I am making a world where people live without access to many raw materials, including metals and wood. Among other things they harvest their own dead for a paper analogue.

Another thing that is harvestable from corpses is gas, so I have been thinking. In our own world, people sit on airbags and activate them for fun, with often spectacular results.

I said I wasn't gonna lose my head, but then pop goes my heart

Could people do something similar to exploding airbags with natural gas, contained in leather bags?

And if so, could they place a slab of ice on it and use it as a plataform, to elevate people or cargo to a higher position (supposing there is someone or something to catch them in the apex of the leap)?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A partial answer: explosives are terribly inefficient. Their job is not to be efficient, it's to be fast. Any situation where you don't need that 30ms inflate time, you are being rather wasteful with your resources. Better to burn those gases in a controlled way. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 27 '18 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ The words "internal combustion engine" leap to mind. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Sep 27 '18 at 20:51

It might be possible, but it is easier to use ropes (made from human hair) and pulleys made from bone.

To use gas, you'd need a pretty strong bag, presumably made from leather.
The bag will need to be strong enough to survive the explosion.
Also, exploding gas will expand less (relatively) than solid explosives in airbags. So you will need larger bag, and probably a few of them.

If you still want flammable gas from living organisms, you will have easier time getting it from cows and other grass-eating cattle, or specialize algae.

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In a comedy, this idea might fly (pun). But there are some reasons it won't work seriously.

1 ) Precise amounts of energy are needed to lift precise amounts of payload. This is solvable through math and trial and error, but then you would need to carefully weigh each occupant before liftoff.

2 ) Humans are fragile. Even if the elevator was very sturdy, didn't vibrate, was unimpeded on its ascent, and grabbed on tight at the top of the journey, there would always be a hard jolt at the beginning. John Stapp's tests showed that 42 Gs can be tolerated for very short times - I will leave the calculation of the maximum height achievable with a human body for posterity.

3 ) Fuel quality is low, if you assume biologically made gas in a leather bag. Let's assume that this society has figured out the ideal mix of methane with atmosphere in a sealed bag to explode. It still can't be stored at high pressure in a leather bag.

4 ) Lastly and most importantly, an unconfined explosion is mostly wasted. Guns work because the explosion of the gunpowder is channeled down a tube and not allowed to escape. In order for your idea to work, the shaft would need to be very well sealed, and not let gas out the sides or up past the car.

If the shaft is not durable metal, it will quickly be damaged by the explosions and let gas escape.

I suggest hydraulics instead.

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