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Graphic Series: Earthly Ideas, Compressed Air
Andy Lubershane, 14 Oct 09

This week's cartoon describes compressed air, a potentially effective way to store excess energy from renewable sources and provide power on demand. Currently, renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, can produce a lot of power, but only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Using the energy when we have it to pressurize air, we can release the air gradually against a piston or a turbine to provide power on demand. As Jer once told Alex, you can think of compressed air like an "air battery." The idea of using air energy storage to heat or cool has been inspiring inventors for years. Some have even been working to find a way to propel a car using only air. More work still needs to be done, but it's an exciting set of ideas.


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Editor's note: This post is part of a series featuring Worldchanging ally Andy Lubershane's original graphics. While many of the issues covered in the comics have been discussed on Worldchanging in the past, we hope that you'll be able to use this new medium in a different way … whether it's in your classroom, on your office wall, or to help explain ideas to friends and family.

Andy Lubershane researches writes and cartoons about sustainability from his home in Ann Arbor, MI. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. Check out more of his illustrations at

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Compressed air for energy storage is good.
In a lot of respects, the decision to base energy transmission and use on electricity was a questionable one.
Compressed air makes more sense for short range storage and use.
Motors for pneumatic systems are much more compact than electric ones.
Elevators, in particular, would be much more efficient if they were pneumatic since the difference between down-bound traffic and up-bound traffic can be captured, stored, and used between morning and evening rush hours.

If we just had a practical way to store light without converting it to another form of energy, we could be done with the electrical and petroleum age.

Posted by: Raymond on 15 Oct 09

Using compressed air as energy storage is quite an old idea and used at a few places. But it is not suitable as a general storage system. For one thing, the energy capacity per kg weight is very low, which means that it's not suitable for mobile applications (or would you like to carry around a 1kg cellphone? ). For another, devices that contain gasses or fluids with a pressure higher than (IIRC) 4bar are subject to special security regulations and are regarded as hazardous materials. Hence they are prohibited in most public transport systems and their use in residential areas is restricted.

Posted by: KotH on 22 Oct 09

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