Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A go-kart that runs on air

WASHINGTON: With fuel prices soaring, there is a need to look for alternatives to petrol, gas and diesel, and the answer to the problem lies in ‘air’ - literally so - as scientists have now developed cars that actually need air as a fuel, promising to run at great speeds.

Inspired by air-powered car concepts in Europe, mechanical engineering students from Canada’s Dalhousie University — David Alderson, Scott Allan, David Langille, Michael Roy and Dave Spencer — have unveiled their air-powered go-kart. Under their year-long research project, these five Dalhousie mechanical engineering students have developed compressed air engine of their own.

“We had done a lot of reading about renewable energy and became really interested in the air-powered car. The class was comprised of two parts, the first semester was the design semester and the second was for build time and tweaking the design,” said Langille. The air-powered go-kart was officially unveiled at Kartbahn Racing in Halifax’s Bayer’s Lake Business Park in front of members of the media.

“We can do three laps here or just under two minutes going full out at 43 kmph with two tanks,” explained Langille.

The students modified a 40-year-old snowmobile engine and ran compressed air through the engine to produce power similar to a gas engine. They attached the engine to a refurbished go-kart using two scuba tanks to house the air. The air is released through a standard scuba fitting with a high-flow regulator. The released air travels through tubing to a ball-valve connected to the foot pedal and throttle.

“It operates much like a normal rotary engine,” says Langille.

With the rising cost of fuel, this development is timely in the search for sustainable energy.

“Last time we checked there wasn’t a 12% increase in air scheduled anytime soon,” he said.

Despite agreeing to the fact that producing zero local emissions is a good thing, Langille said that a generator is still required to get the compressed air in the tank, but that’s something he hopes can be researched to a greater extent. The greatest drawback to the engine is that it runs out of air quickly. But, he thinks the engine will improve with refinements and could be a successor to conventional engines. “The zero local emissions make it attractive for indoor operations and the tanks are easy to refill,” Langille added.

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