The air car

(KHNL) - What is the Air Car?

Imagine being able to fuel up your car with a renewable, non-polluting substance that is cheap and plentiful. In the near future you may be able to do so with a novel creation by French ex Formula-1 engineer, Guy Negre (pronounced "Gyee Neg-rey"). He is the founder of MDI, a family run company based in south of France which amongst other things, have been perfecting several small vehicles that run solely on compressed air.

Where does it come from?

Pressurized air engines are nothing new. In fact, they first arrived in the mid 1800's in the form of high-pressure locomotives to be used in coal mines and textile factories, places where a coal burning engine would be either dangerous or problematic. Since then many air pressured inventions have made their way to general public use. Among them are the air powered bicycle, toy airplanes and probably most familiar, power tools for carpentry and mechanics. It can only be assumed that some of this history inspired the creation of MDI's air powered engine. 

Its inventor, Guy Negre claims to have been inspired to create these vehicles by something he noticed in Formula-1 race cars. Unlike traditional gasoline engines, high performance Formula-1 motors are first started by a compressed air system and continue running later once fuel is introduced into the engine. With this in mind, Guy created an engine which ran entirely on compressed air. He and his company then designed cars, generators and air compressors that took advantage of the motor. With over 30 patents to protect these projects, his company has designed and built a collection of prototype air powered vehicles which comprise not only of passenger cars but taxis, street cleaners, buses and delivery vehicles. 

How well do air powered cars perform?

According to MDI, their Flow Air vehicles can reach up to 68 MPH and about 130 miles on a single tank of compressed air. Cars are "fueled" by specialized high-pressure compressed air stations in a matter of minutes for a cost estimated at only $2-$3 per tank. The cars themselves are quite small, the body comprised of a lightweight composite material which makes them light, durable and curvy. 

Why have we not seen them on the road yet?

You may be wondering why we haven't seen these cars on the road yet. The truth is that the compressed air engine is still in its infant stages and has not yet gone through real world road tests the same way gasoline engines have. In addition, there is some debate as to the amount of energy required to compress the air in the first place. Currently, compressing air is an inefficient process where a great deal of energy is needed to compress the air, much of it lost in heat. 

However like every new technology (and new operating system), it has bugs but also a great deal of promise. In 2007 MDI began a partnership with Tata Motors, the world's 5th largest auto maker based out of India with the intent to bring such vehicles to the Indian market. As for the United States, MDI has licensed the production of the air car to Zero Pollution Motors, a company based out of New York which promises to make a version of these vehicles available next year. They claim to be working on a hybrid model for the American market which uses regular gas and compressed air to power a much larger vehicle that achieves over 100 miles per gallon and a top speed of about 90 mph. 

The latest news regarding the air car is that in April a convertible version of the vehicle was accepted as a contender for Progressive's X prize. It's an international competition designed to test a new generation of super fuel-efficient vehicles for their viability in real-world situations. With a $10 million prize, it has 136 vehicle entries with teams registered from 25 US states and 11 countries. As for now, MDI's air car is considered a strong contender.

Although it sounds like science fiction, compressed air powered vehicles may be a viable form of transportation in the future. Only time will tell if we will ever see one on the streets of Hawaii.