motorists drive at less than 42 miles to work and back. The car has a top speed of 68 mph.

While I would have a very hard time picturing myself behind the wheel of something that looks this hideous I must say I am intrigued.

The infrastructure to support the plug-in electric car already exists, people already understand a "rechargeable" battery. So, where can you buy air? Refilling the car is simple and it's not a stretch to believe gas stations would soon be offering a compressed air adapter. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately $3 the little car will be ready to go another 190 miles. The car carries a small compressor which can refill the tank in 3-4 hours.

How it all works is what tripped me up when trying conceptualize an "air" powered car. I have used compressed air guns before and while they can blast a projectile with great force we are talking about a pellet or bb that weighs next to nothing. It seems the key to generating the power needed to drive a piston downward so its connecting rod turns the crankshaft is the time the piston remains at top dead center in the stroke. Go here to see an animated clip of the connecting rod in action.

This car, as it is now might be at home in tightly packed European or Japanese cities. For Americans I'm afraid the chassis would need to be more substantial before it would be a safe alternative to plug-in electric cars or today's hybrids. Regardless, I think this endeavor is showing that the current paradigm can be changed - even though I love the sound and feel of a V8 attached to my right foot - I see the need for these interesting and, yes, revolutionary vehicles. Keep your eye open for the Air Car coming to a city near you!