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Compressed Air Vehicles | Not Just Hot Air

Posted By G Living Staff Monkies On February 15, 2008 @ 12:04 pm In Alternative Vehicles,G Living | No Comments

With only one type of vehicle — the oil burning, CO2-spewing variety — trying to live a healthier, minimally-polluting life used to be difficult. But now, as fossil fuel-free transportation alternatives become more prevalent, we’re bombarded with choices. Which — while great — presents a new challenge. Namely, what to choose. Call me fickle, but my favorite seems to change as new technologies emerge or are improved upon. My current fascination is with the air-powered car.

French Formula One engine designer Guy Negre along with his son, Cyril, has spent the past decade and a half developing the CAT 34 Engine (Compressed Air Technology systems) for the first “zero pollution” air-powered hybrid car. Today, it costs the average gas-guzzling family about $60 a week to go about daily life (and about half that for those with contemporary gas-electric hybrids). The CAT 34 engine consumes less than $1.50 per 60 miles. Unbelievable? Almost. While the (perceived) tradeoffs and misconceptions may make some buyers wary, the idea is certainly fantastic.

How can we possibly maintain our fast-and-immediate lifestyles on air, you ask? That’s a reality that seems otherworldly when looking through the narrow aperture of our individual lives, but it’s rapidly becoming a possibility in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres.

Negre, who heads Moteur Development International (MDI) in Nice, France, has teamed with India’s largest automobile company, Tata Motors, to create prototypes of their Mini and Citycats, single and dual-energy (hybrid) compressed air engines respectively. Tata Motors signed an agreement in February 2007 to aid Negre in research and development, and invested 20 million Euros in the project last month to bring Negre’s efforts to fruition.

With a body made entirely of fiberglass, aluminum engine and chassis, the 4-cylinder engine weighs half that of its hefty internal combustion cousins, making the MDI Air Car very lightweight. The final Air Cars will weigh no more than 730 lbs. and reach a maximum speed of nearly 150 mph.

Compressed air is stored in three carbon fiber tanks, which push the pistons up and down instead of igniting tiny explosions as in traditional gasoline-powered systems. Available in 2, 4, and 6 cylinders, depending on the needs — or wants — of prospective buyers, the hybrid CAT engines incorporate a re-heating mechanism (a continuous combustion system easily controlled to minimize pollution) between the storage tank and the engine, which enables it to run exclusively on fossil fuel over speeds of 60 km/h.

Although the prototypes have push button gears, the final cars will be automatic; an onboard computer will change gears and control speed. There will also be an automatic card reader for entry, doing away with keys and alarms. Mere proximity to the vehicle will grant entrance. The most innovative aspect of the vehicle, if one can point out just one, is a single electrical cable connected to a radio transmitter whose signal, once converted to microcontrollers, is in charge of the lights, GPS telephone, satellite guiding systems, an on-board internet connection and voice recognition.

Cars can travel nearly 200 km before needing to be refueled and can be filled in about 3 minutes at service stations that are equipped with compressed air stations. It will also charge in approximately 4 hours if connected to 220 or 380-volt outlets. Total cost? The equivalent of about two American dollars.

Although the U.S. will have to wait a bit longer for MDI’s Mini- or Citycats to be available, Negre told Reuters that pre-production has been set in India for this year, and cars could be available by late 2008 there and in Europe. And what about affordability? If I’m converting the currency correctly, it comes out to just over $5,100.

Clean air (with a temperature between 1 and 15 degrees below zero) is the only thing this car emits and even then, the air is recycled and used by the air conditioner system.

MDI’s Air Car will be able to reach speeds up to 220 km/h, and while running the dual-energy (hybrid) system, the car will maintain “zero pollution” at speeds up to 60 km/h through the compressor’s refilling of the compressed air tanks.

In Melbourne, Australia, engineer and inventor Angelo Di Pietro has been working for 3 decades to create an efficient, air-powered engine. In August 2004 in Brooklyn, Victoria, Di Pietro and Engineair Pty. Ltd., created the Di Pietro Engine, also known as the Rotary Air Engine.

Weighing only 13 kgs and taking about 3 minutes to fill, compressed air pushes a single rotary piston around a cylindrical driveshaft from tanks placed under the loading floor of the trolleys. Cushioned by a thin layer of air, the engine parts hardly touch, minimizing friction and ultimately energy loss, as in our current internal combustion engines. With no gearbox, there are no parts to move, which goes straight to the wheels. As with Negre’s engine, the absence of combustion makes for “zero pollution” and harmony with the environment.

With these fantastic new technologies underway, the future is looking bright — not to mention cleaner. And with only slight behavioral changes, it seems we’ll be able to continue living as we do. Only guilt-free.

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