Full of Cold Air?

By Robert Harland
Tata's proposed Air Car

Tata's proposed Air Car

In 2008, Tata Motors, India’s largest car manufacturer, announced it had joined forces with French company, Motor Development International (MDI), to produce the world’s first car to run on nothing but compressed air.

Wow! This would be the greenest of green cars. Tata said its Air Car could achieve speeds of almost 70mph (112kph) and would have a range of 125 miles (217km) between fill-ups. And the price would be a very reasonable US$13,000 (Php566,000).

Tata said this in 2008. So where’s the car chaps? Dates for the Air Car’s much-publicized release in both Indian and American markets have come and gone, but still no car.

In 2009 the company admitted it had run into some serious snags as the excessively low engine temperature caused by the compressed air was a major problem. These issues seem to be significant though Tata has refused to say if it’s calling off the project.

The Air Car -- will it see the light of day?

The Air Car -- will it see the light of day?

If the project is cancelled it would be a great blow. Just imagine filling up now and again with Php100 worth of air rather than thousands of pesos for gas!

Although the Air Car may never make it to the market, two Indian mechanical engineering professors are working on a more  modest compressed air engine project.

Professors Bharat Raj Singh and Onkar Singh from the SMS Institute for Technology in Lucknow are working on a scheme to refit India’s scooters with an air-compression motor.

Unlike the Air Car, the scooter motor will run on low pressure compressed air — about the same as needed to fill a tire at the gas station. The Tata vehicle would require stations to install high-tech air pumps, a difficult investment for station owners in a developing country like India.

The scooter engine is still very much in the development stage. The professors say a number of technical challenges remain. Range is an issue — at the moment it’s a mere 18 miles (28km).

Although a vehicle running on only compressed air might seem like an environment’s dream, they would still have a carbon footprint.  India relies heavily on dirty coal-fired power plants so the use of thousands of compressed air vehicles would actually increase the total emissions sent into the atmosphere because of the huge amount of electricity needed to run the compressors.

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