What About Compressed Air Cars?

In a recent post about the 2006 Honda FCX fuel cell car, we mentioned that despite the progress made by hydrogen fuel cells, we shouldn't put all our eggs in the same basket and should put more efforts into R&D; for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids... How could we forget the air cars? To be fair, most of them are in fact electric cars since it is electricity that is used to compress the air that powers them, but since pneumatic technology doesn't require any major breakthroughs in battery power density, it is very interesting right now and could eventually reduce the costs (environmental and otherwise) of transportation quite a bit.The most interesting air cars - like the Korean model by Energine pictured here - also have electric motors (unlike this model), so they are in fact hybrids: Pneumatic-hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). The compressed air technology (CAT) engine is used whenever the car needs lots of energy (to start up and accelerate), and the electrical drivetrain is used to maintain velocity and cruise, requiring a lot less power overall than an all-electric cars. Sometimes, when it is considered optimal by the onboard computer, both engines are used at the same time.

Of course, air cars will only be as clean as the energy source used to compress the air that powers them, but it is a lot easier to clean up that process than to clean up the internal combustion engine. Even in the worse case scenario - if we stick with fossil fuel to make electricity a lot longer - it is easier to find ways to do carbon sequestration on fixed sources than on mobile ones.

Caption: The first very cool picture shows the compressed air technology engine working underwater. As for the picture of the car, we know it's not very good looking, but we figure that right now they are more interested in getting the drivetrain to work; they'll probably create a nicer-looking exterior when the time comes to start selling it, or they'll just sell the engine technology directly to other carmakers.

Cheol-Seung Cho, of Energine Corporation, told CNN the system is controlled by a computer inside the car, which instructs the compressed-air engine and electric motor what to do. [...]

The air is compressed using a small motor, powered by a 48-volt battery, which powers both the air compressor and the electric motor. [...]

He said the system was relatively simple to manufacture and could be easily adapted to any conventional engine system.

"You could say our car has two hearts pumping. That is, we have separate motors running at different times, both at the time when they can perform most efficiently."

Cho also said the system could reduce the cost of vehicle production by about 20 percent, because there was no need to build a cooling system, fuel tank, spark plugs or silencers.

Cho hoped to see PHEVs on streets in the near future.

Will the big players notice the potential of the PHEV?

"For this invention to take off, you'd need to get the backing of a major manufacturer. The major manufacturers that are looking at hybrid motors at the moment are looking at fuel cells -- battery with a gasoline diesel combination," [Cho] said.

Lets hope they add compressed air technology to the list of things they are working on... And if they don't, they can be sure that the Koreans won't drop the ball.

::Car that runs on compressed air, ::Energine Corporation (Korean), ::How Air-Powered Cars Will Work, ::Pneumatic Options - Links To Websites Of Friends Of The Air Car Project