Air-Powered Motorcycles Not Just An (Exhaust) Pipe Dream

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With gas prices high and consumers looking for alternatives, some possible power sources seem almost too good to be true. But motorcycles that run on compressed air may be available in the near future, according to Discovery News.

Researchers Yu-Ta Shen and Yean-Ren Hwang of the National Central University in Taiwan have developed an air-powered motorcycle, which uses the energy in compressed air, rather than gas, to drive the motor. They published their work in the journal Applied Energy.

"In Taiwan, air pollution is a very serious problem in the city," Hwang told Discovery. Twenty percent of all air pollution comes from motorcycles, he added, especially carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons. These emissions are worse from motorcycles and scooters than cars.

Since the only thing coming out of the new motorcycle's tailpipe is air, large-scale adoption of the new technology could take a big bite out of air pollution in places where bikes dominate the roads.

The motorcycle would still require energy to compress the air needed to power the engine. The type of power plant providing electricity will determine how much it reduces pollution.

The prototype can hold a little more than two and a half gallons of compressed air, which would carry the bike and driver about three-quarters of a mile. But tanks on the drawing board will hold three to four times more, and the maximum pressure the tank can hold will be increased so that the motorcycle could go almost 20 miles without a refill, Hwang said. A network of fuel stations would also have to be in place.

Other air-powered vehicle experts are not convinced that a motorcycle is the best use of the technology. "We don't think it's a viable product because you're talking about a very, very limited amount of compressed air you can put on a bike," said Shiva Vencat, EVP of MDI, Inc. in Newport, N.Y., and CEO of Zero Pollution Motors, who has licensed MDI's air vehicle technology. He says his company has a vehicle "that will address that market, but it's not a motorcycle," but can't release more information about that yet.

Zero Pollution Motors plans to bring a six-seater air-powered car to the U.S. market after competing in the Automotive X Prize race in September 2009. The X Prize offers $10 million prize to a marketable vehicle that exceeds a fuel economy of 100 miles per gallon.