Ferrari has patented cold gas engines for cars - Tesla has announced such engines before. Are the Italians worried about falling behind technically?
In June 2018, Tesla boss Elon Musk announced the development of jet engines for cars. The cold gas engines would come from his aerospace company SpaceX and would be used first in the second-generation Tesla Roadster. The announcement was among Musk's predictions that caused more surprise than excitement. To date, these engines, modified for use in cars, are said to be still in development. But other sports car manufacturers apparently startled Musk's announcement: Ferrari has now patented cold gas engines.
Cold gas engines generate the desired thrust using previously compressed gases. They have been used in space travel to regulate the attitude of rockets since the 1970s. The new Tesla Roadster is supposed to accelerate to 100 km/h in 1.9 seconds with a purely electric drive, with a cold gas hybrid drive the time should drop to an almost magical 1.1 seconds. In addition, thanks to the engines, the roadster should also be able to make short jumps over the ground - Musk himself even speaks of "flying". An electrically operated compressor is to fill the tank supplying the engines.
900 bar pressure for ground effect
The system patented by Ferrari is called Pulsjet. The Italians position the engines on the top, bottom, front, back and sides of the vehicle. An engine contains five nozzles of different sizes. When the tank is full, the air gets to the smallest nozzle, when the tank is empty and the pressure drops, the system switches to the next larger nozzle so that the thrust remains the same. The length of the pressure pulse shortens the larger the nozzle used – and the air is supposed to shoot through the nozzles at supersonic speed and with an average force of five kilonewtons.
The compressed air tank is filled mechanically by compressors attached to the axles, which work with the help of energy recovered during braking. There is also a heat exchanger in the tank, which cools the air there and thus enables higher air density. The pressure in the air tank should be 700 to 900 bar. The air vents can theoretically help with acceleration and braking and also improve lateral stability in corners. However, the downward-pointing nozzles are not intended to enable a short flight phase, as is the case with Tesla, but to create a ground effect that improves downforce. The whole system should weigh between 40 and 45 kilograms.
Ferrari also with fuel-powered jet engines?
For both Ferrari and Tesla, it is unclear whether the two manufacturers will ever launch vehicles equipped with cold air engines. Many patents held by automobile manufacturers simply remain patents. However, automotive supplier Bosch has already presented the prototype of a cold-air engine system for motorcycles. The technology, which is still under development, is intended to prevent motorcycle wheels from slipping sideways by building up a suitable counterforce. In a test demonstration, the necessary gas was stored in a replaceable cartridge.
The Ferrari patent didn't become public until February 2023, but the Italians already submitted it in 2019 - a year after Elon Musk announced this technology for Tesla on Twitter. A corresponding Tesla patent is not yet known. It's not unlikely that Ferrari executives will see Tesla as a serious competitor that could pose a threat to them in the supercar space. The Ferrari system appears to be much more well-developed than the one announced by Tesla. And there is another surprise in the patent specification: Ferrari emphasizes that other engines could be used that would then work with fuel instead of compressed air. The use of fuels should be considered impossible at Tesla.
Ferrari patents cold gas engines for use in vehicles. Tesla already presented this technology in 2018 - the electric car manufacturer would like to use it in the upcoming second generation of the roadster. The engines can improve thrust, braking capacity, lateral stability and aerodynamics - whether they will ever go into series production is an open question. The Ferrari patent could be an indication that the Italians do not want to be technologically dependent on Tesla.