When engineers at the University of Washington set out to create a vehicle that is cleaner and safer to operate than gas or electric cars, they jokingly named it the smogmobile after a L'il Abner cartoon depicting a car fueled by air pollution. But the vehicle developed by the UW team almost lives up to its name. Running on liquid nitrogen, the smogmobile generates no harmful emissions and actually creates an opportunity for pollutants to be removed from the air as its fuel is produced.
"If you're going to talk about a truly non-polluting car, you have to do something different than gas or electric," explains Abe Hertzberg, professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at the UW and head of the smogmobile project. "We believe a liquid nitrogen vehicle can match the performance and range of an electric car, while still being affordable and easy to maintain and operate. And ecologically, it's a dream come true."
Carl Knowlen, a UW research scientist working on the project, will present a paper on the Smogmobile at the Society of Automotive Engineers Future Transportation & Technology conference and exposition Aug. 7 in San Diego.
The smogmobile is powered by energy from pressure built up when super-cooled liquid nitrogen is heated by ambient air and converts to a gas. The nitrogen gas turns an air motor, which propels the car, then exits the tailpipe. Since the atmosphere already is 78 percent nitrogen, the environmental effect of driving smogmobiles -- even millions of them -- would be virtually undetectable, Hertzberg says.
What really excites this veteran researcher, however, is the potential of liquid nitrogen
production to actually reduce air pollution. To make liquid nitrogen, Hertzberg explains, a
plant would simply run air through a large refrigeration system and collect the liquid
nitrogen as it condenses. In the process, pollutants such as carbon dioxide also ar
Contact: Greg Orwig
University of Washington