BLANCH : As the world wakes up to global warming, petrol prices rise and greenhouse gases pollute the atmosphere, what better than a car that creates zero pollution by running on nothing but compressed air? The dream started seven years ago for a Melbourne engineer, Angelo di Pietro, to advance his innovative air-driven 'Engineair' vehicle that he conceived, designed and developed and which could have an enormous impact on future motor-driven applications.
I asked Angelo to list after zero-pollution, what he considered to be important improvements that his engine delivered over other motors.
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Our motor delivers high torque and low rpm, very high efficiency, low noise and it's a fraction of the weight of a traditional piston motor. It is cheaper to produce and is better for the environment, as less material and energy is used in its production.
BLANCH : So your motor is based on a rotary piston. How does your engine design differ from existing rotary engines?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Uses a single rotary piston and pivoting dividers which runs almost frictionless.
BLANCH : Your motor's seven times smaller than the piston air motor currently in use, so what power does the engine develop with what about of compressed air?
ANGELO DI PIETRO: Although our motor is seven times smaller than the piston air motor, we develop much more power with considerable less energy, even by using our early motor's testing results of 2002, conducted by Monash University, we only use 770 litres per minute per horse power compared with the piston motor's 896 litres. We have advanced our technology today enormously and our scientific model predictions suggest that the new motor could be made at least four times more efficient for the same power output, compared to its commercial competitors.
BLANCH : So how do you get your motor to operate at a higher torque or with greater efficiency?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : By regulating air pressure and timing or manipulating the compressed air to perform the reverse function from when it was compressed.
BLANCH : You've designed the engine to be suited to a variety of applications and these range from commercial vehicles and motor scooters, buses, boats, trains and cars. Well that's a whole spectrum of transport, isn't it? So how does your engine adapt to such a range of vehicles?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : The engine can be scaled up or down in its size and will be built from different materials specific to each use, for example, carbon fibre or other plastics or even stainless steel for marine use. Our engine is best suited to a new generation of vehicles that can be built lighter as the need to build current heavier structures to support large heavy motors and all that goes with them is no longer required. This reduction in the weight of the engine and the elimination of many other components translates into fuel efficiency and economic benefits.
BLANCH : So you have the ability to vary the timing and duration of compressed air input I gather?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Yes, yes.
BLANCH : So beyond transport, you believe the motors suitable for stationery applications where safety is an issue. I mean what sort of an example?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Yes, we have studied such a market and find the 2.5 billion dollars in air motors are sold each year in industries such as mining, petrochemical and pharmaceutical. We also know that if the motor can be coupled to a generator and used to generate electricity by means of wind turbines, solar thermal and hydro means.
BLANCH : So where does the power come from to compress the air for the motor?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Currently air is compressed by the burning of fossil fuels, but this also can be achieved by wind, solar and water power.
BLANCH : And in your testing, what speeds were reached for the vehicle?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Our testing was conducted at speeds up to 70 kilometres per hour, but we can reach any speed, we can develop any power. It is all controlled by the pressure we introduce to the motor and timing.
BLANCH : And how is speed controlled when there's no gear box?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : A simple foot valve similar to a vehicle accelerator pedal will control the air flow. The larger the flow, the faster goes the vehicle.
BLANCH : And what distance is travelled on what sized tank of air?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : With carbon fibre tankage of 200 litres and working pressure at 350 bars and heat storage at 850 degrees C, at a speed of 70 kilometres per hour using the lightweight Italian car, a distance of 300 kilometres is expected.
BLANCH : In the past, it's been said that air-powered motors are not anywhere near as efficient as motors that used fuel, as energy is lost when compressed air cooled. Is that comment still valid today?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : We all know that if we stand next to a motor that uses fuel, an incredible quantity of energy is lost in the form of heat. The internal combustion engine, it's very inefficient itself. It is obvious that compressed air is less energy-dense than petrol, but our technology produces no end pollution and has standout efficiency in its use.
As well, "Engineair" technology will allow us to manufacture a new generation of vehicles; they don't have unnecessary heavy components. With the energy we currently use to drive a simple motor vehicle, in the future we will drive many if we use "Engineair" technology.
To respond to your question, we will take heat back into the system as the expanding air from the cylinder and the air line becomes very, very cold and the whole system will be like a hungry sponge absorbing heat from the ambient atmosphere.
BLANCH : What's your response, Angelo, to the criticism that compressed air requires more energy to make than it generates?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Yes, these are the thermodynamic facts we can't escape. But it is the same with everything else unless nature has provided energy for you, like petrol, coal or gas. But we can use nature to compress air with wind, solar and water.
BLANCH : What air powered vehicles do you have doing what kind of jobs?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : The vehicles we have produced so far are mainly used to showcase our technology. We have done a prototype car, burden carrier, scooter, go kart and outboard motor conversion. We are getting many business people visiting from all over the world. Our intention is not to manufacture, but to license our technology. Our motor has such wide application in various sizes that we cannot hope to build ourselves.
BLANCH : Well, you're putting an engine into a light car to showcase your invention. This is going to happen next year--what's your plan?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : Yes, we want to showcase the vehicle during a trip from Melbourne to Sydney, but also I intend to use the car in daily commuting between home and work for some time and then send the car back to Europe to be showcased by the car maker in Italy. It is a two seat carbon fibre car which is very light, strong and funky.
BLANCH : Well you were born in Italy and came to Australia in 1971 bringing a background of experience with rotary engines at the Mercedes Benz Research Laboratories in Stuttgart. Is this where your ideas for your engine were born?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : No, I had a passion for mechanical devices ever since I can remember.
BLANCH : Well you're seeking partners and joint ventures and licensees for the motor and its applications, with what kind of success so far?
ANGELO DI PIETRO : I could have secured many deals so far, but I need to secure the correct deals and with a correct company in general, I'm very pleased. All is looking very positive lately.
BLANCH : Angelo Di Pietro, designer and developer of the rotary air-driven motor, the Engineair.
Angelo di Pietro, Managing Director
Engineair Pty Ltd.,
5 Export Drive, Brooklyn, VIC 3012