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Running On Air
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Compressed Air-Driven Car Coming To America


By James Donahue


Tata Motors of India made headlines not long ago when it announced production of a basic stripped-down “people’s car” that will sell in India and Europe for about $2,500. Now it is producing a car that runs on compressed air that is expected to be marketed in the U.S. by either next year or 2010.


The air car, an ultra oval-shaped vehicle that reminds us of the old Volkswagen “bug” that once took America by storm, is supposed to have a driving range of up to 800 miles on a tank of compressed air and reach speeds of up to 95 miles per hour. Zero Pollution Motors, the American distributors, say the vehicle will be priced at $17,800.


The vehicle will come in two sizes; a three-seater OneCat, and a six-seater CityCat, which we suspect does not do quite as well in distance or speed.


How does it work? The engine is powered by air compressed into an extremely strong tank that is slowly released. The air is heated by a small gasoline engine which expands it even more when the vehicle travels at speeds of 30 miles an hour or faster. Consequently the vehicle uses both gasoline and compressed air, but it gets over 100 miles to a gallon of gas.


It takes an hour to fill the air tank, but this can be done with a special charger while the vehicle is parked at home.


Such a car gives the appearance of being earth friendly, but there are emissions, not only from the small gasoline powered heater, which emits about 0.158 lbs. of CO2 per mile when using the burner, and indirectly from the electricity used to run the air compressor. The heater can be powered by conventional gasoline, ethanol or even bio-fuels.


That such vehicles are coming on the market is good news for a mobilized world at a time when we are running out of enough crude oil to meet demand.