NEWS: A Car That Runs on Air?

Dispatch from SSC Intern Tom D’Eri

A company by the name of MDI, Motor Development International, has developed several models of vehicle that run primarily on compressed air. The company has licensed the technology to ZPM in the US and Tata Motors in India. These cars use compressed air to push the pistons in the engine and gain extra range by using a supplemental energy source of gasoline, ethanol, or biodiesel. Some of the models that MDI has developed do run on air only, however, these cars do not attain the performance levels that the dual fuel source vehicles do.

ZPM claims that when they unveil their first production model (sometime in 2010 or 2011) it will have a top speed of around 96 mph and a range of approximately 800 miles (100 mpg). Now compare this to the air cars that Tata is producing (running solely on air) which have a top speed of 68 mph and a range of only 125 miles.

Although this car seems like a fantastic environmentally-friendly means of transportation at first glance, it is worth mentioning that the air compressing process is highly inefficient. When air is compressed, only about 25-30% of the energy is recovered (ChiefEngineer). Therefore, like hydrogen, air is simply just another method of energy storage. A method which must use-up substantial amounts of electricity to compress the air needed to run the vehicle.

However, if the process of compressing the air is becomes more efficient, air cars do have a substantial perk as far as air quality is concerned. This is due to the fact that the only emission from the tail pipe (of air-only vehicle) is clean, breathable, cold air. Hence this vehicle could go a long way in improving air quality in major cities, and cool down the notoriously hot climate in these crowded areas. These are some of the benefits grasped by Tata Motors, based on which the company plans on producing these automobiles.

Altogether I think that this concept is an intriguing one that merits further investigation and investment. Alternative energy automobiles such as this one, prove that there is a wide range of options that can be utilized to help solve the climate challenge. And we must consider all of them in order to create the diverse energy portfolio we need to survive in the future.

To find out more follow MDI, Popular Mechanics and Chief Engineer.