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Tailpipe pollution may be doomed

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By Kirsten Peters

Kids delight in blowing up a balloon and letting it go. The air inside is under mild pressure, and when a youngster lets go of the neck of the balloon, air rushes outward. The escaping air propels the balloon forward like an erratic jet.  
Remarkably enough, a car powered by the same energy source – compressed air – may be coming to a road near you. At least one innovative auto company is investing in a small “air car,” as these vehicles are known. Air cars have some wonderful advantages compared to our traditional internal combustion engine – like the complete absence of air pollution coming from a tailpipe.
The idea of an air car is not so farfetched as it may sound. Your commuter car, my 1987 pickup, and a farmer’s diesel tractor actually all run on a broadly similar idea.
Work with me for a moment, and I’ll explain.
The internal combustion engines common around us look like they are powered by heat from burning fuel. But all the heat actually does is to increase the pressure of gases in the engine’s cylinder. It’s the high pressure that pushes on the piston. Then the piston’s motion powers the vehicle.
The heat isn’t crucial, it’s the pressure inside the cylinder that’s the key.  


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