Saturday, November 19, 2005

CAT Got Your Car?

You could say that Guy Negre, a French automotive engineer and former race car designer, is full of hot air.

Negre's Luxembourg-based company, Moteur Development International (MDI), is developing a line of cars, vans and pickups powered exclusively by compressed air. There's no gasoline, no costly service schedules and no polluting exhaust.

The prototype vehicles are so clean, the company says, that the air coming out of them is often cleaner than when it goes in.

"This represents something truly revolutionary in the automobile industry," said Shiva Vencat, the company's representative in the United States. "We are talking about changing the way we make cars, how we buy cars, and, more importantly, we are talking about a clean car."
MDI claims that its air-powered automobiles will eventually render the internal combustion engine "as obsolete as the black-and-white television."
The company plans to produce vans, family sedans, taxis, small trucks and three-passenger runabouts called the MiniCat.

All are prototypes. Their bodies are made of aluminum tubing, fiberglass and injected foam. Prices are expected to range from less than $10,000 for the MiniCat to $16,000 for a six-seat sedan called the CitiCat.

These are no ordinary cars. Power comes from fresh air stored in reinforced carbon-fiber tanks beneath the chassis. Air is compressed to 4,500 pounds per square inch (about 150 times the pressure of the typical car tire). The air is fed into four cylinders where it expands, driving specially designed pistons. About 25 horsepower is generated.

Though technical problems are being worked out, company officials say the car is capable of 70 mph and a 120-mile range under normal city conditions, performance that is comparable to electric cars.
Note from Technophile: The idea of using compressed air isn't new. Writer Jules Verne predicted in the 1860s that the technology would be used to power cars in Paris by the late 20th century. Some primitive engines date to the early 1900s, and compressed air has been used for years to start race cars. This car was featured in last night's Science Channel broadcast of "Beyond Tomorrow".
Source: [MDI]

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