Posts Tagged ‘wind turbines’


Use wind turbines to compress air for compressed air cars?

March 9, 2013

Remember Tata Motors’ plan for a car that ran off of compressed air?  There was a lot of talk about this back in 2009.  They planned to bring such a vehicle, based on Motor Development International’s (MDI) technology, to market by 2011.  But there were many technical problems, with some potential show stoppers.  The compressed air car was not seen as terribly efficient because of various conversion losses, using electric or gas-powered motors to compress the air.

What if?

But what if the compressed air could be acquired without and electric or gas motor?

I have always wondered if this might be an ideal use of wind turbines.  Electrical energy from wind turbines, like electric energy from photovoltaics, suffers from the lack of a practical storage method.  Let’s say you want to run your electric car off of energy from a wind turbine.  Kinetic energy of the wind is converted to mechanical (kinetic) energy of the turbine, which is converted to electrical energy in the generator (suffering from grid losses as it is delivered to your charging station), which is converted to chemical energy in your battery, which then converted back into electrical energy for the magnetic coils of the motor, which is converted back into mechanical energy to turn your wheels.

What if the mechanical energy of the turbine  instead used to compress air or another gas?  A compressed air car pulls up to the storage tank of the turbine compressed air, fills up and drives away.  No generator, no transmission lines, no battery and no electric motor conversions involved.  This would take advantage of the best features of wind turbines and compressed air cars, eliminating some of the losses that make each of them less efficient.

Fluid compressing wind turbine system

I started thinking about this again today when reading about a proposal by Winhyne Energy Group to build a turbine system in Wyoming in which the turbine would compress a fluid instead of turning a generator.  The compressed fluid would them either turn a generator, or be stored to power the generator when the wind was not available.

Here is a schematic of a single turbine/single generator system…

Turbine compressed fluid system designed by Lancaster Wind Systems, Inc.

Turbine compressed fluid system designed by Lancaster Wind Systems, Inc.

Couldn’t something similar be done to compress a gas?

New life for compressed air vehicles

While Tata Motors’ bold claims of bringing a compressed air vehicle to market by 2011 fizzled, the hope is not dead.  Last year Tata said it was done with its first phase of development and it ” has now been successfully completed with the compressed  air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles” and that they were now in the second phase  and and that MDI and Tata “are working together to complete detailed development of the technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years.”

Note that the recently announced Peugeot compressed air car, to be marketed by 2016, is not really the same thing.  This is a hybrid system has a gasoline or diesel engine and does not have an air tank that you “fill up” with compressed air.  Rather, is captures braking energy to compress air, which can then be used for acceleration.  This concept offers great fuel saving potential in cities where frequent stop and start driving causes large energy losses to braking.


James Lovelock says nuclear better than wind.

January 26, 2013

James Lovelock has worn many hats.  He worked with NASA to make instruments for studying extraterrestrial planetary atmospheres and surfaces.  He invented the electron capture detector for studying traces of various chemicals in gas.  He has been awarded multiple prizes from many academic and environmental groups.

However, he is best known as the founding father of the much-loved (by environmental groups) “Gaia Theory.”  According to…

“The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc.”

This seductive reasoning ignores the reality that life evolves, as best it can, to survive in a given environment, and while life may change the environment it does not “automatically control” it to “maintain its own habitability.”  But my point here is not to argue with the Gaia theory.

Lovelock was an icon in environmentalist circles, but since he started publicly endorsing nuclear energy a few years ago his aura seems to be fading.  He has been condemned as being senile or worse (see here or comments here).

In a recent comment (see discussion at Lovelock condemns a single proposed wind turbine in a bucolic English setting, calling it “industrial vandalism.”  But more importantly he goes on to say…

“we should look to the French who have wisely chosen nuclear energy as their principal source; a single nuclear power station provides as much as 3200 large wind turbines.”

I am not one to condemn wind turbines for aesthetic reasons.  In fact, I find that modern wind turbines have their own beauty in their graceful structure.  But Lovelock is certainly right in his comparison of the utility of wind turbines with nuclear energy.

Lovelock closes his comments with this homily…

I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human needs. We need take care that the spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island, monuments of a failed civilisation.