Forget gas, now a scooter exists that is designed to run on nothing but air. Specifically, compressed air, the same stuff that’s used to clean computer keyboards, fill scuba tanks, fire paintball guns, and more recently, to power cars.
Like an electric scooter, the Ecomoto is quiet, doesn’t pump pollution into the atmosphere, and if the air compressor used to fill its tank runs on renewable electricity, doesn’t have much of a carbon footprint.
Darby Bicheno, an Australian design student who created the conceptual scooter for a class, says that an air engine runs directly on the air inside, rather than converting energy from a battery. The whole thing is extremely efficient and lightweight.
Though the scooter is just a concept at this point, the air-powered engine is already in use. EngineAir, an Australian company, invented the engine, and has placed it in small pieces of equipment like forklifts.
Bicheno’s goal was to imagine how the engine might work in a scooter, and to design something good-looking enough that people would get curious about the technology—something with "the potential to turn heads with its eco-friendly appearance, and to get people more interested in the potential of alternative future technologies."
Most of the body of the scooter is made from bamboo. Bicheno says he used bamboo because it grows quickly, is more sustainable than other plantation timbers, and could reduce carbon emissions by replacing plastic. He also wanted the scooter to be immediately recognizable as a sustainability project.
The other parts on the bike are sustainable as well. "The overall form, assembly and design of the bike was focused on minimalism, with every element being carefully though out to ensure that there were no extraneous details or features," says Bicheno. A good example of this is the frame, made from a single tube of steel, which allows for simple assembly and disassembly, recycling, and a reduction of extra screws and joints. The bike is also lit up with LEDs.
The prototype design uses a regular scuba tank for the compressed air. Bicheno says someone would ideally fill it up on a machine at a scuba store or a hospital, but any air compressor would work—the others are just likely to be noisier and less efficient. Eventually, Bicheno says, regular gas stations could easily be used to provide compressed air instead of fossil fuels. Without testing, it’s not clear how far it could go on a tank of air, though it would likely work well for short errands in the city.
Bicheno imagines the bike used for commuting as well, helping save time in traffic and reducing pollution. Even in cities that already have a lot of two-wheeled transportation, something like this could make a big difference—what would it mean for cities in Vietnam, where 37 million motorbikes currently run on low-grade gas, making it one of the most polluted places in the world?