I Want One!


Many respected engineers have been trying for years to bring a compressed air car to market, believing strongly that compressed air can power a viable “zero pollution” car. Now the first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production and beginning to attract a lot of attention, and with a recently signed partnership with Tata, India’s largest automotive manufacturer, the prospects of very cost-effective mass production are now a distinct possibility. The MiniC.A.T is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued not welded and a body of fibreglass.
The heart of the electronic and communication system on the car is a computer offering an array of information reports that extends well beyond the speed of the vehicle, and is built to integrate with external systems and almost anything you could dream of, starting with voice recognition, internet connectivity, GSM telephone connectivity, a GPS guidance system, fleet management systems, emergency systems, and of course every form of digital entertainment. The engine is fascinating, as is and the revolutionary electrical system that uses just one cable and so is the vehicle’s wireless control system. Microcontrollers are used in every device in the car, so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, indicators, etc.
There are no keys – just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket.
Most importantly, it is incredibly cost-efficient to run – according to the designers, it costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph.
Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately 1.5 Euros, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres.
As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can be connected to the mains (220V or 380V) and refill the tank in 3-4 hours.
Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 Km.
The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0 – 15 degrees below zero, which makes it suitable for use by the internal air conditioning system with no need for gases or loss of power.
How does it work?
90m3 of compressed air is stored in fibre tanks. The expansion of this air pushes the pistons and creates movement. The atmospheric temperature is used to re-heat the engine and increase the road coverage. The air conditioning system makes use of the expelled cold air. Due to the absence of combustion and the fact there is no pollution, the oil change is only necessary every 31.000 miles.

Of course, if I’m buying a car from India that runs on compressed air, I’m likely to be stuck in a variety of places for 3-4 hours while I recompress my tanks…


  1. I think you get the distance…

    I think you get the increase in distance because the frame of the vehicle is lighter. A compressed air tank weighs something, but it’s supported on a fiber frame that’s glued together rather than welded — it’s not made of metal, after all. And the hydrogen fuel cell right now is a monster thng, and needs to be planted within a metal frame.

    Of course, having this car on a US road is an invitation to disaster. Any SUV out there could easily crush your car, because it’s so light — it has to be, in order for a compressed air engine to push it. ANd you may have noticed that the article played up the air conditioning, because the car is being marketed for India, not New England or Portland.

  2. Yes, but it’s also vastly more efficient to generate electricity in a power plant than to generate it via fuel combustion in an engine in a car (IIRC more than 75% more efficient). Given most electrical cars have an efficiency of around 80%, that means you are gaining 40% in efficiency – every mile driven uses 70% as much fuel. Combine that with greatly reduced pollution and the potential for generating electricity with renewable energy, and it looks vastly better than powering cars with gasoline.

  3. Very nifty indeed, but I’m also somewhat dubious – a 200-300 km range seems quite high for compressed air power, given that compressed hydrogen used in a combustion engine provides considerably less range. I would have more expected a range of somewhat between 20 & 60 km. I’ll actually be rather awed if it actually gets a range of 200 km.

  4. Pretty neat, yes. Compressed air, likewise hydrogen, is not a direct fuel as such, but rather an energy storage medium. One must still compress the air in the first place. Granted, the process by which one might do that could be fairly efficient — surely moreso than the refinement of fossil fuels or the separation of hydrogen from water — but it is important to note that the real energy source for this car is whatever it is that compressed the air.

    From a pollution standpoint, this is great, as the energy source need not be anywhere near the point of use. I.e., even if you have a polluting compressor station, the car is 100% clean. The compressor can be optimized for pollution collection in a way that is simply impractical for passenger vehicles, since it doesn’t have to be mobile and the cost of these measures can be amortized over a long service life and many cars served.

    People have (ignorantly) lauded hydrogen fuel cells as a “clean energy source”. They’re not. They are clean rechargeable batteries. Ya still gotta get the power *in*. Likewise compressed air.

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