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Could this Tata Nano run on air instead of gas?

2012-06-06

Co.Exist

An Ultra-Cheap Compressed Air Car Moves Closer To Reality

Electric cars taking too long? There might soon be a new way to power your car gas-free, brought to you by the people behind the world’s cheapest car.

Just in case the electric vehicle revolution never really talks off, India’s Tata Motors is working on what sounds like an even better solution to the world’s clean vehicle quandary: cars that run on compressed air.

Tata—a company that you may recognize from its work on one of the world’s cheapest cars—has been working on a compressed air-powered vehicle for years. It’s not the easiest thing to do, apparently; Tata originally planned to release a compressed air vehicle two years ago. When that didn’t happen, the idea mostly faded from the public imagination—but not from Tata’s to-do list.

An MDI compressed air concept vehicle.

The company released a statement last month saying that it successfully completed a proof of concept for the vehicle. Now it’s working on the next step along with Motor Development International (the company that created the compressed air motor technology), where "the two companies are working together to complete detailed development of the technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years."

As with any vehicle technology, there are problems with compressed air. In 2010, Popular Mechanics published an article detailing some of them. The energy that compresses air in the car tanks comes from—you guessed it—the power grid. In India (and many other countries and U.S. states), where the grid is run largely on coal, that means the compressed air car is really a coal-powered one, just like most electric.

In any case, it’s hard to say when "the coming years" will arrive, but it’s not as if Tata is some fly-by-night company. If it says that a compressed car is coming, it probably is. No word on pricing, but MDI’s MiniFlowAir concept, which offers a 60-mile range on pure compressed air and 550 miles operating as a hybrid, could retail anywhere from $4,523 to $6,361.

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5 Comments

  • owlafaye

    Ethanol is a horrible alternative.  The crop land that produces it, is now and even more so in the future, needed for food crops.  Ethanol is bad for your engine in the long run.  Ethanol reduces mileage by 12 to 15%  Ethanol laced gas is not any cheaper at the pump therefore it is a rip off.  You can buy straight gasoline and get better mileage...Ethanol does not help the environment but rather tears it down quickly and destroys natural resources because of fertilizer run off and pesticide laced GMO seed.

    Compressed air refueling stations are quite inexpensive considering the greatly reduced impact on the environment.

    The air compressors common in industry are almost maintenance free and run reliably for years and years.  I worked on them most of my life.  I am sure the AirEngine manufacturers of today have developed the longevity necessary for vehicle applied technology.  Air compressors are simple, and they are easy to repair at a very low cost.  If access to them for overhaul is made simp[e, cost for repair will be minimal.

    Apparently PeugeotCitroen will lead the way and of course TATA is not to be ignored..>that man is determined and a proven winner in multiple industries.

  • BRG Racing

    It will not be coal forever, in fact it will go away and solar/wind will take over much sooner then anyone thinks! So...any electric based vehicle is a good thing.

  • yaridanjo

    I think that the fossil fuel is just used to heat the air released from the storage tank.  It can be almost any kind of liquid fuel.

    But it would be nice to see this car be made available in the USA.  I wish that Toyota had one as they produce reliable cars.  The outfit that originally picked up the sales option is in NYC and therefore not too trustworthy.

  • Carney3

    It would be a lot cheaper and easier for Tata to simply add full flex-fuel capability, the ability to run not just on gasoline but also on any alcohol fuel including ethanol and methanol. That costs only about $130 extra per new car at the factory for automakers, at most. India's tropical climate makes it a good candidate to grow ethanol crops.  And methanol can be made cheaply from natural gas, coal, or any biomass, including crop residues, weeds, trash, even sewage.  Methanol is cheaper not only on a per-gallon basis but even after adjusting for mileage.  In 2007-8 when gasoline was pushing $4, methanol was selling for about 90 cents.  Since you need roughly twice as much methanol to go the same distance, you're still only paying $1.80 for the same travel as $4 of gasoline buys you.  And with the staggering breadth of source materials, methanol can never have its market cornered by an OPEC like cartel, can never have its supply artificially reduced to create the artificially high prices that are a brutally regressive tax on the world's poorest nations.