Straight out of a science fiction screenplay comes the Air Powered Car from Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM). The Air Powered Car uses compressed air to propel the vehicle. The air compressor at the heart of this vehicle was developed by Motor Development International (MDI) Enterprises, a French company based in Luxembourg. (Note: the site is in French). Inside, the vehicle contains a 52 gallon tank which stores compressed air. In order to compress the air some energy is required. In the following video Guy Negre, head of (MDI), discusses how the car can be “fueled” in approximately three minutes using the equivalent of a gas pump. However the infrastructure for these stations do not currently exist, so costs are difficult to estimate. Another option is to plug the car into a standard electrical outlet in order to compress ambient air, which takes approximately four hours. Costs vary depending on utility rates, but in France filling up the car this way runs 1 Euro and 50 cents, about $2 (USD). Underlying the car’s propulsion is “compressed air technology” or CAT. This technology is detailed in the video by proprietor Guy Nerge and his son. Compressed air is forced through the engine causing the pistons to churn like traditional internal combustion engines.
Zero Pollution Motors committed to enter the Automotive X-Prize competition, which is detailed in an earlier post. ZPM’s mission is to “bring zero pollution motoring at any speed, for any distance, to the largest number of motorists possible and, in doing so, significantly improve the quality of the air we breathe and reduce our collective carbon footprint,” a fundamental goal of the Automotive X-Prize competition. According to their website, ZPM will begin accepting orders in the US in mid-2009 for deliveries the following year. Multiple models and prototypes currently exist, including the One FlowAir, Mini FlowAir and City FlowAIR (seen above) a six-seat, family-size vehicle (formerly known as the CityCat). Although it is not in production yet, there are plans for the US market. According to ZPM’s website, the City FlowAIR has an estimated 96mph top speed and up to 800 mile range and will sell for approximately $17,800 (USD).
The question remains how to generate energy to compress the air. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created or destroyed, but merely transferred from one form to another. Where is the energy coming from to compress the air? What sources generate this energy? For longer trips or highway driving, the Air Powered Car still relies on non-renewable fossil fuels. However, the lightweight carbon fiber tank and body help to achieve significant gains in fuel economy.
- Eric Wilson