Tata Motors is taking elephant strides and making history for itself. First the Land Rover/Jaguar deal, then the world’s cheapest car - Nano, and now it is also set to introduce the car that runs on air - well compressed air to be precise!
With fuel prices touching nearly $150 per barrel, it is about time we heard some breakthrough !
The Air Car, called the MiniCAT could cost around Rs. 3,50,000 ($ 8177) in India and would have a range of around 300 km between refuels.The cost of a refill would be about Rs. 85 ($ 2).
The Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nigre for Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air, as opposed to the gas-and-oxygen explosions of internal-combustion models, to push its engine’s pistons. Some 6000 zero-emissions Air Cars are scheduled to hit Indian streets.
The MiniCAT which is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued, not welded, and a body of fiberglass powered by compressed air. Micro-controllers 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. According to the designers, it costs less than 50 rupees per 100 Km (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 80% of motorists drive at less than 60 Km. The car has a top speed of 105 Kph.
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 100 rupees, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometers.
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.
If all that weren't enough, the Air Car's lack of a combustion engine means that the need for regular oil changes is a thing of the past, as new oil is only needed every 50,000km. That's one very welcome extra zero on the end.
Here's some nifty bullet points for you.
- The Air Car runs a specially developed piston engine that uses a new thermo dynamic cycle offering exceptional energy efficiency.
- Compressed air is stored in carbon fibre tanks, at 300 bar (4,351 psi).
- The CAT engine operates on four cycles: intake and compression, combustion, expansion, and exhaust.
- Outside air is drawn into the compression chamber and compressed to 20 bar (290 psi). At the highest point of pressure (at ‘top dead centre’), this air reaches 400°C (centigrade), and, at that point, air from the storage tank is injected into the combustion chamber.
- Since the injected air is much colder than the compressed air in the chamber, the injected air is heated instantaneously, causing a sudden expansion, which pushes the piston down (in an expansion stroke)
- The air tanks fitted to the underside of the vehicle can hold 300 litres of compressed air, capable of driving the MiniCAT for up to 200km.
- Using a household electrical source, it takes about 4 hours for the vehicle to refill its own compressed air tanks (a rapid three minute recharge is possible using an external high-pressure air pump.
- The MiniCAT runs an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT)
We at FE sincerely hope that the air car comes soon to India to provide us all a respite from spiralling fuel prices!