World’s First Air-Powered Automobile Makes a Splash

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2008 at 12:09 am

page1aircarIndia’s largest automaker began producing the world’s first commercial vehicle that runs on nothing but air. The “Air Car”, first developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy NËgre, uses compressed air to push the engine’s pistons instead of gas-and-oxygen explosions of internal-combustion models. It may seem a little extreme, but some six thousand zero-emissions Air Cars already hit the streets of India last August.

In Paris, a Luxembourg-based Motor Development International has scheduled the launch of the Air Car in France next year. Called the MiniCATS, the car is a three-seater and one of two models the company hopes to sell. A commercial version of a prototype of the compact three-seater showcased at the 2002 Paris Motor Show and was priced at $9,850, while the six-seater sedan will retail for $16,000. “It’s safe, doesn’t pollute, doesn’t explode, is not poisonous and not expensive,” said MDI representative Sabastien Braud.

The way it works isn’t rocket science, either. An electric pump inside the car compresses the air into the tank at a pressure of 300 bars. Years-old, off-the-shelf technology uses the compressed air to drive old-fashioned car engine pistons instead of combusting gas or diesel fuel to create a burst of air to do the same thing. The pump plugs straight into an ordinary household socket and takes four hours to complete the recharge… much more than your cell phone would. The Air Car’s pistons are pumped by the escaping compressed air that can take the car up to 70 miles per hour. It can travel up to 50 miles at top speed with a full tank, or further at lower speeds, and the only exhaust that comes out of the tail pipe is cold air. The modern and much pricier hybrid cars achieve higher speeds and longer ranges by running on a combination of compressed air and gasoline, or bio-fuels derived from organic matter. MDI claims that the air-only car models meet the needs of most urban drivers who average just eleven miles a day.

However, even environmentalists are wary about the Air Car’s claimed “benefits”. Converting energy from electricity to compressed air is inefficient, says Karsten Krause of the European Federation for Transport and Environment. Krause claims that by consuming more energy from the power plant than it delivers on the road, it could do as much environmental damage as a gasoline-run vehicle. Basically, there is no pollution being exhausted from the car itself, but the electricity used for upkeep of the vehicle might be just as much an environmental burden.

The catch, of course, is that the car itself is hideously ugly. However, if you are one of those people who can put “saving the environment” (that is, if it does what it claims) before fashion, you might be able to put the box-like appearance of the car behind you. The vehicle itself looks like a Playschool Power Wheel, and whether or not this Air Car will be a success in the gas guzzling and fashionable culture of America in 2010 is questionable. High gas prices make this idea a little more persuasive, but only time will tell in 2010.


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