EDF Climate 411 Blog - June 20, 2007
A Car that Runs on Air

In poking around the blogosphere recently, I found several references to a Popular Mechanics article about something called an "Air Car". Air Car?? What I read left me with some questions, so I found the inventor's Web site and did some further reading.

It sounds like science fiction, but it's true. A car that runs on air - compressed air - will be sold in India starting in August 2008. It's designed mainly for city driving, and produces zero carbon emissions.*

Compressed Air Technology (CAT) has long been used to run power tools, but translating this to a car took 14 years of development effort for MDI, a small company based in France. The founder of MDI, an ex-Formula One engineer named Guy Nègre, describes his invention in this video:

The CityCAT (one of several models) is made of fiberglass with a radio-based electrical system that makes it extremely light. Retailing for just $12,700, the CityCAT can reach speeds of 68 mph, and travel 125 miles without refueling. It's not as quiet as an electric car, but it's much quieter than a gasoline-powered car. Another bonus: The air expelled from the exhaust pipe is clean and cold (about 59 degrees), and can be channeled to air condition the car.

Refueling is fast and cheap. With custom air compressor units, it takes just 2 to 3 minutes and costs $3 and change. Or tanks can be refilled by plugging into the electrical grid. That takes 4 hours, and uses about $2 in electricity. MDI also makes a hybrid version of the car with a gasoline-powered compressor. Both types will be available in 2, 4, and 6 cylinders.

MDI has signed agreements with manufacturers in many other countries besides India, including France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa. But not the U.S. The air cars don't pass U.S. safety standards - yet.

It makes me wonder... How crash-resistant does a car need to be for use in urban areas, where most of the time you couldn't drive over 30 mph even if you wanted to? Imagine how much quieter and sweet-smelling New York City would be if all the cabs were air cars. Bicycle taxis are allowed, why not air cars?


*Clarification: It produces "zero emissions" in that clean, breathable air is emitted from the tailpipe. But of course emissions are produced in generating the electricity used to fill the compressed air tank.

The author of today's article, Sheryl Canter, is an Online Writer and Editorial Manager at Environmental Defense.

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