It is important to realize that the way we power our vehicles today is based on the legacy of energy discoveries of the 1800s. Oil was first taken out of the ground in Pennsylvania in the 1860s. When the automobile industry came into being some four decades later, petroleum was the first candidate for the energy source. Even though the quintessential American inventor Thomas Edison did build an electric car, electricity was not as wide spread as it soon would be, so the power of the Rockefeller oil cartel won the day.
Today we are using the energy source discovered 150 years ago to get us to work and to the grocery store. Do we use candles to light our homes? Do we use tubes to power our radios and TVs? Do we cool our houses with blocks of ice? No, no and no! So why do we continue to blindly define transportation energy on an 150 year old discovery that we know is causing climate change, funding terrorism and is in finite supply?
In the last few decades, Western Science has, as it has penetrated ever smaller particles, come to the conclusion that everything is energy. Taking a look at energy from this point of view it strikes me as incredibly narrow to think of fuel, or energy as fossil fuel. That is just a small slice of what is available. If everything is energy then let’s look elsewhere, everywhere.
There are people around the world who are doing just that. A French company called MDI has partnered with an Indian company Tata Motors, to bring to market a car that runs on compressed air. That’s right, air. The power source is air and the waste product is air. A visionary inventor and entrepreneur, Guy Negre, the founder of MDI, has developed a compressed air engine that has the potential for being one of the great inventions of this century.
Negres’s compressed air car can travel 120 miles between refueling. That is significant because more than 50% of Americans live 20 miles or less from work, and the average daily mileage per car is less than 40 miles a day. The cost to operate is low, about one dollar per hundred miles. The compressed air only car will need to go to compressed air fueling stations for a compressed air refill. Once these retrofitted gas stations are in place, a refueling will take 3 minutes, will cost about $2 and will allow the driver to drive 125-175 before needing to refuel. Alternatively, there are engines being developed that either switch over to electric or gas power allowing the car to continue to be driven, while at the same time operating the compressor to refill the tank with compressed air. This model car could be driven from L.A. to New York on a single tank of gas. Because there is no heat generating combustion in the engine, changing the oil, vegetable oil at that, needs to be done only once every 30,000 miles.
What is not to like about this? Cars that are pollution free, basically petroleum free, low cost to purchase [estimates are less than $20,000], low cost to operate and capable of handling most of our driving needs. Sure if you want to pull a boat or rumble around in a big SUV or pick up this vehicle is not for you, but for commuting and running errands, the overwhelming amount of vehicular use in the U.S., the compressed air car is just fine.
What the compressed air car points to is the fact that humanity has the technological capability of solving our energy problems as they relate to transportation. Combined with the coming electric cars in the next few years, it is possible that by 2020 we could primarily be free of our reliance on the internal combustion engine. Now that is the potential and clear possibility. Do we have the social and political fortitude to make this a reality? Will our government see the clear opportunity or will it succumb to historical habit and inertia and cave to the well funded industry lobbying efforts that have influenced energy and transportation policy for the last 100 years?
The presidential candidates in 2008 could campaign on an “Energy Independence by 2015” platform, calling for government supported mass production of electric cars, compressed air cars and basically create a nation-wide Apollo project for the replacement of the internal combustion engine in a decade. The technology is soon to be in place, so it is up to us, all of us, to make utilize the compressed air car and all such emerging new technologies to make it a reality.
If you are interested in learning more about the compressed air car, here are some links: