[Note to the reader: News of this new car emerged about a year ago; Many folks believe it to be a sham or a hoax; I thought it warranted a second look, as the technology seems sound.]
Electric cars? How quaint. Bio-fuel? How passe. Hydrogen fuel cells? That’s so last week…. No, the car of the future runs on air…that’s right, AIR…the invisible stuff that’s all around us and costs us barely anything (unless we pollute/heat it up too much).
Actually, the car of the future is already here, if ‘here’ means India 2012… it’s called the MiniCAT, or, more generically, the Air Car. The Air Car was developed by a former Formula-One auto engineer (Guy Nègre) working for Luxembourg-based Motor Development International (MDI) and it uses compressed air to push its engine pistons.
And, of course, since it runs on air, the car expels only air — clean air — with a temperature between 0 and 15 degrees below zero. The super-chilled air can be re-channeled back into the car to provide air conditioning (and with no loss of power or decrease in mileage or engine efficiency).
So, how much mileage and speed/horse power can one really get from a car that runs on compressed air?
Well, the car’s chassis is tubular and its body is made entirely of fiber glass, so it’s very light (and the whole thing is held together by glue, not welds).
The MiniCAT (btw, the ‘CAT’ stand for Compressed Air Transport, I think) gets “double the mileage of the most advanced electric models” and has a top speed of 60 mph (105 kpm).
According to the same early review, the car has a range of 185 miles (300 km) before needing to “refuel” (note: refueling will mean a few minutes of compressed air pumping at stations with specially designed air compressors, and will cost about 100 rupees, or about 45 cents, for another 300 km of range).
Now, filling up the car’s entire tank takes about 3-4 hours, which the owner can do at home thanks to the car’s on-board [electric] compressor.
What about powering interior electrics?
A single microprocessor controls all the car’s electrical functions (which are very few — this is low-budget people). A tiny radio transmitter sends instructions for turn signals, wipers, lights, heat/AC, etc.
What about oil for moving engine parts?
The MiniCAT requires just 1 liter of vegetable oil, which needs changing every 30, 000 miles (50,000 km). Beyond this, there is very little maintenance to be done due to the car’s remarkable simplicity.
The perfect (motorized) urban vehicle?
OK, as you can see by the pictures, it’s no boat, and probably only a little bit safer (in an accident) than a motorcycle. But with its power-saving features, decent mileage and speed, way-low maintenance, and carbon-neutral/pollution-free features, the vehicle may become a main contender for the perfect city automobile (and cities would get a good bit cooler as a result too).
Possibly the least green thing about the MiniCAT is that it will use rubber tires (but perhaps these can be made from recycled rubber).
Aesthetically, although it has some of the design attributes of many motorized mini cars, it, nonetheless, has a distinct look amongst that field of vehicles… kinda looks cool, actually.
And what about cost-savings? What’s the bottom line here?
The MiniCAT can be had (soon) for just 365, 757 (rupees, that is), or, about 8,200.00 USD (when it gets here).
If all this sounds just too good to be true, the world won’t have too long to wait to find out — the manufacturer, Tata Motors of India, plans on introducing the car to the teeming streets of India in August of 2012.
It might not hold off the Mayan prophesies of doom (or the plethora of doom-sayers), but if it ever catches on in a global way, it could just help us avoid the pending environmental catastrophes we could be facing.
For more info on compressed air engine technology, visit the Di Pietro Motor site.
Photos: Tata Motor Corp (presumably), via harisingh.com
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.