AIRPod from Zero Pollution Motors: The Power of Compressed Air

Written By: EightySix

May 1st on "Shark Tank", investor and racer Robert Herjavec spent $5 million to buy 50% of Zero Pollution Motors. To be specific, the company has the rights to build an AIRPod factory in Hawaii. Herjevec purchased half of that venture, contingent on ZPM's ability to secure the rights to the entire US market.

What's an AIRPod?

Designed by Motor Development International of France, the AIRPod is a small, three-wheeled city car powered by compressed air. It seats a driver in front and two rear-facing passengers in back. Its top speed is 50 mph with a range of 100 miles. Plugged in, the on-board compressor can refill the air tanks in four hours. With a gas station compressor, it can "refuel" in a few minutes.

Like releasing an inflated balloon, compressed air from the tanks carries tremendous potential energy. In the AIRPod's engine, air pressure powers two pistons which engage the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The vehicle has no pedals or steering wheel but is controlled by a joy-stick. The lightweight body is built from resin and fiberglass. It looks more like a tear-drop travel trailer than a car. The front is difficult to distinguish from the rear. But by the end of 2015, the AIRPod may be for sale for only $10,000.

Not New Technology

Compressed air engines were used in the late 1800s in locomotives. In 1863 the first non-human powered submarine, the Plongeur, used compressed air both for power and to clear its ballast tanks. To carry so much air, however, the craft was an awkward 146 feet long.

Throughout the 20th century, various inventors made attempts at compressed air cars. They experienced problems storing enough air and containing the pressure. Another trouble with compressed air is that it cools rapidly when released. Particularly in moist climates, the components can ice up.

The MDI design heats the air as it is fed into the engine. Its air tanks are built from carbon-fiber and designed to crack in case of a collision. The pressure will be released rapidly so a small puncture won't turn the tank into a rocket.

Will it Sell?

It may never pass a crash test and could be classified as a Low Speed Vehicle. Despite being effective urban transportation, Americans are unlikely to approach such an odd and fragile duck.

A 2011 Nissan Leaf sells for only a little more. It's infinitely safer, better equipped, quicker and less weird. But you can't charge it in three minutes. $10,000 will buy you a nice used economy car, if you're looking to save money, but you can't breathe out of its tail-pipe.

The technology is intriguing. Look at the numbers and scale them up a bit. 600 pound curb weight. 50 mph. 100 mile range. $10,000 price. What would a 2000 pound $30,000 MDI vehicle look like?

Could the engine be doubled or quadrupled? Can we get a compressed air ‘V8’? Will that engine give satisfying performance and carry 200 miles worth of air?

The shape of the body should be the easiest part to change. Get a fiberglass fabricator to craft something more sleek and less geek. Wrap that shell around a skeleton as tough as the Smart Fortwo's and you'll have a vehicle trustworthy in a crash.

With most alternative fuels, infrastructure is the problem. Gas stations are everywhere. Hydrogen ones are not. Electric quick chargers non-existent in some markets. But every gas-station has an air compressor.

True, they'll give you enough time to top off your tires for 50 cents, but that's easy to reprogram as long as they can generate high enough pressure. The last question is: how clean is the power feeding them? With solar panels and a wind turbine atop the station, they could be clean and green.