I was amazed when I first heard about a ‘compressed air car‘, designed by an ex-Formula one engineer/environmentalist, and being developed by his company MDI in France, as well as by the large Indian carmaker, Tata Motors. NO petrol, and costing around $8,000? I have trawled the internet and there have clearly been some design/production issues over several years, BUT I see that a pilot Air Pod production line is currently being installed at MDI, France, and that a plant in Sardinia will be in production by late 2014.
The first compressed air car will be produced commercially by Airmobility, a company of entrepreneurial Sardinian Italians backing the new technology. This new Air Pod should be available by late 2014.
Tata Motors is working on its version of the Air Pod for the Indian market.
Research Italy describes the air car saying:
“Eco-compatibility and convenience. These are the key features of AirPod 2.0, the first compressed-air vehicle to be launched on the market in Europe.
The Sardinian plant…will employ about 50 specialized workers at full production.
The car will be driven by means of a joystick or a traditional steering wheel and will reach the maximum speed of about 80 km/hour. Tank refilling will be possible at appropriately equipped service stations in about 2.5 minutes, or by plugging the car into the electrical grid in about 3.5 hours.”
The 7 KW motor will do 80 km/h with a range of about 120 km. It will have a luggage compartment of 500 litres including a 30 gallon refrigerated compartment. You drive by joystick or steering wheel option may be required.
The car weighs 280 kg and is made ??of composite material of glass fiber and polyester resin. The passenger vehicle will cost around 7,500 Euros.
Wikipedia explains that compressed air is stored in a tank at high pressure. Rather than driving engine pistons with an ignited fuel-air mixture, compressed air cars use the expansion of compressed air, in a similar manner to the expansion of steam in a steam engine.
There have been prototype air cars since the 1920s.
-The lightweight design (just under 300kg) means it will require less raw materials and energy to manufacture than a standard compact;
-Zero emissions from driving;
-At just 7,000 euros, it will be considerably cheaper to buy than most battery-powered cars;
-Refuelling can be done at home using the car’s inbuilt air compressor (3.5 hours) or at service stations (3 minutes);
-Low running costs: approximately 18 kilowatt hours per charge, which, at a rate of 20 euro cents per kWh equates to 3.60 euros per charge/125 miles;
-The energy required for compressing air is produced at large centralized plants, making it less costly and more effective to manage carbon emissions than from individual vehicles;
-Low maintenance costs as it doesn’t require a cooling system, spark plugs, starter motor, mufflers, etc;
-The rate of self-discharge is very low compared to batteries that deplete their charge slowly over time. Therefore, the vehicle may be left unused for longer periods of time than electric cars;
-Reduction or elimination of hazardous chemicals such as gasoline or battery acids/metals;
-Like battery-powered cars, compressed air-powered cars like the Airpod require electrical energy to ‘re-fuel’ in terms of the electricity needed to run its compressor. Current research suggests that the Airpod will use about twice as much electricity in this way as a battery-powered car of a comparable size;
-Relatively low efficiency in terms of energy conversion. The overall efficiency of a vehicle using compressed air energy storage is in the 5 – 7% range compared to the ‘well to wheel’ efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines at about 14%;
The Bottom Line
The Airpod may not be as energy efficient as a lithium battery-powered vehicle but its low production costs will make it a very interesting proposition for the fast-growing urban transport sector. Using electricity from a renewable source such as wind, the Airpod, with its low material and production energy requirements, could become the most environmentally friendly road vehicle yet.
A good urban car?