Blog: Running on air
Dave Leggett | 13 February 2008
I seem to be hearing more about the idea of using compressed air to drive pistons and propel automobiles. A firm called MDI in France has done a deal with Tata and it all sounds pretty plausible in theory.
Of course, like electric plug-ins, there's the thought that refuelling by plugging into the mains might simply remove emissions from the tailpipe to the power station. But let's assume we can get much better with the renewable sources (solar, wind and nuclear) in the future.
MDI also paints a rosy scenario in which their modular car sets can easily be constructed in small batches locally and using some 80% local materials (sounds very ambitious). That would take some doing and would undoubtedly make a huge impact on energy usage and emissions in vehicle manufacturing/delivery if it was even remotely achievable.
On paper these vehicles might well have a role to play, especially in urban areas and where motorisation is getting going - yes, places like India. Tata Motors seems to think so and is helping with the technology's further development - a significant vote of confidence I'd say.
So, where's the catch?
Is it the extensive use of aluminium to make the cars so light - that might be expensive, but structurally necessary with alternative plastic composites even more expensive? Heavy compressed air tanks? Engineering/performance issues of some sort? Safety?
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