Nick Rosen | |

Tata, India’s largest automaker has started production on the world’s first commercial air-powered vehicle. Some 6000 zero-emissions Air Cars are scheduled to hit Indian streets in August of 2008. The move is to be welcomed because threatens the hegemony of big oil companies and oil producing nations. It may also do something to reduce pollution in big cities. The US will see an air car next year if the Scuderi Group in Massachusetts is successful. It has raised about $15 million from friends and family and is pushing ahead “in spite of being laughed at by large investment banks at first,” said President Sal Scuderi.

“Here’s a tiny firm saying we’re going to change the internal combustion engine,” he said. “After positive evaluation reports there are many less skeptics now; we’re kicking off a $50 million fundraiser and Bosch Engineering has signed on as a development partner.”

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The Air Car should be surprisingly practical. The $12,700 CityCAT, one of a handful of planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles,adequate for cities. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations (or anywhere else) equipped with custom air compressor units. It should cost around $2 to fill the car’s carbon-fiber tanks with 340 liters of air at 4350 psi.

The Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy N’gre for Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air, as opposed to the gas-and-oxygen explosions of internal-combustion models, to push its engine’s pistons.

Of course, the Air Car will likely never hit American shores, especially considering its all-glue construction. But that doesn’t mean the major automakers can write it off as a bizarre Indian experiment ‘ MDI has signed deals to bring its design to 12 more countries, including Germany, Israel and South Africa.

You might think this car could be the answer to air pollution and the need for energy security. For city driving, a 125 mile range should easily outdo any electric cars on the horizon. But there is little agreement on that – Wikipedia quotes sources saying that the “compressed air car” is about 1/3 as efficient as an electric car. The pollution created by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to compress the air is more than a conventional gasoline engine. It’s not a solution, say critics, but a novelty.

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