Politicians have said that in order to regain our energy independence, we need to reduce our foreign oil imports and invest in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. While this idea seems to be a valid solution up front, it has a fundamental flaw. The U.S. imports roughly 66% of it’s crude oil resources and uses approximately 70% of the petroleum that is refined from that oil for transportation. Currently, the energy source for transportation is almost wholly derived from petroleum, and an investment in wind and solar would have little effect on the consumption of foreign oil imports. This is because wind and solar process transfer energy to the U.S.’s electrical grid, which has little to do with petroleum products. Only around 1% of the U.S.’s petroleum usage goes to electricity generation .
In order for wind and solar to have a lasting effect on our foreign oil imports, we first must invest in a new transportation mechanisms that derive their energy from the electrical grid. An option that I would like to introduce is a vehicle developed by Motor Development International (MDI), called the CityFlowAir.
The primary power source for this vehicle is an engine that runs entirely on compressed air. While compressed air engines are nothing new (the first was developed in the 1820‘s), MDI “believes that their engine will blow the car market away.” The tanks that store the air under 4300 psi of pressure are made of a strong carbon fiber composite, and they costs just $2 to fill . Lightweight composites and aluminum help to keep the weight low—around 1870 lbs, which is about 53% lighter than the average passenger vehicle . With a range of about 125 miles and a top speed of 70 mph, the vehicles are primarily for urban use.
The advantage of a compressed air engine is that external air compressors use electricity from the city electrical grid to compress the air. This opens the door for the use of the electricity produced by wind and solar generators, while eliminating the use of petroleum products as a power source for urban transportation. If more vehicles use electricity as a power source, the demand for electricity would increase. Increased demand would lead to increase in production, which would hopefully be from renewable sources. While it is a possibility that more coal would be consumed to generate the newly needed electricity, governmental incentives for the use of wind and solar could potentially drive a widespread adoption of their use.
A second major advantage of the CityFlowAir vehicle is that there are zero emissions from the use of its compressed air engine. If the compressed air is produced by electricity from renewable resources, CO2 emissions generated from the vehicle’s use would be virtually zero. Even if the electricity used to compress the air is not from a renewable source, CO2 emissions from a fleet of CityFlowAir vehicles would be drastically lower than from a fleet of internal-combustion-engine-driven vehicles.
MDI’s compressed air technology is one of many solutions (battery-powered, hydrogen-powered, and hybrid systems) under development to solve our energy challenges. Perhaps the next step is to begin introducing these solutions on a larger scale, and to improve the energy infrastructure to allow efficient usage of renewable energy sources.
 Annual Energy Review (2008). U.S. Energy Information Administration. http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/
 Modern Marvels: Environmental Tech. 2 (2007). The History Channel.
 Amenda, James M. (2007), EPA Fuel Efficiency Report Reflects ‘Incremental, Hard-Fought’ Gains. http://wardsauto.com/ar/fuel_efficiency_report/index.html
 Motor Development International. http://www.mdi.lu/english/