The Compressed Air Car: Fantasy Or Fact?


When you think of compressed air, you probably think of canned air you use to clean a keyboard, or maybe the compressor that you use to air up your tires. However, compressed air can also be used as a source of energy to power a vehicle.

In an effort to find an alternative to gasoline, more than one company has evaluated compressed air as a vehicle power source. Here’s what you need to know.

How the Compressed Air Car Works

The concept behind compressed air cars is as simple as inflating a ballon and letting it go. Compressing air in a small space stores energy. When the air is released so is the energy. As basic as the concept sounds, the real world application have been substantially more difficult. Over the last decade, many companies have attempted to perfect the tempestuous technology.

Fact or Fiction?

It really comes down to your level of skepticism. Over the last decade, companies have continually boasted that they were just a few years away from releasing compressed air cars to the marketplace.

The last major buzz surrounding the technology came in 2008 when India’s largest car manufacturer announced they would begin commercial production of the Air Car. The company tantalized the public with capabilities of 68MPH and a 125 mile range between fill ups, along with a competitive price of less than $13,000.

After a year of public anticipation, the company’s Vice President of Engineering fessed up: the excessively low temperatures caused by release of compressed air was negatively affecting the engine’s ability to operate. The production model wasn’t coming.

In 2010, a pair of mechanical engineers in India developed one of the more promising designs to date. But rather than cars, their design retrofits scooters so that a tank of compressed air utilized a turbine. Despite their impressive design, the practicalities stalled the concept from catching on. Air simply isn’t an efficient means of creating power. Tanks constantly need to be refilled and that takes electrically powered air compressors. In India, the electrical grid runs on coal.

The Reality of Air Car Technology

If the compressed air powered car was perfected, some estimate they could get about 106MPG– which is roughly the same distance the air car could go between tank recharges. A tank refill will cost you about $2 and take 1-2 hours to complete.

For now, the compressed air powered car is more fantasy than fact.

Still, it’s important to remember that great ideas can take a while. As limited as compressed air technology may seem today, remember that the computer guiding Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 to the moon had less memory than today’s average musical greeting card. Every great idea has to start somewhere — even if it’s mostly hot air.

Author Jason Lancaster is a car technology enthusiast who writes for, a website offering GM parts at discounted prices.

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