The Air Car & Other Green Stuff???

Well, it’s been a busy week for new green solutions for the price of gas. Though I hate that term green solutions – how about non-tyranical, got you by the balls, solutions? Yeah, I like that better. Anyway, I give you the Air Car! Tada!

(here’s the scoop) The Compressed Air Car developed by Motor Development International (MDI) Founder Guy Negre might be the best thing to have happened to the motor engine in years.

The $12,700 CityCAT, one of the planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units. MDI says it should cost only around $2 to fill the car up with 340 liters of air!

The Air Car will be starting production relatively soon, thanks t o India’s TATA Motors. Forget corn! There’s fuel, there’s renewable fuel, and then there’s user-renewable fuel! What can be better than air?

For more info, check out the website here. (HT to Marli)

And Zelda sent me this:

From The Times
June 14, 2008
Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol
Silicon Valley is experimenting with bacteria that have been genetically altered to provide ‘renewable petroleum’
Some diesel fuel produced by genetically modified bugs

Some diesel fuel produced by genetically modified bugs
Chris Ayres

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (Β£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.
Related Links

* Biofuel: a tankful of weed juice

* The arithmetic of crude oil

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Inside LS9’s cluttered laboratory – funded by $20 million of start-up capital from investors including Vinod Khosla, the Indian-American entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Micro-systems – Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.

For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.

The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale.

“Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Are Americans ready to be putting genetically modified bug excretion in their cars? “It’s not the same as with food,” Mr Pal says. “We’re putting these bacteria in a very isolated container: their entire universe is in that tank. When we’re done with them, they’re destroyed.”

Besides, he says, there is greater good being served. “I have two children, and climate change is something that they are going to face. The energy crisis is something that they are going to face. We have a collective responsibility to do this.”

Power points

– Google has set up an initiative to develop electricity from cheap renewable energy sources

– Craig Venter, who mapped the human genome, has created a company to create hydrogen and ethanol from genetically engineered bugs

– The US Energy and Agriculture Departments said in 2005 that there was land available to produce enough biomass (nonedible plant parts) to replace 30 per cent of current liquid transport fuels


Now, I don’t know if any of this spells solutions but I do think it’s nice to know that there are those out there looking for solutions and trying to get us there.

UPDATE: Ger sent me a link to a vid for another company called Tessler Motors they offer this car:

Which is fully electric, power efficient and fast – plus there is a solar option which means it is energy positive – and according to their website they have already worked out the recylcling issues for both the tires and battery which is built into the purchase price. Though, I’d be curious to know if they have included the safe disposal of the battery acid as well, since that is my particular concern with electric vehicles. If they have managed to find a way to reuse the batteries, as is the case with current standard car batteries that would make me happy. There isn’t enough data on their website to answer this question, however.

11 thoughts on “The Air Car & Other Green Stuff???

  1. I can’t be satisfied with an “air car” unless it can fly.

    Hey QM!
    I have a feeling that might be next. That being the case, at least we wouldn’t have to worry about road work, huh? Although air traffic control might get a little stressed. πŸ˜†


  2. Ok, wow, these are amazing! What a great post Annie, it all sounds so hopeful. I want an air car! πŸ™‚

    Hey Simonne,
    I must say, there is a certain appeal here, except for me the car is a tad too small and frail looking. If I were to go this way – I’d probably prefer a normal car retrofitted with a water engine. Living in an area where there are millions of cars on the road at all times I’m a bit chary of driving something that could so easily be squashed like a bug. πŸ˜‰


  3. Those bugs must have quite the digestive tract! The things people think of….

    I don’t know if either of these solutions are viable in the long run, but yes, it is good to know that there are people trying to find solutions.

    Hey Jen,
    Like you, I’m a bit skeptical too – but I do like the idea that people are out there trying to come up with solutions – of their own free will, without government interference or threat of diving back into the dark ages. πŸ˜‰


  4. Ugh, bugs. This scares me as if we are really going to end up like those ‘Terminator’ movies: bugs will takeover the world! Genetically engineered bugs?! one quick tech step to smart bugs? ugh. Whoever predicted cockroaches will survive us all, just may have it right.

    Oh C,
    You cwack me up. Yes, dominator bugs – what will they think of next? I’m reminded of Day of the Triffods and The Body Snatchers. Though I have to say, I’ve read varying views on things like this, as well as the fact that oil is somewhat self-generating. Still…bugs saving us in the ‘energy crisis’ strikes me as a tad creepy. 😯


  5. TATA Motors? Now that’s funny. I can just imagine the conversation.

    Dude 1: I just got a new TATA.
    Dude 2: Is she fast.
    Dude 1: Hell yeah and perky as hell.

    LOL Evyl! Only you would have noticed that. Went right over my head. πŸ˜†


  6. Hi WC,

    The problem with the air car is that it will never be able to pass US safety standards. Really, just look at the thing. Add to that the explosive nature of compressed air tanks and, well, maybe the French will allow it on their roads but we won’t. It’s the same as those Japanese micro-cars that get 60+ MPG but aren’t street legal over here.

    As to the oil producing bacteria, I saw an interview with that guy this morning. It sounds promising. Heck, in a year or four I may be able to pour a vial of that bacteria into my septic tank, and a month later the pumper guy will pay me for the privilege of cleaning it out! Oh, and he was saying that they would be producing enough to fuel a test car within a month or so. Oh, oh, and speaking of irony, it was only a few years ago that scientists genetically engineered a bacteria that eats oil, which was intended for use in cleaning up oil spills.

    the Grit

    Hey Grit,
    Someone else mentioned the compressed air/explosion angle. In terms of its construction, it looks like it would crumple under the impact of a swift kick – so I’d have to agree with you, it won’t meet U.S. safety standards. And for as litigious as folks seem to be nowadays, that’s probably a good thing.

    I think it’s great that you might finally get a profitable use out of your septic tank and I wish you the best of luck with that. Just make sure those oil eating bugs don’t mess with it or word will get out and it’ll end up being their local McDonalds. πŸ˜‰


  7. I hear those TATA compressed aircars are going to be big sellers on Capitol Hill in D.C. If they could only compress all that air there… πŸ˜‰

    Well Ger, if we could compress that air – we’d be able to power the whole country for free and maybe even end up making our tax dollars actually work for us. It’s a thought. πŸ˜‰


  8. I hope we will all get to see some of these air cars. I am so disgusted with our reliance on oil but I don’t know how to build an alternative car and I can only use my bicycle for short trips because I get tired too soon. Anyway, it would be nice to see something like this in general use. It’s interesting about the bugs but I think we should stick with things like air because the bugs would just keep us relying on oil. We need change.

    Hey Teens,
    Well, I don’t know if we need change or just relief – but just like the combustion engine replace the horse cart, so too can some other kind of engine replace the oil burners we have now. Frankly, nothing would give me more pleasure than seeing some folks eat their oil – but that’s another post.

    I think though that the combustibility of this car engine is something to consider since the air is highly pressurized and could pose safety problems. I like the little beauty at the bottom but apparently you have to be a movie star to afford it. My vote is still in for the water engine.



  9. The Tesla, alas, is out of reach of mere mortals – its price tag pokes into six figures – but I admire it for its sheer effrontery: its battery pack is just like the one in your laptop. Times 6,831, that is.

    Hey CG!
    Just the looks of the vehicle alone told me it would be a high ticket item, though I was hoping it wouldn’t be that bad. Alas – back to the drawing board.


  10. I wonder if they come in pink.

    Which one? And I’d have thought you’d go for the fire engine red. πŸ˜‰


  11. Air cars? Would anyone qualify for filling it up with hot air or do I gotta take it to a station?

    Bugs…sounds good to me as long as I don’t have to touch any of the little pests.

    Good post Annie..

    LOL Ange,
    I get the picture of people having their own kennel of these things – the kids will name them and cry when they have to go live on the farm that great uncle Joe has somewhere. πŸ˜‰


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