If you’re a fan of alternative fuel technologies, then chances are you’ve heard of the Air Car. Originally conceived by former Formula 1 engineer Guy Negre back in 1991, the MDI “Air Cars” (officially termed the OneCAT, CityCAT and MiniCAT) can run purely on a tank of compressed air, or combined with combustible fuels such as ethanol or LPG for extended range. MDI recently signed a deal with one of India’s largest auto companies, Tata Motors, to build the air-powered vehicles in India.
Now, with business partner Louis Arnoux, Negre is bringing the OneCAT to Australia. The two have been in the country recently demonstrating their technology to potential investors and the state and federal governments, and are planning a $1.5 billion roll-out across Australia, starting in Melbourne. The new company that will be responsible for bringing the compressed air vehicles to the country, IT-MDI Energy Pty Ltd, is a merger betweeen MDI and IT Mondial, Arnoux’s IT business.
The OneCAT can run purely on compressed air, filled up from home or petrol stations, or on a combination of compressed air and fuel. The car can travel at speeds of up to 110 km/h and ranges of up to 150 km on compressed air, or 2000 km when combined with fuel. The OneCAT uses a unique external combustion engine to give claimed efficiencies of up to 70% (current internal combustion engines generally have an efficiency of about 25%), using 2 L per 100 km. The vehicle is expected to sit three or five people and will be available in multiple configurations starting at less than $8000, with the MiniCAT and CityCAT models expected to follow.
The IT MDI-Energy venture has greater ambitions than just transport, with its website detailing its plans to provide home power generation and even broadband internet services in a “green” manner, using a combination of solar power and the external combustion technology. The company wants to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 20% and from power generation by 80% in ten years.
(Source: The Age)
My thoughts: the CAT engine has been the object of great interest and scrutiny for almost as long as it has existed, with proponents extolling the virtues of zero-emissions exhaust and critics pointing out that using compressed air simply shifts the burden of energy production further up the chain. In this respect, compressed air appears to be much like hydrogen – it’s an energy storage medium, rather than a source. The requirement of finding energy to compress the air in the first place still exists. IT MDI-Energy hope to offset that using their power generation systems, which can be run on fossil fuels or biofuels. To its credit, compressed air is a safe, well-known working fluid and using it to power vehicles would certainly assist in reducing the hazards associated with driving. Time will tell if the Air Car will really reduce emissions, but regardless, it’s a positive step to have such companies investing in Australia.
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