Of Love and Compressed Air

I’m always awestruck by the careful, scholarly writing of Low Tech Magazine creator Kris De Decker (a guest on episode 83 of our podcast). He just published two long articles on the history of compressed air, “History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy” and “Ditch the Batteries: Off-Grid Compressed Air Energy Storage.” This is one of those topics that’s so boring as to be exciting and once you start thinking of the possibilities of compressed air you’ll find yourself, inappropriately, peppering your cocktail party conversation with compressed air anecdotes. Who knew that the city of Paris had an elaborate compressed air distribution system that operated from 1881 to 1994?

Compressed air has been on my mind since purchasing an air compressor and pneumatic finishing nailer that has made the carpentry work for our ongoing house restoration process much easier. What De Decker is writing about, however, goes much deeper than my horribly inefficient Home Depot air compressor. His article is about the air compressor as an alternative to chemical batteries and ways to compress air with wind, solar and hydro power.

Some Amish communities use compressed air as a way of separating themselves from the “English” world and its power grid. In fact, compressed air is sometimes referred to as “Amish Electricity.” While the Amish compress air mostly with diesel generators, some use windmills. The Amish convert kitchen appliances to run on compressed air as well as power tools.

Over the weekend, Root Simple pal Charlie sent me an email describing his grandfather’s patent (US4311010A) for a “Gas-powered engine adapted to utilize stored solar heat energy and compressed gas power system.” Apparently, he couldn’t find a machinist to realize this compressed air storage invention (they all thought it was a perpetual motion machine).

Let me conclude with a detour from the power of compressed air to the power of love. If you didn’t see Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon, you really should. He turned what could have been nothing more than a celebration of vapid celebrity into something completely different. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to concentrate and distribute the love Curry so movingly spoke of. It might just be easier than setting up a compressed air network . . .

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10 Comments

  1. I have listened to Bishop Curry’s sermon twice. Once wasn’t enough.
    What a wonderful message!

  2. I once went to a model engineering exhibition, where there were many beautiful examples of model steam engine performing all kinds of functions. As the organizers of these exhibitions do not want real steam boilers generating smoke, steam, red-hot cinders, potential explosions and insurance problems in their exhibition halls, all of these model steam engines worked from compressed air. Apparently, it is fairly simple to modify any steam engine to work from compressed air instead of steam from a boiler.

    • I never realized that compressed air is a form of battery until I read the Low Tech Magazine articles. Even my inefficient air compressor basically takes home power and concentrates, in the form of compressed air, to run my pneumatic nailers. Home electricity alone would not provide enough energy to drive a nail.

  3. Since I am off grid and would really like an alternative/back-up to batteries, so I’m finding compressed air fascinating. But it has to be cheap and modular-I’ve made it up to almost 1K of solar panels and my battery bank is small by most standards too.I need to re-read and check out teh google.

  4. In what way was this recent wedding NOT a celebration of vapid celebrity? Rev. Curry’s sermon notwithstanding, it looked to have been designed with ‘Entertainment Tonight’ foremost in mind.

    We heard from the husband’s English family, besotted as they are with the Royal Family, and discovered that none but one bothered to watch the wedding on the telly. One aunt told us that the Royals, who they’d always considered to be the epitome of taste and understatement, had gone full Hollywood this time.

    Old, traditional things, stodgy as they may seem in our modern day, are still an important link to our past, and I wonder if, by trying to be so 21st century, the Royal family may be diminishing itself – but I won’t be losing any sleep over it, not with tomatoes to plant out.

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