Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Problem Solved – Enter the Air Car

Motor Development International (MDI), based near Nice, France, has developed what they call a Compressed Air Technology (CAT) car, and are planning to begin production on the ultra-green vehicles later this year. Of course, full-scale production has always been “just around the corner” since the first air-powered engine was designed 14 years ago. This time around MDI has struck a deal with Tata Motors, the largest carmaker in India, to put the car on the market in the last quarter of 2008. The car is built of super lightweight materials, and will have a 3,200 cubic foot capacity when fully “charged.” It is believed that a full charge will cost less than $3 and will give the car enough energy to travel 125 miles when operated under 60 miles per hour. Once you exceed 60 miles per hour, the range drops to 50 miles. Don’t worry, the engine will also be able to burn fuel, allowing you to reach speeds in excess of 100 mph or achieve a range of 900 miles on a single gallon of fuel depending on the lead content of your foot. The car is designed to provide zero-emissions operation in cities and very low emissions on the highway. Priced around $5,000-$8,000, it would be an ideal alternative for use in developing countries famous for their overcrowded, highly polluted urban centers.

The premise of this engine design is basically the same as any boring gas-electric hybrid. It just makes more sense to store the energy in a fuel cell hybrid instead of using even more energy to compress air, which is a notoriously poor way of storing energy. Simple thermodynamics show us that energy conversion is incapable of being 100% efficient, so as energy is transferred, more and more is lost. Also preventing the CAT car’s acceptance is the fact that the infrastructure is completely lacking. It is a nice thought that you can just use the compressor sitting in your garage, but compressors capable of generating the required pressure of 4,500 psi aren’t readily available. If the investment was going to be made to update the infrastructure, we would be better off making the investment in hydrogen systems. Hydrogen has a higher energy content and is much more efficient. As for marketing, however, there might be just enough hot air coming out of MDI headquarters to give every buyer their first full tank without charge.

Am I wrong to worship at the altar of hydrogen?

Link to CAT car article:

1 comment:

Cyrus Tashakkori said...

My main issue with hydrogen is that it is not an energy source. Rather, it is a way of transporting or storing energy. We still have to produce power in order to make hydrogen, and we still need massive investment in infrastructure to move it around economically.

Why not skip the step and use the infratructure we already have - electric power lines - and solve many of our current transportation fuel problems. While hydrogen is attractive in applications requiring efficient energy storage, electricity seems a more promising transportation fuel for the next several decades.