Friday, 26 October 2012

Tatatatatatatatata tatatatata, that is the sound of compressed-air-powered-cars speeding

Fossil combustion has a limit to its existence, we all know that. Companies have been trying to come up with different ecofriendly strategies to replace fossil fuel for greener engines. Engineers have been talking of Biodiesel, waste vegetable oil, electricity, ethanol, propane, hydrogen, but it seems that every single one of these approaches does show numerous contradictions and limitations. For instance,

Biofuels, a fuel made of different waste vegetable oils, does not force great changes to the engines in terms of adaptation, it is cost effective, can be recycled, it is far less dependent on market's price fluctuation, trigger enhancement of local employment rates by stimulating local growth of raw material, causes less air pollution. However, the energy output is lower (what can be tricky for a society depending on growing availability of energy like ours); the process of producing biofuels can actually contribute a lot to the carbon footprint, the manufacturing plants are expensive to assemble, food shortage and food prices derived from such shortage help increase the price of these biofuels, and finally there is a massive consumption of water necessary to irrigate the original crops. [1]

Electricity, this source of energy had its go on motion vehicles during the 70s due to a shortage of gas but interest died as gas had revised low prices and the Citycar soon perished - like Zap Xebra that in 2008 repeated Citycar's misery. Having said that, there is also a series of disadvantages in using electric cars, such as, reduced range (limited mileage range), maximum top speed limited to 70mph, engines are a lot more costly than gasoline powered engines, and the batteries are known to produce toxic residues. [2]

Ethanol, usually obtained from corn fermentation and sold in the market as E85 fuel (15% of it being gasoline) can also be obtained from bagasse of sugar cane (like in Brazil). This flexible fuel is offered by several car manufacturers, cost of using E85 or E10 (the so called gasohol - 10% ethanol 90% gasoline) varies regionally. There are more than two thousand filling station in the United States of America, access HERE to know where in the US you can get yours filled up. Even though there is no major differences in terms of performance when compared to 100% gasoline propelled engines, there is a 25 to 30% drop in terms of miles per gallon used because ethanol simply does not contain as much energy as petrol! [3]

However, quite surprisingly, a fourth power is surfacing from the depths of the engineering minds. Minds themselves grouped in a boiling brainstorming process yet developed by another surfacing power, India. 

The air-powered car works under the "influence" of compressed air, not alcohol, or vegetable oil nor even petrol. This invention is gaining ever more relevance and the famous Tata Motors allied to a crowded traffic-jammed country and low income of the average Indian is helping to modernize the idea. Tata Motors is now entering the second stage of the air-compressed car development and a sneak-peak delivers us this cute model that promises to bring a revolution to our urban roads. As we can read in [5]:

"Created by mechanical engineer Guy Nègre back in 1991, Luxembourg-based MDI has floated a number of products in its efforts to develop and promote zero pollution engines. The roll-out of the technology has been plagued by false starts and litigation, however, including a promised U.S. launch in 2010 that never eventuated.
The most promising push to market appears to be the ongoing agreement between MDI and Tata motors. In 2007 Tata licensed MDI's technology with the aim of producing and selling compressed air cars in India. Tata has now released a statement that, although no firm time frame is given, suggests that the project is heading in the right direction.
Tata says that the first "proof of the technical concept" phase of the program is now complete with "the compressed air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles."

Above: The MDI's MiniFlowAIR urban 3-seater [5]

The air-powered car releases only air from its exhaust system, can be filled up in three minutes for less than 2 quid and allows one to drive up to an average of 250Km (approx. 155 miles). There is also a small air-compressor that can be used when your vehicle is running out of compressed air and you only need electricity around; in less than 4 hours your car will be ready to go again. The lubrication system works with a liter of vegetable oil, that needs changing every 50000Km (~31068 miles). Because the exhaust system releases only air, at a temperature between 0 to 20 Celsius a bypass can be applied to use this same air in an air conditioning system for the same vehicle. The vehicle possesses a cylindrical tank made of carbon fiber in which there is only... AIR!

One of the models in the market is the Non-Poluting AirPod, a 10K dollars that has enough space for three adults and a child. It is controlled with a joystick rather than a wheel. I would prefer a wheel but I must say I never tasted such experience of driving a vehicle with the help of a joystick.

There is a lot to be written and debated on this matter, but one thing is certain, the future to come will bring a lot more good news and we all hope that, for the sake of the environment, our roads can be completed with ever more and more of these ecofriendly vehicles. Where do you stand on this matter, any disadvantages seen? Do you appreciate the idea?

If you can't wait for Tata's final product then analyse the Airpod in more detail. Check HERE for some more technical details about this great vehicle. Also take a look at the video, it might help you decide for this model or just wait for the future models to come.

Let The Toxicologist Today know where you stand by sharing your comments with us.

[1] love to know green living - Advantages and disadvantages of biofuels, [], last accessed on the 25th of October 2012, last update unknown.

[2] Crave Online, Top 5 disadvantages of electric vehicles, [], lasta ccess on the 25th of October 2012, last update unknown.

[3] US Department of Energy - Ethanol, [], last accessed on the 26th of October 2012, last update on the 26th of October 2012.

[4] Air Powered Car, [], last access on the 26th of October 2012, last update on the 18th of August 2012.

[5] Gizmag, [], last access on the 26th of October 2012, last update on the 07th of May 2012.

1st image taken from ZAP Jonway, [],last accessed on the 26th of October, last update unknown

2nd image from unknown source.

3rd and 4th image from [4].

5th from unknown source. 


  1. nice blog very informative and detailed it is very useful thanks for sharing such detailed information
    Air Quality Test
    Compressed Air

  2. Thanks mate, I do it as a way to learn myself the things I am interested in. Also, it is great fun and pleasure to share it with my audience. Cheers!