Not everyone will have heard of a car powered by air. The concept seems like an impossible ideal, something from a science fiction movie. It is not. It is likely that the first air cars available to the everyday consumer will be here this year.

Air technology is not a new idea. As far back as 1880 inventors were experimenting with air engines. The arrival of the cheap combustion engine eventually took care of this concept. During that time air was used to power several trains and a compressing station was even built in New York. Several air powered locomotives were used in New York at the end of the 19th century. But range was always an issue. Various designs were tried and a two stage design proved to be very successful. Many of these were sold to mining corporations as the air powered engine created no spark and therefore limited the risk of explosion inside the mines.

Are Air Cars The Cars Of The Future

How Does An Air Car Work?

Compressed air cars have similar engines to standard gasoline powered engines. The main difference is in the movement of the pistons. A conventional combustion engine mixes gasoline and air with a spark to create a small explosion which forces the piston up. Once the chamber is empty the piston comes back down and the process is repeated. An air engine simply replaces the explosion with compressed air. The compressed air is forced into the chamber and pushes the piston up.

The air needs to be compressed and stored at a pressure of 310 bar. A suitably strong tank needs to be fitted to the vehicle and the tank will need refilling periodically. Refilling is an issue in itself as home compressors do not operate at a high enough level to refill a tank and an industrial compressor or compressor station would be required.

It may also be possible to build a compressor into the car. The standard compressed air tank would allow an air car to travel up to about 35mph. For speeds greater than this it would be necessary for the on-board compressor to start up and increase the air being pushed through the engine.

The Advantages Of An Air Powered Car

  • There will be no emissions as long as it is not using the inbuilt compressor. The compressor will need to be powered by some source of fuel and this source will probably have some emissions.
  • With the right compressor technology refueling could be done at home.
  • There are far less hazardous chemicals than with a gasoline powered car.
  • Production costs could be lowered as there are various components that a gasoline engine uses which are not needed in a compressed air engine.
  • The byproduct of this type of engine is cold air. This cold air can be utilized in the vehicles air conditioning system.
  • Should be very cheap to fill up.

Disadvantages Of An Air Powered Car

  • So far air cars have only been able to travel up to 125 miles on a tank of compressed air
  • There is a lack of refueling points. Without these it will be necessary to refill at home every time. This would limit the range of the car to 62.5miles and getting home might involve a prayer!
  • The energy required to create the compressed air is greater than the energy created. This means that there is potentially significant energy loss in the conversion process when driving the vehicle.
  • Heating the air allows the engine to extract more power from the air. A heat exchanger is used to do this. In cool moist climates this heat exchanger may ice up whilst warming the air.
  • If there is any humidity in the compressed air then it can cause the engine to ice up on the inside.
  • Refueling at home could potentially take 4 hours. This is not a problem if you wish to leave the car overnight but might be an issue if you don’t have that much time available.

The Future

MDI have just unveiled the latest model – the Airpod. It is only two meters long and is a single seater. The car looks a little like a tricycle and a spaceship. It is operated via a joystick which adds a fun element to the everyday drive.

There are rumors that the selling price will be $6,000 and the running costs are around fifty cents per 100 km. Despite there being several technological problems, the car is expected to be released this year. The car has a 137 mile range and can reach speeds of either 28mph or 44mph depending on the engine used.

Air cars have also been commissioned by TATA, India’s biggest constructor of cars. Whilst they are still in the development stage they are intended to be available to consumers later this year. One of the biggest concerns of bringing this type of vehicle to the market is whether the infrastructure is in place to support sales of the car. Consumers also need to be convinced – switching from gasoline powered combustion engines to air powered vehicles may not be a viable option for many until they have seen them in action and heard reviews from respected reviewers.

There is no doubt that alternative fuel sources must be found. The oil supply will not last forever. It is therefore certain that this technology is being pursued and will probably hold a place in the future of car design. However, air powered cars may not dominate the future as there are several other technologies being researched, developed and available on the market soon. All of these alternative fuel sources have their own advantages and disadvantages. Some of them, like Hydrogen powered cars will also be manufactured soon and available to the public. Others are still in the trial stages and may never become more than a designers dream. As important as manufacturing the car will be the marketing and aftercare. It will be this that convinces someone to invest in the unknown and to recommend an air powered car to their friends.

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