Hybrid cars are great, what with their higher emm pee gees and all, but there's still one significant issue with the increasingly popular tech: one component of that hybrid relationship happens to be fossil-fuelicious petroleum products. The hybrid Air Car isn't looking to remove that component but, using three dollars worth of pressurized air, they are looking to minimize it for city driving. We've already seen totally air-driven vehicles using the same technology by Indian auto giant Tata, which see you clipping along at one horsepower, going 70 mph for around 120 miles, but what if you need more? No word on range or speed of the hybrid option – which would move from air-powered to gasoline-powered if it needed a boost in either category. It should go without saying that it may be some time before vehicles like this find their way to the US market, but with everyone looking to go green, who knows?
More than ten years ago, a French Formula One expert had an idea. Instead of running cars on the chemical energy of gasoline...why not run them on the physical energy of compressed air? Now that vision is extremely close to reality. Already, prototypes of "The Air Car" are on the road (see videos after the jump) and several companies have licensed the technology.
The idea is that regular old air is compressed in ultra-strong tanks in the car. Then, that air is released through a couple of pistons in the engine, which drives the wheels. Current prototypes get a bit more than one horsepower and can push the cars up to 70 mph for about 120 miles. It's not in any way comparable to something you might go and buy on a dealer lot today. But there are some significant advantages.
For one thing, it only costs about three dollars to fill up the tank. For another, the car has no emissions. In fact, the air coming out is significantly cleaner than the air in most cities. Of course, it will take some electricity (from coal power plants, yes) to compress the air, but the carbon savings are still very significant.
The re-filling process is simple and quick (if your gas station has been retrofitted with ultra-high-pressure air compressors). Several companies, most of them fairly small, have licensed the technology to produce the vehicles. However, one very large company, Tata motors, India's largest car maker, has plans to produce air cars and has released several designs for what they're going to be producing.
Tata is planning on creating a hybrid version that uses compressed air at low speeds, and then switches over to gasoline if the driver needs a speed (or range) boost.
As for a U.S. release, we're going to have to wait a little longer. Though the technology has been licensed here, it might be a while before the cars can match up to the safety regulations of the United States...or the voluminous desires of American consumers.
But for the rest of the world, the emerging markets that need cheap transportation...this could be a fantastic alternative that truly makes the world a much cleaner place than it would otherwise be.