The idea of using compressed air to propel a passenger car has been kicking around tech circles for years. Now, Luxembourg's Motor Development International SA (MDI) may have the first viable angle to launching a first wave of air cars: airport transportation. Behold the AirPod, a four-wheel, multipassenger minicar set to be built in Nice, France. It's one of the brainchildren of Guy Nègre, a former aeronautics and Formula One engineer who's been messing around with compressed-air technology in passenger cars for nearly two decades.
Nègre and company assert the AirPod can hit 43 mph, by way of MDI's 5.45 hp compressed-air motor with traditional pistons like an internal combustion engine. At 15-20 miles per hour, they say, the AirPod has a range of 130+ miles per tankful. Sporting a body of plastic composite, the AirPod is just 82 inches long, 63 inches wide and 79 inches high, and expected to come in passenger and cargo versions, each weighing under 500 pounds.
Not quite built for the interstates, the AirPod will be the focus of of a joint program with AirFrance/KLM airlines starting next Spring, in which a number of the vehicles will haul passengers between arrival and departure gates in Paris and Amsterdam airports.
The AirPod is just one of several compressed-air vehicle (CAV) prototypes MDI has in development. And the firm is serious about making such air cars a viable alternative energy, er, alternative. Reports earlier this year confirmed the company has sold the rights to build the cars to firms including US-based Zero Pollution Motors and India's Tata Motors.
Zero Pollution Motors' ambitious plan calls for production of up to 8,000 compressed-air vehicles a year beginning in 2011, with plants spread out among nearly every US state. That car, larger, more powerful and with a longer range than the AirPod, will cost in range of $20,000. As the largest potential market, California could have as many as 17 air car manufacturing plants, with 12 planned for Florida, eight for New York, four for Georgia, and two for the Connecticut/Rhode Island areas. Indian carmaker Tata has bought the rights to make air cars for the giant Indian market.
One thing air cars' proponents insist the vehicles are not: vaporware.
woo when are these gems going to hit the streets
Why almost every eco car is so ugly? This one looks like giant vacuum cleaner.
Nothing but snake oil, people. Ever heard of due diligence, PopSci??
This story is incomplete.
Compressed air is not free. You need to use electricity, oil, gas or a lot of strokes on a bicycle pump to get it.
How about telling us the cost trade off of this 'free' compressed air car.
Companies that market this kind of thing need to learn that to sell a green car in north america the car can't look like a fisherprice toy. Air powered cars have potential if you can scale it up into a full size car and still have good range. As for the polution created when making the energy to compress the air, it is more efficient than burning gasoline and then the focus can go to greener power generation.
There's so much plans for mass production soon... but how soon could infrastructures be set up to refill the "fuel" for this car which is compressed air? I hope that this type of alternative energy cars that will be introduced will have their respective "fill-up fuel stations" or.... they would all be useless. (~_~)
i agree Popsci should tell us things like how mush it is going to cost to run them
This vehicle uses a standard piston air motor; air-powered cars that have started to be built in India, Australia and elsewhere use rotary engines, which would be far more efficient and practical.
Piston engines have some advantages over rotaries when they run on internal combustion due to complex problems with pollution, but a compressed air car would have no such issues. I hope they eventually switch to rotaries to improve their energy efficiency and vehicle range.
Compressed air cars have the curious advantage of using the compressed air exhaust directly to cool the passenger compartment-- no complex and power-robbing compressor system or refrigerant necessary. All gases, when compressed, become hotter; on being decompressed, they become cooler. So if the compressed air has had a little while to cool off before being pumped into the vehicle's air tank, it will be chilly when it exhausts from the air motor.
One of the disadvantages of such air motors is that compressed air loses some of its pressure due to cooling, which means that there is some inefficiency in the process.
There are not many sources of compressed air currently other than at gasoline stations that have compressors to operate service tools, but that is still far better than the massive infrastructure that would be needed for any form of alternative fuels.
Electric vehicles have the advantage if for no other reason than because there is already a large grid in place to keep them running, although they will need special intermediate energy storage for fast charging. Electric vehicles have other advantages as well, such as regenerative braking, the potential for solar panels to charge the batteries, and electric batteries such as those from Altair Nanotech can be recharged in 5- 10 minutes; filling compressed air tanks may take longer.
There are tire compressors on many gas stations, sometimes even for free. So you could for some time drive for free (until someone at gas stations realize this).
I understand about all the uses of compressed air cars, but I wanna know where we could refuel it.
MDI may say this isn't vaporware, but they have a track record of making promises of mass production that aren't met.
First the introduced the e.Volution in 2000, saying it was going into production in France in 2000 and South Africa in 2002. Then they announced air powered taxis to be mass produced in Mexico in 2003. None of this happened, and the e.Volution quietly disappeard.
In its place was a series of CAT cars, such as the MiniCat. It was announed as going into production in 2005. Nothing happened. Then in early 2007 they announced that Tata Motors had licensed the MDI design and would build 6,000 cars in summer 2008. But in summer 2008 Tata said that the design and technology were nascent and not ready for production in the near future.
So now we have yet another version of the air car announced. And they say THIS one isn't vaporware.
Meanwhile, no auto magazines have ever gotten to test one of their cars. The only test data ever published was some old stuff on MDIs website where their prototype could only manage 7.22km (less than 5 miles) before running out of air. They then did an analysis where they hypothesized improvement after improvement after improvement and claimed that these paper improvement would increase range by a factor of 30 to about 120miles.
Since 2000 they have used these sort of numbers for the range, without ever having publically shown that they can actually do it.
Vaporware is a charitable term for these non-existent cars.
For Yetihehe --- a tire pump compressor won't work. Those are good for up to around 150 psi or 10 bar. The air cars must use 300 or 350 bar (4350 or 5000psi) in order to get enough energy stored to go even a few miles. The storage tanks are around 400 liters of internal volume.
For comparison, the most common scuba tank, an "aluminum 80" is 11 liters at 200 bar. So the storage volume of the air car will be about a much air as in 70 scuba tanks, and the weight of just the air alone (not including the tanks) will be over 400 pounds.
Ask your local scuba shop how big of a compressor and storage bank they use for scuba tanks, and how much it costs them to fill 70 of them. This is quite different than the wimpy little compressors used to fill tires.
An air car that had decent operating range would still be a good idea, even though the overall efficiency would be rather low because of the excess heat that must be dumped while compressing air. The real problem is that compressed air is a heavy and bulky way of storing energy. That's why the prototype could only go 7.22km.
Have a look at www.aircars.tk for lots of information, pictures, videos, links and the latest news!
How about a compressed air/electric hybrid? Using part of the energy produced by the batteries to compress the air, and when switching to compressed air use perhaps during highway use, using some of that energy to recharge the batteries? Another thought, exploring the idea of battery transfer stations like Israel is planning, using the existing gas station infrastructure, to exchange spent batteries for fully charged ones. Kind of like filling up at stations like we do now with gasoline, and the exchanged batteries would be continually recharged for the next customers. It would be important to develop the use of several small batteries instead of large bulky ones, and a modular approach for easy pop-in pop-out transfer. That sounds very feasible to me. What do other people think?
I have always been excited about using compressed air to power vehicles, but i'm seeing more and more that it will probably only be a small niche market powering very small, light cars only.
What a clever concept. This could be useful in many situations. I can see the elderly using these machines around their local area.
I have been looking into this technology recently and I have to say it sounds not only incredible, but completely doable. Just think about it,AIR is all around us. Why not use what is probably the most abundant resource known to man. And to those who say; it won't work, or its so ugly how could anyone drive such a thing, or even that air powered cars are less efficient than gas or electric, I can only picture myself driving one of these around and thinking to myself, I remember when I used to pay $4 to $5 dollars on gas. Because guess what folks these things take 3 minutes to fill up and that costs about ... oh ... $2 to $3. Which will take me well past 200km.
So just remember you run on air, so why can't your car.