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Is There Really a Car that Runs on Air and Gets 106 mpg?The 106 mpg air car concept has created quite a bit of excitement and interest in the whole idea of cars powered by compressed air. The concept is that compressed air is stored in a high pressure tank and released into an air engine where it provides the power to propel the vehicle. Low cost to operate, little or no emissions, and decent range and performance makes this a very interesting idea. At this point, prototype air cars have been made to prove the technology, but there are still many challenges to overcome before this concept can be widely accepted. Currently, many of the prototypes are very small vehicles because they need to be very light in order to work well with the current technology. In addition, they are not very fast both in terms of acceleration and top speed. As with any emerging technology, it will take engineering advances to take this concept to the masses. That is to be expected. This is how all new technology starts out, and only time will tell if the air car proves to be widely successful.
Let's take a closer look at how this 106 mpg air car concept is supposed to work. In normal operation at speeds under 35 mph, this air powered vehicle is supposed to only run off of compressed air stored in the onboard air tanks. This is supposed to result in zero driving emissions. The air tanks are made from carbon fiber with a plastic liner. Designed to hold air pressures of around 4500 psi, these carbon fiber tanks are supposed to be safer than metal, because they supposedly split open rather than explode into pieces during an accident. The idea is that refilling of the air tanks can be done at special service stations equipped with high pressure air compressors, at home with a special compressor, or with the air car's onboard compressor.
In this concept, the compressed air is released from the tank and ultimately pushes on pistons inside the air engine - much like on a conventional internal combustion piston engine. Only in this case, there is no combustion (no burning of air & fuel) taking place inside the air engine. However, this particular air car does burn some fuel at higher speeds (or when driven longer distances). To help extend the range, a heater is used to heat the air after it leaves the air tank and before it enters the air engine. This heating of the air is done by burning fuel and it leads to an increase in volume and further expansion of the air. This enables the air to do more work inside the air car engine. At higher speeds (above around 35 mph), or when driven for extended ranges, the air car uses an onboard engine and compressor to pressurize the tank and provide compressed air to continue to run the air engine.
The particular air car technology discussed in on this page has been invented by Guy Negre and developed by his company - Motor Development International (MDI) which located in France. Other companies have licensed the technology from MDI with the hopes of bringing this fuel efficient technology to roads around the world. Two such companies are Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM) based in the USA, and also the largest automaker in India - Tata Motors.
Example of a Prototype Air Car Engine
Even though fuel is burned in the air car, it is supposed to be done in such a way that is much more efficient than a conventional automobile. When it's all said and done, the more efficient use of fuel is supposed to make this a fuel sipping 106 mpg car with a top speed of over 90 mph. Range is supposed to be over 800 miles with an 8 gallon fuel tank. The concept car shown above is supposed to be made of aluminum, fiberglass, plastic and weigh in at UNDER 2000 lbs with seating for 6 people. All this information is based on a concept car and computer simulation. Keep in mind that the actual performance and specifications might be different on a production vehicle. In any case, the idea is quite interesting and the potential for an air powered car is very exciting. Time will tell if this air car concept eventually becomes a widespread reality around the world.