Running on Air – Foreign Auto Markets Turn to Pneumatic Motors and Air Cars for More Power

by Marjorie Steele, Editor at IQS

Marjorie Steele

My all time favorite sci-fi invention is the hot pink hoverboard in Back to the Future II & III. I give second place to the garbage-fed Mr. Fusion energy converter in Dr. Brown’s later additions to the DeLorean. Cars flying through the air, running on garbage – that was the picture Steven Spielberg painted for 2015.

I’m not sure that’s exactly the direction we’re headed, but it’s pretty close.

Motor Development International, an Australian motor development company, has a lineup of car models waiting to be released at the end of 2009 – hybrid cars that run on air. You got it – they’re air-powered, and they drive up to 124 miles on one tank of compressed air, reaching top speeds of 70 miles per hour. If that’s not good enough for you, a petrol-air hybrid is being developed for higher speeds and better fuel economy – for country driving. The air hybrid by MDI, expected to be released sometime next year, is projected to be able to travel over 1,500 miles on one tank of compressed air and 8 gallons of gasoline, with faster traveling capacities than the air solo car.

MDI isn’t the only company working on giving new meaning to the phrase “running on air”. Scoring high in both environmental sustainability and economy, the pneumatic engine idea has been in development for 30 years at Di Pietro Motors, another Australian motor development company headed by former Mercedes-Benz designer Angelo Di Pietro. His air motor boasts incredible energy economy and superb environmental design. Gast Manufacturing right here in Michigan has a line of air motors and gearmotors available for use in material handling applications such as mixer motors, pump drives and hoist motors.

How exactly does a car run on air? Different companies working on pneumatically powered engines have developed different formats (Di Pietro’s engine is rotary, whereas MDI’s is powered by pistons), but the concept is basically the same. Imagine using your breath to move a small plastic car across a smooth table. Now imagine that instead of your breath moving the car, it’s a balloon full of compressed air that’s moving the car, and it’s been attached somehow, so that as the car moves, the air supply moves with it. Instead of petrol fuel tanks, air cars carry large, carbon fiber canisters of compressed air. The air is released in small bursts into a chambered engine compartment, creating an effect similar to combustion. Pistons – or rotary blades – are moved forcefully, creating a motion powerful enough to run a car down the road.

While the implications of this technology bring happy news to green technology advocates, it will be some time before we see air cars in abundance here in the States. Air-powered cars will be available in Europe next year sometime, but their release in the U.S. has not yet been announced. One thing is for sure: American combustion engines have backfired, and if our auto companies don’t quickly begin to harness clean, cheap energy, it won’t be long before GM goes the way of the dinosaur.