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A Car that Runs on Air?

I was surfing around some popular articles around the web yesterday and came across an article about a new “air car” that I thought would be an interesting topic to share as it relates to potential big savings.

What is the Air Car?

It’s a car with brand new technology, developed in France, that will allow an engine run on compressed air. Yes, you read right, AIR. A new engine was designed by a former formula 1 engineer, and uses compressed air to move the pistons in their breakthrough engine.

The Specs

According to their specifications, the Air Car will be able to travel approximately 200km on a fillup (~$2.50/fillup). How fast can these little air dinkies go? An impressive 110km/hr, much faster than I expected. I was also surprised at the price point. Hybrid cars sold now retail at a premium, sometimes $3-$5k higher than their gasoline counterparts. These air cars however, will be sold at around $10,000 CAD/USD.

You can find more info on the MDI Air Car site.

Refueling

Another big question is, what about refill stations? From the prototype refill station in France, they say that it will take approximately 3 minutes to fill up the air tanks. I believe the cars can come with a system where you can simply plug the car into a wall socket which will power the air compressor built into the vehicle.

I’ve also read that they plan to make a gasoline/air hybrid where the gasoline will power the air compressor. They estimate that with this type of system, one tank of gasoline will be enough to drive from Los Angeles to New York.

When Can I Buy It?

You’re probably thinking that this technology will take forever to reach the market place. Au contraire (as the French would say), the prototypes are already on the roads in Europe with production expected by the end of the year (2008).

The Obvious Benefits

Car owners will know that a car is a money pit. With this new Air Car, the cost to fuel (and probably maintain) the vehicle will be cut 5-10x. Not only will it be friendly on the pocket book, it will help the environment also as it emits ZERO greenhouse gases.

The Unknowns

As with any new technology, there are many unknowns. Will it pass government safety standards? Will the new technology be reliable? Will it ever make it to North America?

Finally, how will these babies would run in the snow? :)

Check out the video below on the new Air Car (feed readers, click here to view the video)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDEmI8YxBR8[/youtube]

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Michelle Dawn January 22, 2008, 8:59 am

    Interesting stuff. Have you seen the ZENN Car? Here is a link to the Rick Mercer Report on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M88k6Ipp3c (I get such a kick out of Rick Mercer). By the way, it’s great seeing a Canadian PF blog!

  • Quanta January 22, 2008, 9:00 am

    Although the air-powered cars reduce emissions in the streets, the electricity used to compress the air is often from an “unclean” source. Unfortunately, the process of storing energy through air compression is also extremely inefficient. In general, a pure electric car would be a better option. Check out this article on wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_engine

    That said, it’s still great that people are looking beyond the standard gas powered vehicles.

  • FrugalTrader January 22, 2008, 9:05 am

    I am interested to see if these alternative energy vehicles go mainstream. I have my doubts as the big and powerful oil companies will probably do everything in their power to prevent it from happening.

  • Canadian Dream January 22, 2008, 11:16 am

    I have to agree with Quanta. It’s misleading to think this car won’t contribute to CO2 emissions. Most power generation is coal based in North America, so all you are doing is shifting the load from oil to coal.

    Otherwise it is an interesting idea if nothing else.

    Tim

  • Daniel M, January 22, 2008, 12:11 pm

    It is a shame to hear such pessimism about people or products that offer a solution to global environment issues. Yes power generation is not clean today. But let’s change that, go with wind or solar. Yes big oil companies will buck changes. Buck back, go electric or hybrid.

    I will be building a house in 2 years and I will include solar power and used water recycling for irrigation. It will be costly and not as efficient as I would like but I am doing this for my daughter and the next generations.

    People reading these post should invest in companies that offer profitable solutions for our future.

  • nobleea January 22, 2008, 12:32 pm

    It is true that these ‘clean’ vehicles just shift the CO2 emissions further up the chain to the powerplants. However, internal combustion engines are notoriously inefficient (on the order of 30% eff). Large power plants (coal or gas) have the scale to be more efficient (45-50% eff). That’s a 50% improvement. And yes, wind and solar farms are an alternative (wave power too). Pushing the energy creation up the chain to the powerplants is better I think. Companies have their financial stake on keeping the plants well maintained. Car owners aren’t as diligent (non-optimal inflation of tires, driving over the most fuel efficient speed 90kph, etc)

  • Ben January 22, 2008, 1:03 pm
  • Nate January 22, 2008, 1:21 pm

    It doesn’t look like the Air car has really made any progress over the last 4 years. Their website press section is filled with articles from 2002-2004.

  • Shawn Hendriks January 22, 2008, 3:05 pm

    I’ve been watching the development of these cars for a number of years with a lot of hope. In many ways if the technology works as anticipated this technology has benefits over purely electric vehicles. The primary benefit being it does not need expensive and heavy batteries too store electricity. The pollution costs, both of construction and disposal, of batteries in an electric car are often overlooked and depending on the technologies they can be horrendously extreme. I also believe any technology that moves the power generation further upstream is a good thing. When new technology comes out what is easier to upgrade or replace, power plants numbering in the low thousands or cars numbering in the high millions.

    That said the Air car is still going to have significant issues in colder climates like Canada. Last I heard, Lower temperatures reduce the energy stored in the tanks.

  • Gates VP January 22, 2008, 3:36 pm

    Hey Quanta & FT;

    The “unclean” source is kind of a mixed bag here. I think that the long-term ideal here is to have a car that you can literally plug-in at home.

    In terms of “efficiency” Quanta hits the nail on the head, the air compression process is not an “efficient” way to store energy. I think the primary benefit of this type of technology is the ability to take more energy “from the grid” and less energy from gas stations.

    Of course, I like the “plug in at home” method b/c it’s easier to optimize the cleanliness of “the grid” than it is to optimize the cleanliness of the distributed gas delivery network (i.e.: gas stations and tankers). I also think that we have much better chances of keeping down the cost of electricity than we do at keeping down the cost of oil.

    But hey, Michelle has a great idea, check out the ZENN. I’ve just moved to the US, I wonder if we have any local distributors :)

  • Ben Harvie January 22, 2008, 3:53 pm

    The answer to the problem is to have automobiles run on 100% electricity but to source that electricity from a source that is ‘green.’ Currently NS power is adding its second tidal power generating system. This model uses energy from swifting tides to produce massing amounts of power while leaving no real footprint (as is often the complaint from wind turbines). That said, wind and solar power alternatives should still be explored especially in a country with as much unpopulated land as we have in Canada. Why not simply install huge wind farms in Northern Labrador. Their footprints will not affect the longterm survival of native wildlife nor will it be a burden on people.

    Check out this link for more info on tidal power

    http://www.electricalline.com/images/mag_archive/18.pdf

  • Ben Harvie January 22, 2008, 4:20 pm

    Sorry to ‘over post’ but I am wondering if anyone out there knows why we don’t cover our homes with waterproof solar panels instead of disposal petroleum-based shingles? Isn’t there a way to make solar panels that roll over the roof and can but cut to custom fit different roofs?

    Even if the solar panel idea isn’t feasible…why aren’t we covering our roofs with some type of think plastic that does not rot in 15 years and is recyclable when replaced?

    Anyone out there know?

  • Quanta January 22, 2008, 4:23 pm

    I agree that one of our biggest problems is finding good sources of “clean” energy.

    I think that when examining energy solutions, it is crucial to look at the end-to-end cost (Ex: is the extra energy required to obtain materials/manufacture CFLs balanced out by the reduced consumption over its’ lifetime? What if we get better at making CFLs?) This is not to disparage new products – it is just to point out that they are not solutions, just steps on a journey.

    Ben, I agree that energy problems are often distribution problems. Because of the line losses involved in transmitting electricity for long distances, I think that the ultimate solution will include not only huge windfarms, but also smaller scale turbines, windmills and solar cells and co-generation solutions, especially for industrial / waste disposal.

    Germany has had some success covering parts of buildings/homes with solar panels. More recent solar tech are flexible and sre significantly cheaper. I’m not sure if any are “cuttable”.

    I’d think the biggest reasons for choosing shingles are cost and maintenance.

  • Shawn Hendriks January 22, 2008, 6:01 pm

    Hey guys check out my post about a soon to be released method of powering your home using a furnace running on corn or bio pellets. Its pretty interesting tech and may have bearing on ways to charge up your car in a more environmentally friendly way.

    http://bloggingthegreen.com/2008/bixby-energy-making-your-house-a-power-plant/

  • nobleea January 22, 2008, 6:59 pm

    While it’s well intentioned, I think using food as a replacement for fossil fuels is worse than using fossil fuels alone. Left over grease? sure. But growing corn and whatever other food product so that we can have ‘green’ fuel for our cars and homes is ludicrous, considering the vast majority of the world is malnourished.

  • FrugalTrader January 22, 2008, 7:04 pm

    I think that the ideal solution would be an electric car with a charging station at home run by wind/solar energy. The wind solution would work well in NL, but the solar energy would be lacking. :)

  • Shawn Hendriks January 22, 2008, 7:12 pm

    Nobleea, corn is just one of the current choices. Ultimately the pellets would be made of wast biomatter like straw, human sewage etc.

  • Gates VP January 22, 2008, 7:38 pm

    Hey Ben;

    The primary weakness in solar panels is that nobody has a home really configured for such use. If you’re sitting at the office all day while the solar panels generate, then what are you going to power?

    You’re not there, the lights are off, the stove is off. Do you have a electric water heater? (most of use natural gas) Maybe you can run the AC or the heating, but you’d definitely need to rewire either or both of those items. Maybe you can sell it back to the power company, but that’s a whole different issue.

    Now even at a base level, the solar panels generate DC and your house basically runs on AC. So just to hook up the solar panels you need a converter and you need to hook up the converter along-side the incoming power so that you can switch between the two. Then you need to hook up to go back into the power company or better yet hook up a battery and run off a mix of the battery and the grid…

    And I believe that is the future, batteries! If we can put big batteries in the basement of homes (like a stack of ballard fuel cells) and “wire them in”, then we’ll start to see roofs covered in solar cells. Once you have the “battery” hooked up then you can start generating power in whatever way works. (waterwheels in your downward drain gutters?)

    Of course, that’s just my guess, YMMV

  • Bryce January 22, 2008, 8:22 pm

    I think people forget how inefficient it is for an electric car to drag around an extra ???lbs of batteries all the time. This air powered car removes much of that extra weight.

  • FrugalTrader January 22, 2008, 9:07 pm

    Gates, you can pick up a complete system at Canadian tire right now. You would need:
    a windmill
    a 12v battery (or as many as you want)
    an inverter (to convert from DC to AC)

    I was contemplating such a project for the new place, but I was thinking that the neighbors might object to a big windmill in the backyard. :)

  • Nate January 22, 2008, 11:01 pm

    Anyone in the Calgary region?

    There’s a large home south of Calgary at the High River turnoff on Highway 2. I believe that it’s a demo showhome for a company offering Wind Turbine generator services.

    Worth a look if you’re in the area!

  • Gates VP January 23, 2008, 12:21 am

    Hey Nate;

    There’s actually a demo home in NY state that does pretty much what I’m talking about. Yeah, I’ve thought about the line of 12V batteries, but I’d really love to see a packaged solution.

    Plus you’re missing the load balancer :)

    You really want the “battery” pack to be integrated with the incoming power. Ideally, the whole solution lets you run your home for a day or two when the power goes out. The “load balancer” would balance out the incoming charge with the outgoing use and manage the drain on the various sources…

    Either way, too many dreams, not enough money for a home, still working on it :)

  • Shawn Hendriks January 23, 2008, 12:54 am

    I agree with you guys that ideally solar power will be the best option however for most people its still not nearly efficient enough or cheap enough and thats without the batteries which really jack the price. It wasn’t till a few years ago that there were any commercial solar panels that actually generated as much power in their lifetime as it took to create them. To get a good setup is pretty straight forward now though the inverters to convert DC to AC are already designed to handle battery’s and balancing between internal power and the outside power grid. All you need is a friendly power company that will let you feed power back into it. Oh and around 60 thousand dollars for the panels to run the average home in southern California. In Canada that price goes up a lot with the reduced solar exposure.

    I wrote a brief article on this as well in my blog here
    http://bloggingthegreen.com/2008/solar-energy-mana-from-heaven/
    Like I said I want it to work but unless you are in a sunny place with government subsidies its just not quite there yet. Lots of promising tech on the horizon though.

  • Canadian Dream January 23, 2008, 11:52 am

    Nobleea,

    Not sure where you got your data, but most sub-critial coal fired plants only get 36 to 38% eff. If you go to ultra critial designs you can push it to near 50%, but that would only be on the newest type of plants. Most in North America are sub-critial. It also depends on what coal type you are burning in SK we have lignite which is very poor in eff, but it is cheap.

    In general renewable power is a good idea. The issue becomes on a grid wide planning case they aren’t great. The reason is you can’t predict sunshine/wind conditions so if your grid is 3500 MW total and everything is wind/solar you would still need an additional 3500 MW in backup power generation. So you have to build your power generation twice over. It becomes very expensive to do so.

    I’m not against these things, I just want to point out the issues of them to people. There is no one single magic thing that will work. It’s going to be a little bit of everything and each combination will be different depending on where you live.

    Good idea for a post.
    Tim

  • Ben Harvie January 23, 2008, 12:41 pm

    Tim,

    Excellent points but I think we need to consider wind and solar energy as supplemental sources of power only. Tides are not subject to unpredictable fluctuations like wind or solar. Tides run on a wavelength that is very predictable and regular. Some tides shift every 6 hours and others less frequently…but both are extremely measurable. Am I missing something or does tidal power not seem like our best option for the time being?

  • Canadian Dream January 23, 2008, 1:09 pm

    Ben,

    Tidal is a great idea. Basically it’s a variation on using hydro power. Of course it does require you to have big enough tides near where you live to use it. Otherwise you just lose too much energy in tramission trying to use tidal power from the east coast to power my house in Regina, SK. *grin*

    That was what I’m trying to get at with needing to use a little bit or everything depending where you live. SK would be good place for solar/wind/geothermal/clean coal, but other areas would be better with hydro, tide, and wind.

    Tim

  • George February 6, 2008, 2:02 am

    I really can’t see an “air car” being feasible for widespread production. Gasoline is used in cars because it has a phenomenally large amount of energy, with a very small amount of weight. I can’t see how pressurized air could have the same energy density… Of course, I’m not an engineer, but if a car could be powered by air, why aren’t there widespread prototypes?

  • James February 10, 2008, 12:07 pm

    Well considering it takes electrical power to run the multiple turbines to get fuel from the tank to yours, the fuel required of the trucks to transport the fuel to the station tanks, the power consumed by the plants to make the fuel I can only guess it would take less energy to make compressed air than it would to change crude oil into fuel, pump it to trucks that take it to stations and then the energy required for stations to pump it into our tanks.

    Would be great to see what the electrical usage of all that is and break it down to the gallon to see how the two might really compare.

    I see alot of negative comments but they only look at it from a point of fossil fuel emissions not what all took it to get it the the car in the first place.

  • Jack June 13, 2008, 7:35 am

    Hey, did I miss something here?

    Isn’t one of the first questions to ask: How many psi (pounds per square inch, or the metric equivalent) does the compressed air tank in the air powered car require?

    Isn’t this a key factor in how heavy the air tank will be. Is it 10 psi or a thousand psi (or a million psi, which is more probably what is needed).

    You gotta have numbers folks, or else you can’t really understand it.

    How much does the tank weigh for a 200 km range? We all have seen compressed air tanks (for welding) around. They’re not light.

    And their contents don’t contain enought energy (in the compression alone) to do much. Of Course if the compressed gas is propane……, but that’s nothing new.

    Jack

  • jack November 3, 2008, 12:03 pm

    i think this will be a very efficent and clean way to go…..very good idea. However i am concerned about the saftey rating….

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