Inspired by air-powered car concepts in Europe, Dalhousie mechanical engineering students David Alderson, Scott Allan, David Langille, Michael Roy and Dave Spencer have now unveiled their air-powered go-kart, with the vehicle performing comparatively to electric-powered cars. Under their year-long research project, funded through Shell's Campus Ambassadors Sponsorship program, these five Dalhouise mechanical engineering students have developed compressed air engine of their own.
"We had done a lot of reading about renewable energy and became really interested in the air-powered car. The class was comprised of two parts, the first semester was the design semester and the second was for build time and tweaking the design," said Langille.
The air-powered go-kart was officially unveiled at Kartbahn Racing in Halifax's Bayer's Lake Business Park in front of members of the media to take it for a spin.
"We can do three laps here or just under two minutes going full out at 43 km/h with two tanks," explained Langille.
The students modified a 40-year-old snowmobile engine and ran compressed air through the engine to produce power similar to a gas engine. They attached the engine to a refurbished go-kart using two scuba tanks to house the air. The air is released through a standard scuba fitting with a high-flow regulator. The released air travels through tubing to a ball-valve connected to the foot pedal and throttle.
"It operates much like a normal rotary engine," says Mr. Langille.
With the rising cost of fuel, this development is timely in the search for sustainable energy.
"Last time we checked there wasn't a 12 per cent increase in air scheduled anytime soon," he said.
Despite agreeing to the fact that producing zero local emissions is a good thing, Langille said that a generator is still required to get the compressed air in the tank, but that's something he hopes can be researched to a greater extent.
"As someone involved in not only go-kart racing, but the international racing industry, it's important to find something that's more advanced and could be accepted as sustainable energy. We set benchmarks for the electric cars and the air-powered car went right between them," said Kartbahn owner Lucas Strackerjan, who graduated from Dalhousie in 2000 with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) and a Bachelor of Science in Physics.
The greatest drawback to the air-powered engine is that it runs out of air quickly. But, he thinks that the engine will improve with refinements and could be a successor to conventional gas-powered engines.
"Sometimes you gain on one end and lose on the other. You have the same issue with gas versus electric, but life is a series of compromises," he said.
Langille sad that he sees initial practical uses in forklifts and smaller indoor machines.
"The zero local emissions make it attractive for indoor operations and the tanks are easy to refill."
Strackerjan believes that the project is exciting for the automotive and racing world, as well as Dalhousie.