Tata Motors Testing Compressed-Air Engines

The idea of an inexpensive urban transportation pod that runs on air has a tendency to immediately prod skeptics to reach for off-the-cuff jokes, but Indian OEM Tata Motors is not laughing as it experiments with its viability.

For the time being however, things are still up in the air, and some are waiting to see if Motor Developmental International (MDI) is full of hot air or whether it can get this concept aloft.

Actually, weak attempts at humor aside, Tata Motors says it has now proven the technical concept of MDI’s compressed air engine after the two companies in January 2007 signed a license agreement that enables Tata to produce and sell compressed air cars using MDI technology in India.

Yes, it’s so far, so good says Tata, which reports the first phase of its two-phase program was successfully completed with the compressed air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles.

Tata says its second phase will see the two companies working together to complete detailed development of MDI’s air engine technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years.

Although you may not have heard of such a wild idea as using the stuff we breath as a compressed energy source, pneumatic engines have been around since the 19th century.

Three-seater

Now in the 21st century, with humanity having burned so much of the petroleum that once even spilled out of the earth in places, MDI appears to be gaining acceptance for its new take on an antique technology.

The company claims pneumatic configurations are available for everything from dorky – or cute, you decide – looking pods to light aircraft.

Present power output can range from 4 horsepower to 75. Cost to drive a pod is around 50 cents per 62 miles (100 km). Cost for the pod as shown is estimated at under $9,000 (7,000 euros). Range is said to be 93—125 miles (150-200 km).

If Tata Motors and MDI can get this technology to work all the way to production-ready stage, we may be hearing more about it. Note Tata says it is testing the technology in its own experimental vehicles, so its manufacturing capability combined with the air-powered powerplant may produce vehicles far more feasible than the pods.

And no doubt the pods as configured would also be of limited use in the U.S., given safety regulations. Judging however by optimism expressed by its makers, it might be feasible to re-engineer a vehicle for U.S. requirements as well.

In any event, in India it’s apparently looking alright considering that pollution remains a problem to overcome, the population is teeming, money in places is scarce but upward mobility is happening just the same. There, many more people already risk their necks daily riding scooters and bikes with less safety margin, so this technology could lead to a big step up for some.

We shall see, right?


  • MrEnergyCzar

    Thanks Jeff. It still has to be better to take the electricity used to compress the air and put it directly into a battery instead. This is probably why the car has to be so light and there is barely any horsepower…. the net energy is poor.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Larry Guthrie

    Since it takes electricity to charge or air the tanks up, the car would be actually running from electricity. It is far more efficient to charge a battery to the same energy density than to air the tank up to 4500 psi.

    Secondly an electric motor is far more efficient that the modified piston motor they are using.

    Third with any technology presently seen it will take a long time or high hp to charge an air tank to 4500 psi.

    Forth by my crude calculations the air engine at 50% efficiency looks like maybe 6-10 hp.

    Fifth there is no infrastructure in place to “charge” the tanks. That would be very costly. A home charger for scuba tanks is at least $1000.00 and would take more than 24 hours to charge one tank.

    Last. WHY???

  • Party McAnimal

    EDIT: Flaming statement/personal attack removed. Please try to exercise respect even when you disagree. Thanks! – HybridCars.com.

    It takes 100 times more energy and pollutants to make a battery (chemistry involves a toxic lithium cobalt oxide cathode and a graphite anode) than it does to make an air compression tank. Making batteries for cars is also very labor intensive involving a large stack of cells is typically grouped into smaller stacks called modules. Several of these modules will be placed into a single pack. Within each module the cells are welded together to complete the electrical path for current flow. Modules can also incorporate cooling mechanisms, temperature monitors, and other devices.

    The Air car needs just an air compression tank…Let me repeat….All that is needed in this car is an air compression tank to make the engine and drive train operable. And unlike a battery powered car, which takes 12 to 15 kilowatt-hours for a full recharge and inconveniently takes 10 to 12 hours to fully charge the EV, it takes less than 5 minutes and far less spent energy to fill a compression tank.

    Boom!

  • Party McAnimal

    Larry the Cable guy,

    From MDI’s web site on refilling the air…

    Air Stations between one and three minutes depending on the vehicle:

    The air is compressed in tanks at the air stations using a multi-stage compressor.
    The stored compressed air is transferred from the air stations’ tanks to the vehicle’s tank).
    The air compression in the station’s tanks can be performed by using renewable energies (rivers driving micro turbine connected to the compressors, wind etc…).

  • Michael Orlich

    This is a really interestilng concept car! For use in the U.S., it will need translation into a compact lightweight 4-passenger vehicle with a range of 100 to 150 miles and a potential top speed of 60 to 70 mph while meeting safety requirements to meet acceptance with our drivers for acceptance as a secondary auto.

  • Michael Orlich

    This is a really interesting concept auto but for the U.S., market will need translation into a light weight 4-passenger vehicle meeting our safety requirements with range of 100 to 125 miles and potential top speed of 60 to 65 mph to gain acceptance as a secondary auto for commuter use.

  • Charlie

    Party McAnimal …. It will take 18 to 21 kilowatt-hours to fill the Airpod tank ……. Provided the estimates by MDI are notoverly optimistic.

    I assume however that that are wildly optimistic since MDI has almost evry year since 1998 said that mass production and sales would start in 12-24 months.

    Production is still scheduled for “next year” —- which never arrives.

    The engineering challenges are 1) low energy density of compressed air, 2) cost/noise/heat of high pressure compressors, 3) low efficiencies of compressors and air engines.

    MDI, for many years, has claimed to have designed compressors with much higher efficiency and lowercost than any of the many compressor manufacturers. If true, MDI should be able to easily make large profits selling their compressor. Instead, MDI has been a money sink for unwary, naive investors.

    Don’t hold your breathe waiting for production to start.

  • 3800 series 2 engine

    Thanks for this information regarding TATA motors. Actually, I was looking for 3800 series 2 engine for my car. If anyone know any information regarding 3800 series 2 engine, please share your reviews.

  • SJ

    it is true that it could take as little as 3 min to charge, but this can only be so if there are reserve tanks in place already storing the compressed air. Never the less, this can be done from a green source while you are at work. Another aspect where , I think, air is better, is its ability to hold the compressed air for long periods of time while a battery gradually leaks energy.
    PS: 8-10 years down the road there is no need to replace expensive and toxic batteries.

  • SJ

    it is true that it could take as little as 3 min to charge, but this can only be so if there are reserve tanks in place already storing the compressed air. Never the less, this can be done from a green source while you are at work. Another aspect where , I think, air is better, is its ability to hold the compressed air for long periods of time while a battery gradually leaks energy.
    PS: 8-10 years down the road there is no need to replace expensive and toxic batteries.

  • SJ

    This light-weight cars can be made to pass US crash safety standards by implementing new technologies such as metal foam. My only and sincere hope is that this car does not go the way of many legitimate and patent inventions which could have increased our fuel economy by at least 5 times.