PHOTO CAPTION: Guy Negre with Airpod compressed air-powered cars

The Guardian Meets the Air Car

Alex Benady drives an early prototype of Aircar and finds even Ulf Bossel finds them compelling in urban applications.

Published: 14-May-2009

How would you react to someone who tried to sell you a car that runs on fresh air? Perhaps you would think he was peddling a potentially planet-saving technology. More likely you would dismiss him as a conman or a fantasist. Yet that is precisely the pitch being made by French auto engineer Guy Negre, a good-humoured man in his mid-60s who claims to have developed a car powered by compressed air: one that produces a fraction of the carbon emissions of a standard engine, reaches speeds of 30mph-plus, that can travel 65 miles on a one-minute recharge and, best of all, costs from just over £3,000.

Negre is quick to point out the drawbacks of existing eco-car technology. "Hybrids are only marginally less polluting than the most efficient combustion engines," he says. "Hydrogen power is expensive and impractical. Fuel cells are expensive and unproven and electric cars are reliant on expensive, unreliable battery technology."

Given the number of false green-auto dawns, you might wonder why air-powered cars should be any different. While Negre's air cars have similar carbon emissions to electric cars (it all depends how the electricity to power the pumps that fill their air tanks is generated), he argues that air-power is a superior technology. "Compared to electric cars, air-powered cars cost a fraction of the price to buy, they don't need expensive batteries to be replaced every five years or so and crucially they take only a fraction of the time to recharge."


MDI Air Car in taxi livery.

Compressed air is not a good energy storage medium, which hampers the practicality of the technology.

George Bye with Greenflight Project test aircraft and e-motor

If successful, Bye Energy plans to offer conversion kits of its electric drive and battery system for other light aircraft.


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