Study Validates Common Sense: Air Cars Are Hot Air

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

All the hot air about the MDI air car may experience a sudden cold downdraft. Not that cool breezes questioning its efficiency weren’t already wafting in the air. But now there’s a genuine academic study questioning the questionable. The NYTWheels has mined a study by the University of California at Berkeley titled “The Economic and Environmental Evaluation of Compressed-Air Cars,” which concludes that the air car “fared worse than the battery-electric vehicle in primary energy required, greenhouse gas emissions and life-cycle costs, even under very optimistic assumptions about performance. Compressed-air-energy storage is a relatively inefficient technology at the scale of individual cars and would add additional greenhouse gas emissions with the current electricity mix.”

Andrew Papson, a member of the team that published the paper, elaborates:

“Compressed-air cars sound very nice, and they share with electric cars the advantage of not producing any local air pollution on the road, as well as being able to charge from the grid, but electric cars are much more efficient,”

Felix Creutzig, a co-author and post-doctoral fellow, offers this bottom-line assessment:

“Electric cars are about three times more efficient than compressed-air cars.”

Compressed air holds less than 1% of the energy of gasoline, and based on specifications he obtained from M.D.I., the air car would have a range of some 29 miles. The report’s conclusion is that air cars are “ultimately not viable, comparing poorly to gasoline and electric vehicles in all environmental and economic metrics.”

Too bad; we could use a little more hot air in these parts right about now.

Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

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4 of 17 comments
  • Andy D Andy D on Nov 21, 2009

    in a cordage mill dating back to the 1830s , starting about 1878, a compressed air powered indoor locomotive was used to haul material in from the piers. It was in service for 70yrs

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Nov 21, 2009

    Well, it's obviously not the silver bullet everybody is looking for. Just as hybrids use electricity and an ICE to bypass the battery limitations, maybe compressed air technology needs a companion under the hood to provide those much admired "synergies" executives are always talking about. I propose mating this contraption to a stirling engine. You backyard mechanics get to work! Fame and fortune await.

  • Robert J. Denton Robert J. Denton on Nov 22, 2009

    You guys can laugh all you want to, but the compressed air engine from MDI is already on the road. No, it is not a hybrid. You engineering types are proving that as you are learning more and more about less and less until you know absolutely everything about nothing.

  • Greg Locock Greg Locock on Nov 22, 2009

    Us engineering types have persuaded MDI that a pure aircar is a waste of time, that is why Negre is going to a compressed air hybrid. As tot he rest of your amazing claims, bear in mind that nobody outside the company has been allowed to measure the range of one. Nobody.