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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Cool Fix for a Hot Planet

Air Date: Week of June 19, 2009

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In the summertime love is in the air, but so is an energy-efficient boost for your hybrid car. Liz Gross reports.

Transcript

YOUNG: ItÂ’s Living on Earth. IÂ’m Jeff Young.

CURWOOD: And IÂ’m Steve Curwood.

Just ahead – burn, baby, burn - we mark the fortieth anniversary of the most famous Cuyahoga River fire – but first this Cool Fix for a Hot Planet from Liz Gross.

GROSS: Hybrid cars promise fuel efficiency, but their expensive batteries drive up the price. Now, a new breed of hybrids could produce a low cost and energy efficient solution right out of thin air.

Swiss engineers recently presented a pneumatic hybrid at the Automotive EngineersÂ’ Congress in Detroit.

Instead of storing excess energy in batteries, pneumatic hybrids use the engine’s pistons to store energy in the form of compressed air. The dense air is released when the car accelerates and drives the pistons. The boost of oxygen allows the engine to burn more fuel in a short burst – a process called supercharging.

With acceleration powered by supercharging, the engine only needs to produce enough energy to run the car at cruising speeds. This allows pneumatic hybrids to use an engine thatÂ’s one third the size of a conventional gas-powered engine, reducing fuel consumption by 32 percent.

Those energy savings are almost as high as those from electric-hybrids, and at a fraction of the price. The pneumatic hybrids only need minimal equipment to manage the compressed air, increasing engine costs by just 20 percent. ThatÂ’s compared to the 200 percent increase for the battery and other parts needed for gas-electric cars.

With these lower costs, pneumatic hybrids could ensure that pledges to lower emissions are more than a bunch of hot air.

ThatÂ’s this weekÂ’s Cool Fix for a Hot Planet. IÂ’m Liz Gross.

YOUNG: And if you have a Cool Fix for a Hot Planet, we'd like to know it. If we use your idea on the air, we'll send you a shiny electric blue Living on Earth tire gauge.

That’s right, keeping your tires properly inflated can save hundreds of dollars a year in fuel costs. So call our listener line at 800-218-9988, that's 800-218-99-88. Or email coolfix—that's one word—at loe.org. That's coolfix@loe.org.

 

Links

Learn more about pneumatic hybrids here.

 

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