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Whatever Happened To That Compressed Air Car Anyway?

Remember that compressed-air powered car that Tata in India was going to build? Whatever happened to that?


Back in 2012, the Indian automaker Tata was touting its air-powered car, called the Tata Air Car, to the world and claiming that it would go to production as one of the cheapest and simplest cars on the road. Fast-forward to the end of 2014, two and a half years later, and we still haven't seen any Air Cars on the road. Why not?

The concept for the car was shown in May of 2012. "With questionable science and wild engineering claims, Tata India appears serious about taking their compressed air powered car to production," I said when reporting it here at Torque News.

The car was claimed to have a 50 mph top speed and 80 mile range using only compressed air, which could be refilled in about two minutes. The drivetrain was taken directly from the AIRpod concept in Europe. The problems of compressed air as a means of propelling a car, however, are many, not the least of which is the very poor fuel efficiency it offers.

Ever since showing off the Tata Air Car taxi prototype, the company has been in "phase two" of their plan to put the car into production. That phase has the vague goal of "fine-tuning the car for market." The showcase of the 2012 car was already a little off schedule, as that was planned to happen the year before.

After that showing, Tata has been silent on the compressed Air Car concept. It's doubtful that anything more will come of it.

On other fronts, several companies around the world are toying with compressed air vehicles and even hybrid-electric compressed air drivetrains. The core issue with compressed air is that it must either be very high pressure or there must be a lot of it stored on the car in order for it to be feasible for any distance. This poses problems as compressed air tanks get heavy when filled and several of them can outweigh a typical small engine. Further, compressing air and then returning it for use to propel a vehicle is very energy inefficient, with only about 25-35% efficiency overall.

Earlier this year, Peugeot showcased their "HYbid Air 2L" demonstrator in Paris. That vehicle, was very innovative, utilizing a compressed air system and a small 1.2-liter gasoline engine in a hybrid format. We talked about it here.

For the most part, the idea of propelling a car on compressed air is not very realistic. For very short distances at low speeds, it's been proven as feasible, though not always efficient. At higher weights (to meet safety standards) and speeds, however, it's mostly a pipe dream.


Adriaenssen (not verified)    December 15, 2014 - 4:16AM

Dear Aaron,

I appreciate your comment, since any comment is better than silence - because it allows for reaction, which I take pleasure of providing.
"questionable science and wild engineering": science I will leave to scientists such as yourself, but the wild engineering I can clarify: MDI (the original inventors) have on the bench in their R&D lab, and to be built in a Nano quite soon (Jan 15), a high-efficiency engine (68%) producing 7kw for 14kgs of weight that will indeed push the car for 80 kms at max 80 kms/hr.
Lots more of clever - not wild - engineering goes into this engine, which is the first of a range going up to 350kw.

So yes, Tata will launch this technology with all the clever bits, it will definitely push Tata Motors to the forefront of motorcar history!
Big claim, patience please, you'll see.

The Peugeot development (with gov subsidies) was in fact based on a patent from MDI (abandoned since not efficient) wich will lapse in 2016 - reason why Peugeot cannot introduce their "invention" before that date!

Need more, contact me Aaron!

Aaron Turpen    December 15, 2014 - 11:15AM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

Thanks for the comment and information. I knew Peugeot was not planning to go to production with their HYbrid concept. They made it pretty clear when they introduced it. It's an interesting idea, though.

My problem with compressed air is the fuel costs. As I stated in the above article, you can either have a lot of tanks of air or you have very high PSI (bar) compression. Either way, there is a huge energy cost to put that air onto the car for use. If Tata has figured out a way around this, they may have something that could make Einstein roll over in his grave.

Robert slone (not verified)    October 11, 2021 - 2:07AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

I do have a solution for this I made a propetual engine / hybrid- electric only no gas ⛽. But I can't get ahold of anyone about this to share my design the answers are right here in our faces I have them somebody reach out to me. This is not crazy talk or any of that just hear me out.

lambertus switijnk (not verified)    August 18, 2016 - 7:54AM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

sorry to react 2 years late
i am realy interested in the compressed air motor
but rather as an auxiláry propulsion for sailboats
being able to generate plenty energy while sailing at sea and only need litlle time of engine to enter port
an electric generator \motor on the propshaft would do the job , but i dont aprove of the sustainability of the batterys
so i am looking compressor and air motor
a boat propeller works best at low revs(200) and a relatively high torque
a normal sailingboat of 10 meter works well with a 15hp diesel
what do you think,is the airpod technique fit for marine use?

Eric (not verified)    August 10, 2019 - 3:41PM

In reply to by lambertus switijnk (not verified)

I have recently heard about the technology of the Trompe. It uses water flow to collect isothermically compressed air.

That solves a lot of problems:
- no electricity is needed to compress air
- the generated heat is absorbed by the water keeping the whole system cool
- it has no moving parts making the whole thing more robust

I am still researching how fast it can collect compressed air.

What do you think about it?

I wonder if any progress has been made since then. It sounds like car engines running off the air would never be efficient enough. But despite efficiency, environmental pollution would be kept at a low minimum compared to engines running on fossil fuel or electricity.

Kevin Jackson (not verified)    April 15, 2020 - 9:20AM

In reply to by lambertus switijnk (not verified)

No, the technology is as useless on a boat as on a car.
That being said, if you don't mind destroying the environment by wasting two thirds of the power you use putting compressed air into your boat, it can probably be made to work. Check into scale though, the tanks you need to provide 15hp for a half hour or so may be bigger than your boat!

air (not verified)    July 19, 2021 - 5:34AM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

hello dear friends  I am an independent inventor and actively have been working on air-powered vehicles and have been able to invent air-powered car with different technology that makes the car able to crass much more distance than that it would crass with previous technology with every recharge, but as you know this is a big claim and it is impossible for me to complete this technology and get it patented and commercialize it by my self , so by posting this I am looking for interested and passionate and full energy people from all over the world with every  possible expertise every one who thinks they can help,to make a team to accomplish our golden goal. I can not reveal my technics here but if you contact me and I know about you  I will give you information step by step. please contact me through [email protected] or call me at 00989148602800 with love and respect thank you

Adriaenssen (not verified)    December 15, 2014 - 11:25AM

Peugoet DO plan to roll out their "invention" in 2016 for reasons as explained. They need to justify their subsidies and grants!
The fuel cost as per our calculations is modest, less than ONE EURO per 100 kms. That's with electricity at night-tarriff.
A far better solution is to use sunpower though, makes it a really zero emission vehicle.
Onboard the Nano we have installed 2 x 200 litre tanks in filament wound fiber, without intruding in the passenger volume, where the air will be stored at 250 bar.
For the rest you'll have to wait just a little bit longer, dear Aaron!

Aaron Turpen    December 15, 2014 - 11:55AM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

I think you missed my point on energy use. It requires a LOT more energy to fill a compressed air tank (no matter the source for that energy) than you'll get back from it in direct propulsion. As a generator for an electrically-propelled vehicle, though, this could change dramatically.

Robbert Nieuwenhuijs (not verified)    May 16, 2015 - 9:21AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

@ Aaron,

Thanks for the aricle. And I fully agree that some news is better than none.

"I think you missed my point on energy use. It requires a LOT more energy to fill a compressed air tank (no matter the source for that energy) than you'll get back from it in direct propulsion".

I think you missed the point on energy use. As you can witness in most of the the countries in the world, people are not too concerned about energy use. They drive still very big, inefficient cars, costing a truck load of energy. What is so revolutionair about this engine is its zero emission. It's spits out air ....breathable air. We can now focus on a completely different discussion and talk about where to generate the energy needed for our society. Current option is that we can generated the energy at big energy plants, where we can control the output. We are able to take out all the bad gasses (CO2, NOx, small particles, etc.) and possibly dump it somewhere save, instead of just exhausting it at the source of movement. This would be business as usual.
However with this car we can bring down the pollution for instance in cities where millions of people are suffering from bad air (Mexico CIty, Bejing etc. etc.). My dream is to have my own solar power system on the roof (combined with a wind power unit) which will fill up my own compressed air tank at home. This tank will fill up my car. No powerplants needed and zero emissions, only for the materiaI (but the car is different as well).
Do not worry about energy inefficiency. Not many people do.

Kind regards,

Stuart Boyd (not verified)    August 8, 2022 - 3:28AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

A compressed air engine that refills the tanks when braking and also combines with a small petrol or diesel engine is in fact very efficient it's just that I hold the patient and no one has talked to me as I will gladly share the technology it has been on sale in Africa for many years I could not do it in England because of this laws preventing me..

Adriaenssen (not verified)    December 15, 2014 - 3:08PM

@ Aaron: I did not miss any point. Any energy conversion incurs a loss, but the efficiency of the present MDI engine - 68% - plus some more engineering niceties will do fine. Thanks
@ Jim: Of course I have.
The MDI engine will run in vehicles in mid-Jan. To be shown by our partner at his discretion. Rest assured it exists, it runs, no ... it roars

jcpi (not verified)    September 14, 2017 - 11:38AM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

Who cares to know how efficient is the air car since it is almost free... It is the same nonsense that people who argue that the nuclear power plant were more efficient than solar panel....
And if you used solar panel energy to compressed the air the final price per 100km will be negligible which is what count more than the efficiency of the system..

Kim Best (not verified)    November 27, 2015 - 9:35PM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

the point he was trying to make was an air engine exhausts 'breathable oxygen' and existing POLLUTION THROUGH VEHICLE EMISSIONS will be eliminated, then we can look at the energy generation source and eliminate EMISSIONS at that point also (by stopping the burning of coal / fossil fuels).

Smarty (not verified)    January 13, 2015 - 5:29AM

What is the price of the vehicle? The problem is inefficiency. The car cannot be refueled fast enough and it cost more to power the air compressor than powering the engine. If air-powered cars were so good the Asian auto makers will have made them already.

adriaenssen (not verified)    January 13, 2015 - 9:41AM

Smarty, hi!
I think you choose your online pseudo wrongly!
Compared to a combustion engine powering a similar vehicle the compressed-air engine will be 5-7 times more cost-efficient, and total cost of ownership is what we are all looking for as a true comparison basis.
The reference to Asian auto makers is of course a lapsus. They were always the very last to introduce anything new, they built their business as copycats from the Toyota-start in the late 60's early 70'.
Easy to spit in the soup, much more difficult to bring a positive element to the discussion.

Ivor Ward (not verified)    April 11, 2015 - 2:57PM

I recall a guy in Nantes or St Nazaire creating a compressed air vehicle around 2011 and announcing that it would cost about €3,500 on the road. I have not seen any reference to it since. I wonder what happened?

Adriaenssen (not verified)    April 11, 2015 - 3:42PM

it was not in Nantes, nor in St Nazaire, but in Nice.
everybody seems nervous as to when (not if) this vehicle will be on the road.
well, it's not too far off now, the new very high efficiency engine is on the bench
we're doing the engine monitoring system
due to the limited energy in compressed air the efficiency had to be pushed to the extreme
we're close to 68% now
it's expected to be in the (Tata) demonstrator around mid-May and then it will of course it will explode your screen!
a little bit more patience
bye for now

james klukas (not verified)    June 4, 2017 - 12:05PM

In reply to by Adriaenssen (not verified)

Very interested in this technology to be brought in Milwaukee Wisconsin GOOD U S A

Ivor Ward (not verified)    April 11, 2015 - 4:04PM

Adriaenssen wrote on 2015, April 11 - 15:42 ......Thanks for that. I wondered if it was the same concept or the same engine. It got a big write up in our local paper " Ouest France" so I thought it was one of our towns. Much better to be working in Nice. Looking forward to seeing this engine in action. Hybrid seems to be the current way forward but that would mean duplicate engines I imagine, perhaps driving different axles. Save a lot on battery weight or would the air cylinders over compensate for that weight I wonder. Patience it is!

Joseph Ozer (not verified)    April 21, 2015 - 12:57AM

The compressed air car could work better if it were a hybrid with a small steam engine. The air motor would function as an air compressor when it is being recharged ( on onboard electric motor or detachable electrically powered crank would power it). The heat of compression would heat up water in an insulated hot water tank-steam accumulator. When the car is running the hot water would feed into a small flash boiler (yes it will use a little fuel) which will power a simple steam engine. The spent steam will then heat up the air motor. The air motor will effectively become a steam condenser, and the expanding air will pick up extra energy.

Lucas PB Adriaenssen (not verified)    April 21, 2015 - 8:22AM

@ Joseph and all the other compressed-air fans on the othe side of my screen!
The idea is very good, but we have this:
- a small external burner in the circuit tank-engine will heat up the compressed air and expand its volume, thereby extending the range by 2-3X; we call this dual-fuel mode (air and whatever fuel). temperature will be controlled to 600°C, therefore no NOx will be formed and combustion being external and constant no toxic exhaust fumes will come off.
- then we have what is called internally "mode3" whereby the engine will be revved up from air in the tank, then one cylinder will be used as a compressor (yes we loose a bit of power here) and this air, lowly compressed, will go through the external burner and into the expansion cylinders. this mode is only valid and viable as from 70-80 kw engine, which will go on the bench in June (to be used initially on .... garbage trucks!) when the small (7kw) engine has gone in the Nano Air. A small air tank will still be in place for start-up and back-up(80-100 litres).
This "mode 3" engine will be used primarily in a production-generator, as ordered by the Dutch glasshouse industry.
Now, how cool is this?