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Compressed-Air Car Nears Trial 173

Posted by timothy
from the under-pressure dept.
DeviceGuru writes "Air France and KLM have announced plans to conduct a six-month trial of a new zero-emission, compressed-air powered vehicle. The AirPod seats three, can do 28 mph, and goes about 135 miles on a tank of compressed air. Motor Development International, the vehicle's developer, expects the AirPod to reach production by mid-2009, and to sell for around 6,000 Euro. Initially, it will be manufactured in India by Tata Motors, and distributed in France and India."
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Compressed-Air Car Nears Trial

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  • by zxnos (813588) <zxnoss@gmail.com> on Sunday November 09, 2008 @03:36AM (#25693089)

    ...would hate to see someone siphon fuel from this car!

  • Brrr. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Parts of this thing will get fucking cold. Just imagine all the heat lost when the compressed air is let to cool down.

    Oh well, not like I care about the environment or anything.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @03:38AM (#25693105)

    28 MPH is not fast enough for realistic street travel.

    The concept is not entirely worthless though. If you apply the power train to a bicycle frame you have a very powerful upgrade to a standard bicycle, and with the even higher power to weight ratio you have a considerable speed upgrade as well.

    I predict this will flop pretty badly because of this speed limitation, and if it starts to take off people will have them banned as "moving road blocks".

    I, for one, would not tolerate an urban landscape clogged by a bunch of people who can't go faster than my grandmother. I hope they also come standard with the requisite continuously running directional indicator for those speeds.

    • I hope they also come standard with the requisite continuously running directional indicator for those speeds.

      I don't understand what this means.

      • by plasmacutter (901737) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @03:47AM (#25693147)

        you've never been behind someone going 15 miles under with the blinker on?
        where do you live, rural north dakota?

        • Close. Australia. The connection between indicators running and driving slowly wasn't obvious to me. Must be a meme specific to your locale.

          Here we would say that slow drivers are always wearing hats.
        • If you mean hazard lights, then just say 'hazard lights' and we will know what you are talking about, no need for the esoteric corporate buzz words.

          I'm Australian living in Manila, it's not often you get above 20mph in this city. Even at the few times you can, since the locals have absolutely no concept of or ability to build a flat surface, it's not really going to happen anyway. I'd say it'd be a sure thing here.

          • by mikkelm (1000451)

            So you crazy Australians have direction indicating hazard lights? IT'S OVER THERE! LOOK AT WHERE I'M SHINING!

            • "IT'S OVER THERE! LOOK AT WHERE I'M SHINING!"

              If you hear that in the bush and the lights on you, best hit the deck quick smart.
          • If you mean hazard lights, then just say 'hazard lights' and we will know what you are talking about, no need for the esoteric corporate buzz words.

            At first I thought you were being sarcastic. Now I don't so...

            Everywhere I have lived (up and down the east coast of the U.S.), we called those lights blinkers OR turn-signals. We only call them hazard lights when both the left and right are on (indicating a hazard). I haven't, until now, considered the term esoteric.

            Then again I've stood in a line, but never in a queue...

    • by WK2 (1072560)

      That's exactly what I was thinking. This seems to be in the "go-cart" class of cars.

    • by the_arrow (171557) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @04:14AM (#25693243) Homepage

      28 MPH is not fast enough for realistic street travel.

      I don't know about the US, but most European cities have speed limits of 50 km/h (around 31 mph), so it's not that far of.
      Actually, I would not mind this type of car getting popular, since it would lower the air and noise pollution in crammed cities quite considerably.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dutch Gun (899105)

        I don't know about the US, but most European cities have speed limits of 50 km/h (around 31 mph), so it's not that far of.
        Actually, I would not mind this type of car getting popular, since it would lower the air and noise pollution in crammed cities quite considerably.

        Zero-emissions, true, but I'd watch the videos before claiming this would lower noise pollution. It seemed sort of loud, at least in the video I watched.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by colourmyeyes (1028804)
          Watching the video, I thought, "great, a jackhammer that drives around."

          Still, it's a cool idea, especially if you build something like an exercise-bike powered air compressor. If filling the whole tank this way is too much work, you could use it to put a few psi in the tank.
      • by drsquare (530038)

        So on a flat surface it can't even reach the laughably slow speed limits imposed in most built-up areas. My route to work involves a steep incline with a 40 limit, I'd hate to be stuck behind one of these things going 5mph.

        The main benefit of this of course is that you can refill it for free at the tyre-inflater.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Laughable? Around here this thing'll go fast enough to lose control on some of our streets, and that's without them being down hill.

          The 25mph speed limit for non-arterials is really pushing the limits of safety or sense. Anything pops out on the narrow streets and you've got to slam on the breaks.

          There's a reason why speed limits are placed where they are. Roads are generally designed for a certain speed of traffic and that's usually the posted speed limit.

          • Not so true in the United States (at least where I live). Here, the posted speed limits are based on politics, or sometimes, based on a single unfortunate incident that happened decades ago. Our roads and highways are often engineered for much higher speeds than posted. This creates a continuous disconnect between theory and reality, since drivers often drive the speed that feels safe, which means they often drive the engineered speed. My own personal rule of thumb is to drive about 5 MPH over the poste
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        Yup, in the UK the speed limit is 30mph in built-up areas. There are a few bits where the speed limit is 50mph in bits of town that have major roads running through them, but if it can actually go at 28mph, then it's fast enough for in-town driving. You wouldn't want to drive it between cities though.
    • by compro01 (777531)

      Where are you? The usual in-city speed limit here is 31 mph (50kph).

      • by tepples (727027)

        Where are you? The usual in-city speed limit here is 31 mph (50kph).

        I've seen two major types of urban design pattern here in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA, population ca. 200,000, the speed limit on arterials [wikipedia.org] is closer to 40 mph (64 km/h). If an arterial is the only road between where you live and where you work, and you drive a slow-moving vehicle such as a 20 mph bicycle or an air-powered car that can't break 28 mph, you must become an obstruction.

        • by smithmc (451373) *

          Where are you? The usual in-city speed limit here is 31 mph (50kph).

          I've seen two major types of urban design pattern here in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA, population ca. 200,000

          Uh huh, and as we all know, every place in the world is just like Fort Wayne, IN.

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @06:10AM (#25693557)

      It's a heat engine, no more efficient than a petrol powered engine, but with the problem of low density energy storage. Basically it doesn't look good compared to batteries and electric drive.

       

      • "It's a heat engine"

        No it's not.

        "Yes it is"

        Allright then.. what's the heat source?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Colin Smith (2679)

          Allright then.. what's the heat source?

          The environment.

          The compressed gas enters the expansion cylinder at environmental temperature and as it expands, it cools, in exactly the same way as the combustion gases in an Internal Combustion Engine cool as they expand.
           

          • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday November 09, 2008 @09:54AM (#25694367) Homepage Journal

            Uh, no. It's not a heat engine, because heat is not causing expansion. In fact, as you point out, as it expands, it cools. This actually robs power from the engine! If the engine were to be heated somehow, it would probably be substantially more efficient. It is no more accurate to describe MDI's air engine as a "heat engine" than to describe a single pneumatic cylinder being driven by a compressor and used to do work as a "heat engine" - or by extension, a hydraulic cylinder. (Saying that liquids "don't compress" is a simplification of real-world physics, after all.) The heat is A) a byproduct of the gas compression problem, B) is not used to do work, and C) does not increase overall anyway. You don't actually increase heat energy when you compress a gas, aside from the wasted energy converted to heat by the compressor. You increase temperature, but only because you've put more mass into the same space. The heat per unit of mass does not change and that is why this is not a heat engine.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        On the upside, it's powered by a resource we have plenty of (especially in Washington D.C.): hot air.

        • it's powered by a resource we have plenty of (especially in Washington D.C.): hot air.

          No need to go all the way to D.C.; we have plenty of hot air right here on Slashdot.

      • - It doesn't require huge amounts of scarce/toxic materials for the energy storage device.
        - It doesn't need to convert electrical power to mechanical. Turn the valve and mechanical power is right there.
        - If strong enough materials are used, the storage means should be lighter per joule stored.

        Otoh, everybody has a source of as much electricity as they want already in their homes while most folks would need to use that electricity or some form of carbon fuels to get compressed air.

    • Having traveled in India, I can assure you that 28MPH is plenty of speed for most people, especially when commuting in the cities or rural areas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brianech (791070)
      The article says there are 4 other models planned, with one reaching speeds of 70mph... It also seems to hint that the initial models are being used as maintenance vehicles and such. Their first major test buyer is Air France. Its more like their initial models are looking to replace electric cars in the workplace, not for high way driving. But of course you knew all of this, because no one comments without first reading the article.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by v1456vqe (981434)
      Here is a vehicle that is not as fast as 28MPH and its so popular that I can continuously hear their sound as I type this: Auto Rikshaw [wikipedia.org]
    • From TFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by Noodles (39504) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @10:06AM (#25694423)

      "Four other models, featuring speeds up to about 70 mph, are also on the drawing board."

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TBoon (1381891)

      28 MPH is not fast enough for realistic street travel. [...] I, for one, would not tolerate an urban landscape clogged by a bunch of people who can't go faster than my grandmother.

      Check out French "car" maker Ligier. They, and others, have been producing similar vehicles for several years. Just diesel-powered, and less silly-looking. They are classified as mopeds, and are therefore not allowed to go faster than 45km/h (28mph). (Some models are classified as 4-wheel motorcycles and can go faster).

      Not being classified as a "car" means they don't have to pass crash tests, so it's probably a good thing they don't go faster.

    • by yelvington (8169) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @11:13AM (#25694757) Homepage

      Apparently you've never enjoyed realistic street travel in a crowded major city such as midtown New York or central London, where 28 mph would be pretty optimistic and, on some streets, illegal.

      The AirPod looks oddly like the auto-rickshaws used in Delhi [nriinformation.com], or the tuk-tuk of Bangkok. [pbase.com] These devices generally are powered by internal-combustion engines that burn CNG (compressed natural gas) [wikipedia.org].

      They're plenty fast enough for high-density urban surface street travel, and in India I've seen as many as 10 people crammed into one, traveling on rural highways.

      I'm puzzled by the KLM-Air France connection, although I suppose these would make fine runabouts for airport workers. Sort of like golf carts.

      On another note ...

      Most of the comments I'm reading here completely miss the point of the compressed air, which is not a carbon-neutral fuel source but essentially just the equivalent of a wind-up spring. That lets the vehicle be powered by any energy source, depending on how the air is compressed. You get to carbon-neutral by using some non-petroleum power to compress the air, such as nuclear-generated electrical energy.

      Electric cars work the same way, but I have to wonder about the environmental impact of disposal of the batteries, which do wear out.

      • Apparently you've never enjoyed realistic street travel in a crowded major city such as midtown New York or central London, where 28 mph would be pretty optimistic and, on some streets, illegal.

        nope, just rushour in downtown and midtown atlanta, where the public transit is a joke, assuring even more congestion. There are still plenty of places you can exceed 35, and personally I'd ease up and shove one of these little annoyances out of my way.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by $random_var (919061)

          and personally I'd ease up and shove one of these little annoyances out of my way.

          I was taking you seriously on your other comment, but now I'm wondering if you are just an Internet Tough Guy(TM)

      • by westlake (615356) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @01:54PM (#25695969)
        I'm puzzled by the KLM-Air France connection, although I suppose these would make fine runabouts for airport workers. Sort of like golf carts.

        .

        Trams and carts running in hazardous environments used compressed air one hundred years ago. The History of Compressed Air Vehicles [aircarfactories.com]

        Compressed air is used to start the engines of a commercial jet - which means that KLM and Air France probably have the necessary infrastructure in place on the ground. Compressed-air engine [wikipedia.org]

        The problem with the wind-up car is that you need a pretty big spring and pretty big key - and someone strong enough to wind it up.

        Henry Ford chose gasoline for two fundamental reasons:

        A gallon of gas could transport a family of four and their baggage about twenty-five miles - a full day's excursion by horse and buggy.

        In 1896 you could economically ship and store a barrel of gasoline almost anywhere by rail.

        For greater safety and profits, a dealer might do better burying a tank, buying in bulk and distributing from a hand pump.

        You could make a decent living this way and never see rural electric service until the New Deal of the Thirties.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by daver00 (1336845)

          You have concisely outlined here why oil is such a fantastic energy source. The stored potential energy in a tank of fuel is enormous, the ease by which it is transported is unprecedented in all our technology.

          Fancy alternatives all fail at these incredibly important factors which add up to why we use oil. Personally I believe the best solution to our dirty energy problems is to make carbon neutral oil and use that. Its energy intensive to do but oil is so damn useful, and to hell with the current fads.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by westlake (615356)
            You have concisely outlined here why oil is such a fantastic energy source. The stored potential energy in a tank of fuel is enormous, the ease by which it is transported is unprecedented
            .

            In the 1890s, high-pressure steam, electricity and compressed air weren't available outside the biggest cities, at any price.

            In 2008, it is still hard to see how you make the "alternative fuel" available, attractive and affordable outside the urban core.

            The New York Times posted a story on the revival of the Erie Barge

            • by daver00 (1336845)

              Electricity is not trivial nor efficient to store, so far the best we can do is pump a bunch of water up on top of a hill. That is literally the most efficient way to store energy in terms of electricity. Compressed steam and air are also non trivial to store and less space efficient than oil.

              You cant charge batteries at the rate oils can be pumped, you cant store enough energy in a tank of air to rival a sloshing tank of oils at attmospheric pressure. Oils for better or worse are the most versatile form of

    • by JMandingo (325160)

      This vehicle would be perfect for me. I have a 3.5 mile commute through 25 mph residential areas. And my favorite pub is only 1.5 miles away from home through residential streets as well :-)

      The question becomes: are there enough people like me with similar commutes to make this vehicle commercially viable?

    • In the United States, many states and municipalities have already approved low-speed electrics for local commuting. They are generally limited to 25mph (which I consider to be an asinine limitation), and have short range like 30 miles or so. Of course you can't take them on highways or other high-speed streets.

      I, too, argue that this is not very practical... but it is apparently pracical enough for many people to have bought them.
    • by $random_var (919061) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:58PM (#25695533)
      It's taking a long time to change the actual layout of cities, but in the last decade or so there has been a lot of evidence that (in certain situations) decreasing the speed limit on city streets improves capacity. That's right, not just reducing traffic jams by making it less desirable to drive, but actually increasing capacity. Freeways have long been known to have their highest capacity when just about everybody is going just about 55 miles/hour. There are lots of complicated reasons for this, but one of the obvious ones is that when cars go faster, the size of the empty bubble around them increases, particularly when not all cars are going the same speed.

      I live in the UTC area of San Diego, and our main roads are three lanes each way and have speed limits of 45 miles/hour. That's great for the 20 seconds you spend accelerating to the next red light, which is probably about 2 minutes long.

      In short, systems are more complicated than individuals. If you're the only person on the road, sure, you're going to go faster if you're going at 45mph than 28mph. But when there are intersections, stoplights, *other cars*, and traffic jams, are you going to go faster if everybody is trying to reach 45mph? Not necessarily, and in some cases emphatically NO.
      • Fellow San Diegan here, and I concur: UTC is a royal pain to negotiate, especially in the afternoon. I'd just as soon walk, but sometimes I'm forced drive an 18-wheeler there. Talk about headaches.

    • by cplusplus (782679)
      Never been to India, huh? Traffic is almost always so bad that sometimes it's faster to just get out of the car or auto and walk. Even when the roads are empty, their ancient Ambassador cars (some brand whose design hasn't changed in 40 years) can't go much faster than about 35mph without feeling like they are going to fall apart. I think (hope) this will be a huge hit in India.
  • Sounds like it should be an Apple brand.

    How much energy is required to run the compressor to fill the high pressure air cylinders?
    • Sounds like it should be an Apple brand.

      How much energy is required to run the compressor to fill the high pressure air cylinders?

      if it follows standard principles of mechanical engineering, far more than is redeemed through running the engine.

    • Re:AirPod (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @03:46AM (#25693139) Homepage Journal

      How much energy is required to run the compressor to fill the high pressure air cylinders?

      Obviously more than you get out of the drive line at the other end of the system. Compressed air does lose lot of energy to heat.

      In fact calculating energy loss would almost be a textbook example in thermodynamics.

      • by jamesh (87723)

        Even worse than that, when the air is decompressed during use it gets cold. Icing up is a problem in colder climates. Free airconditioning in warmer climates though!

      • Re:AirPod (Score:4, Insightful)

        by wisty (1335733) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @06:49AM (#25693657)
        Yes, but you can run the compressor with a coal powered boiler, a windmill, a team of oxen, a dam, or a volcanic heat outlet. It's not the power or the efficiency that matters, it's the style with which you transform that energy. Steam-punk FTW!
    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Surely you mean iAir, a device that would emit a playlist of scents.

      Oh wait, it's not such a bad idea actually. First one to the USPTO wins!

  • I never thought the thing I use to clean my keyboard could be used to power a car.
  • So this is a zero-emission motor vehicle. What are two european airlines doing with it?

    Air France Industries and KLM Engineering and Maintenance will be evaluating the AirPod from the perspective of safety, ergonomics, deployment, reliability, and maintenance costs, among other factors.

    Isn't all of the above a little bit removed from their core business? The only logical use I could think of for these cars in the airline business is transporting staff and luggage around airports, tarmacs and hangars...

  • by OverlordQ (264228)

    Damn those evil Automobile companies trying to keep the 28mph car away from the public.

  • Give the people air! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waccoon (1186667) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @07:42AM (#25693833)

    28MPH when the car is fully charged, I assume? How about when the tank is 1/2 full? Does it have a heater for the winter?

    A novel idea, but if we're going to make people movers, electric sounds like a more realistic implementation. An electric go-kart isn't that hard to mass produce.

    Also, I'm wondering if these guys [promci.qc.ca] have mane any progress, lately.

  • by shaitand (626655) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @10:53AM (#25694637) Journal

    A company called MDI already has compressed air cars on the streets of Mexico city. Here is a youtube video with some interviews with them. They actually make several cars and can get over 60mph and 200mph per fillup. Fillup takes 3 minutes with pre-compressed air or 4 hours off a home compressor.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztFDqcu8oJ4 [youtube.com]

    Note, disregard the commentators crackpot statement about perpetual motion at the end. The company isn't making that claim.

    You also have pollution where the electricity is produced but that is true of all the alternatives being suggested today. It is far more efficient and economical to produce clean energy on a large scale at a power plant than it is at the vehicle level.

    For that matter, with current scrubber technology even coal power is actually pretty clean. It's not renewable and isn't a solution but in the meantime its cleaner than burning gas on a car by car basis. It's certainly cleaner than creation and disposal rechargeable batteries.

    • by xlv (125699)

      A company called MDI already has compressed air cars on the streets of Mexico city.

      Maybe you should have looked at the summary a little bit closer and clicked on the links, specially the part about "Motor Development International, the vehicle's developer"...

  • That is the most pathetic "test" of a vehicle I have ever seen. They had to push it to get it going, on level ground!

    The general concept might be sound, but that thing is ugly, obviously underpowered, too vertical (top-heavy and un-aerodynamic), AND, even worse, shows poor engineering.

    For example, a three-wheel "automobile"-type vehicle should always have the two wheels in front, not in the rear. A tricycle with only one wheel in front (this has two wheels, but they are too close together, basically g
  • ...out of gas. If it works (gets me safely to and from work and short errands around town, 40 miles per day), very cool. I'd buy one. No batteries.
  • The real beauty (okay, there are several) in the air-car is in its relation to intermittent sources of energy.

    That is, compressed air is a pretty reasonable storage mechanism for solar or wind energy. Also, for excess grid energy at night, when we ramp down some baseload power generators. When the wind goes down, you stop compressing as much. Comes up, compress some more. As long as you have enough wind over enough time, it averages out. Beautiful.

    The dream of the battery-electric car is that the owner

  • There is a patent that explains how to radically increase the efficiency of compressed air energy storage.

    http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5832728/description.html [patentstorm.us]

    The key it to preserve the heat energy of compression. Most air compressors have multiple stages and cool the air in-between stages. This throws away a lot of useful energy, but they do it because otherwise the compressed air would be hot enough to melt iron.

    There is a simple solution. Use wet air. The heat energy of compression is used to ch

  • Having read TFA, and following the link at the end to the manufacturer's site and reading up on the technical details of the vehicle, I'm more than a little daunted by the possibility of air tanks under 4500psi of pressure failing while I'm inside the vehicle. I read their claims that the carbon-fiber technology used to create the tanks makes them safe, but I'm having a hard time accepting that having air under that much pressure released (worst case scenario) all at once isn't going to injure me in some ne

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