Driving around without consuming gasoline or polluting the environment will be reality in the very near future. That means saving money and conserving the environment at the same time. The solution to traffic pollution, dependence on fossil fuels, global warming and soaring oil prices is the electric car. However, this car stores electrical energy not in expensive batteries but by using compressed air technology. And there’s no electric motor, but a motor powered by compressed air.
The former French Formula One engineer Guy Negre has developed the motor and a line of prototypes of air-powered cars for the last one and a half decades. The concept is simple. The heart of the air car is a four cylinder piston engine similar to conventional engines. The difference is that the engine invented by Guy Negre uses compressed air to push the pistons in the engine up and down whereas combustion engines use tiny explosions of fuel to push the pistons. The compressed air which is taken from a tank expands inside the piston and releases the energy used to compress it.
As the air-powered car has no tailpipe emissions, it’s perfect for use in bustling cities around the world. It can travel at 68 mph (110 km/h) and has a driving range of 93 miles (150 kilometers). Refilling it is easy. The car can be refilled from a compressed air service station (or a gas station with custom air compressor units) in just a few minutes or it can be plugged in at home using the on-board compressor which takes a few hours. The electricity needed to fill up the tank will only cost about $2. The founder of Motor Development International (MDI) and inventor of the air-powered car Guy Negre said: “It’s unthinkable to create an ecological car that is not also economical because people are not usually prepared to spend money to be environmentally friendly.”
MDI had to find solutions to numerous problems: First, the storage tanks had to be made strong enough to rule out that the tank could rupture in crashes. The air tanks are made of carbon fiber to prevent explosions. The pressure inside the air tanks is 300 bars. Second, the design of the car had to be light and compact at the same time. To achieve this, many components are made of aluminum and consequently, the air engine weighs less than half of a conventional combustion engine. This is possible as the engine remains much cooler than the combustion engine and temperatures will be well below the melting temperature of aluminum. With everything being kept at a light weight, the air cars get the best mileage possible. Air filters keep contaminants out of the mechanism and therefore, the air that comes out of the tailpipe is cleaner than outside air. This means driving an air-powered car is rather air purification than air pollution.
Although the car itself produces zero emissions, the generation of the electricity needed to compress the air results in CO2 emissions depending on the source of energy. But even if coal-fired power plants deliver the electricity, the air-powered car accounts for much less emissions per mile than any gasoline-driven car. And the air car’s energy efficiency is far better, too. Besides, when the car stops at traffic lights, the engine is stopped so that no energy is lost.
And in fact, the air car could make a breakthrough. India’s Tata Motors signed a deal with MDI to develop the technology and to sell the car in India. Besides, MDI has sold more than 30 licenses to companies planning to distribute the car in several countries. Zero Pollution Motors will start selling MDI’s air cars in the United States. In August this year, more than 6,000 zero-emissions Air Cars will go on sale in India. The first models of MDI’s Air Cars (OneCAT, CityCAT) could go on sale in the U.S. in 2009 or 2010 as two-, four- or six-seaters. The 75-hp equivalent six-seat version of the CityCAT could cost $17,800. The car will have a dual-energy engine which uses a small amount of gasoline or ethanol to heat the air, extend the range of the car by powering a compressor to an incredible 1610 kilometers at a speed of 155 kilometers per hour. One tank of air and about 30 liters of fuel would be enough to cover distances between 1288km and 1600km. Thus, the Compressed Air Vehicles will have an outstanding fuel economy of 106 miles a gallon which makes them extremely competitive with e.g. hybrid-cars. The Toyota Prius has a fuel economy of 45/48 miles a gallon. Air Cars will follow the same safety regulations as conventional cars and they will undergo safety tests before they are to go on sale in the U.S.
But MDI’s air-powered vehicles are not the only ones. The Australian Angelo Di Pietro has also developed a motor that is powered by compressed air but works differently. To my mind, Mr. Di Pietro’s invention is even more fascinating than the French version as Mr. Di Pietro managed to reduce friction, size and weight to a minimum. The concept is unique and brilliant. In his 6 cylinder expansion motor, compressed air moves a single rotary piston around to power the control drive shaft instead of pushing pistons up and down. A cylindrical rotary piston rolls without any fricton inside the cylindrical stator. The space between the stator and the rotor is divided into 6 expansion chambers by pivoting dividers. (EngineAir: http://www.engineair.com.au/index.htm) Next to the motor’s outstanding efficiency, it is remarkably small and weighs only 13 kilograms. As the motor has only few parts to move, maintenance costs are low and production is cheap: It could go on sale for €3,500. Moreover, it’s simple to refill. Filling in pressed air for two or three minutes is enough for two hours of driving. And the motor has many applications: It can be used to power boats, cars and small vehicles such as a market burden carrier.
Air-powered cars could become a real alternative to gasoline-driven cars and perhaps to conventional electric cars. Especially emerging countries like India and China could prove to be the perfect markets for such cars, but also industrialized countries could start mass-production of air cars in the not-too-distant future. The big advantage of these cars is that the power is drawn off the electical grid which is very cost-efficient and widespread.
And even if the first models of MDI rather look like toy cars than feasible vehicles, this technology has huge potential! Remember the first Japanese cars that hit the U.S. market in the late 1950s and compare them with e.g. the latest Lexus…
Check out these posts for information on electric cars:All major auto-manufacturers are designing their own electric cars The electric car on the fast track California’s Hydrogen Highway The electric car revolution is about to happen Electric vehicles are competitive with gasoline-diven vehicles The electric car – the last sign of hope for troubled U.S. car makers? BMW will make the electric Mini