The Compressed Air Car

It appears, according to the BBC, we are another step closer to a compressed air car. Let’s start with the highlights:

  • Runs on compressed air
  • Seats 5
  • Will cost about $5,000 (that’s £2,500, imagine what it will be like if the dollar gets stronger!)
  • Will be licensed to manufacturers to produce locally
  • uses fuel only on long drives to heat the air

Sounds pretty ingenious, eh? And the article points out that “producing no emissions at all in town.”

I like a couple aspects of this car. First, I do like a $5K car. An affordable car! And the use of compressed air, on the face, has me saying “w00t!” It would appear that, from an environmental perspective, we have at least removed the various particulate contaminates from the local air. In fact, I was pleased to see the article specify no emissions “in town” since obviously producing the energy to compress the air will in most places result in some emissions.

I am also quite intrigued with the “produce locally” concept. Unfortunately, that will mean that the cost to manufacture will be different depending on locale, so the actual price of a car will vary widely by market. But then again, as we look at global supply chains we see once again the pressures of transportation costs pushing back to either larger inventories, local production, or both.

There are a few questions left open, as I await it’s delivery to the US.

  • Will US Manufacturers step up to the idea of “make locally?”
  • Will US Citizens buy a “ride” that isn’t all “pimped out?”
  • Will the vehicle pass the US’s strict safety requirements?
  • Will “gas” stations still only charge a quarter for their air?

The article itself mentioned the issues of the amenities, and the issue of safety. It is not clear from the article that the creator of the car understands all the issues with safety. According to the BBC:

Mr Negre says there’s no issue with safety – if the air-car crashes the air tanks won’t shatter – they will split with a very loud bang. “The biggest risk is to the ears.”

This does beg the question of impact safety, roll-over safety, and so forth, but it’s a start!

I suppose we wait, and see.


5 thoughts on “The Compressed Air Car


    The most important question- from an environmental standpoint- was ignored by the “journalist” (I’m shocked! No, Really!).

    What is the net energy transfer efficiency of the design?

    In other words, how much high-sulfur coal will you have to burn to produce the electricity to drive the compressors to fill the air tank to bleed to the motor to drive the wheels?

    [The same (ignored) question applies to hydrogen, electric, ethanol, etc. etc. “alternative” energy sources.]

    The article “implies” that the vehicle itself will be self-sustaining at 123 mpg (gallon of what, exactly?) at steady state . . . ohhhh-kaaaaay.

    The conversion of compressed air into mechanical energy (pistols? compressors? unicorns?) is incredibly inefficient.

    Drat those inconvenient laws of physics . . . !

    the other steve

  2. TOS:

    I actually think the author did a good job (as I noted) by pointing out that it will have no emissions “in town.” I thought that the journalist did good job by implying there might be other emissions, without getting dragged down into a lengthy rathole on a side (but related) topic. I would actually agree that there is no such thing as a free lunch–but lunch doesn’t necessarily have to come at the cost of clean air.

    I for one am in favor of wind and solar power (and actually think the windmills here in PA and elsewhere are attractive.) I would like to see more clean, safe, nuclear power. But I realize these all have social as well as economic costs.

    The bit about 1231 mpg (equivalent) was specifically talking about when driving long distances and using a liquid fuel to heat the air. As I read the article, that technique (burning a fuel) is only used when needing to “augment thrust.” Perhaps similar to using water to augment jet thrust (for us OLD guys…)

    I too am curious about the conversion rates. How far can I go between refills of air? Will it last one day of commuting? Two? A week of commuting? I wouldn’t want to spend MUCH time every day going out of my way to get air, but if it is as simple as plugging in to a regular wall outlet, it might be convenient enough.

    The last question for me right now is how much electricity it will require. I am sure I waste more than I would use to compress air, simply by leaving the bathroom fan on, or not turning off my computer monitors at night. But without Data, I don’t know.

    Hence… questions… questions….

  3. Vertical wind turbine technology is the way to go for windmills; much higher efficiencies especially at the low end. Did you get any quotes for Ground Source Direct Exchange (GSDX) systems for your lake house as well?

    On a side note, we are seeing a “passel” of Smarte Cars here in north texas now. Acually saw one in the bed of a 1-ton GMC Dually in the parking lot the other day.

    Kinda like seeing a 300 lb lineman carrying a pet Chihuahua . . .

    the other steve

  4. “Upon Further Review . . . ”

    Some interesting information out there about various “Air Car” inventors [sic], companies, and designs. This thing has been around about as long as the Stirling Engine concept.

    What with Global Warming (TM) now firmly ensconced as the new dogma of the enlightened, the air car concept has recieved new life (and venture capital).

    But the core issue remains: Compressed Air (like Hydrogen or Electric) are not “sources of energy,” they are simply “energy transfer mechanisms.”

    So you have to factor in the entire cycle of creating the energy, converting it, transferring it, then converting it again. In your ICE car, all of this happens between your gas tank and tires.

    Pretty darned efficiently, actually.

    For the air car, all of the creation-conversion-transfer-conversion steps occur over long times and distances, with much, much, much lower energy conservation efficiencies. Much lower.


    While the science of this hasn’t chaged since 1900 or so, today’s environment of faith-based environmentalism has created much renewed interest.

    As to the cost . . . . remember, the figures given are estimates provided by the designers who are seeking venture capital for the development of their ideas.

    the other steve

  5. Hi. I also though the idea of the car run on compressed air incredible and simple (often the best ideas). Charging could occur at home with solar power (or a windmill) and a compressor. But how far can we go with this concept? In England we have electric milk floats, run on batteries that deliver milk to the doorstep. Presumably these and local transport could run on compressed air (buses and trams?). What about air travel. Could the flying car be powered by a bank of these cylinders in the floor cavity? If air was drawn in from the wings and blasted out under the car, would this combined ‘lift and push’ powered by compressed air be enough to lift a light car, with or without a run up? just a thought! Thought I’d ask a professor ;o)

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