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Compressed Air Cars

Stephen Rampur
A car running on air! It definitely sounds like something that must be brought into existence; then, cars using gas will become a thing of the past. Compressed air cars are a re-invention of an old technology with some modifications. Read on...
Compressed air cars are cars with engines that use compressed air, instead of regular gas used in conventional fuel cars. The idea of such cars is greatly welcomed by people of the 21st century, when pollution caused by petrol and diesel is an extremely worrying factor.

History and Development

Many people may think that the concept of compressed air cars is a new discovery; but in reality, it is something that was discovered and tried way back in time.
  • In 1687, Dennis Papin came up with the idea of a compressed air engine.
  • In 1838, Andraud and Tessie from Motay, France, built a compressed air car which was eventually tested on a race track in July 1840. This test was a success, but the idea was not pursued any further.
  • Mekarski air engines were used in trams and locomotives for public transport in 1872. The front of the engine carried a tank which could be refilled at every station. Many locomotives were manufactured later on the same line of engineering.
  • In 1892, Robert Hardie discovered a new method of heating the air and increasing the engine's range, which in turn helped to increase the distance that could be traveled at a stretch. Later in 1898, Hoadley and Knight invented a two-stage air engine that had an even greater range.
  • A commercially successful air car was built by Charles B. Hodges in 1896, many of which were sold to the mining industry for mining related operations.
  • In 1926, Lee Barton Williams from the US invented an automobile that could start on gas, but after the vehicle reached a speed of 10 mph, the gas supply got cut off and air was used to run the engine, which then could reach a speed of 62 mph.
  • An experimental model of the compressed air car was built by Sorgato of Italy in January 1975. It could run at 30 mph for approximately 2 hours.
  • Terry Miller developed the 'Air Car One' in 1979. This project cost him $1500, and he sold the rights in 1983.
Likewise, many other engineers invented some other techniques for running compressed air cars. Claud Mead, Des Hill, and Carl Leissler were some of them who helped the enhancement of such engines.

Engine and Technology

The engine that is installed in a compressed air car uses compressed air which is stored in the car's tank at a pressure as high as 4500 psi. The technology used by air car engines is totally different from the technology that is used in conventional fuel cars.
They use the pressure generated by the expansion of compressed air to run their pistons. This results in 'no pollution', as air is the only product that is used by the engine to produce power, and the waste material is air itself.

Air Storage Tank/Fueling

As thought by engineers and designers, the storage tank would be made up of carbon fiber to reduce the car's weight and prevent an explosion, in case of a direct collision.
Carbon-fiber tanks are capable of containing air pressure up to 4500 psi, something steel tanks are not capable of. For fueling the car tank with air, the compressor needs to be plugged into the car, which would use the air that is around to fill the compressed air tank.
This could be a slow process of fueling; at least until air cars are commonly used by people, after which high-end compressors would be available at gas stations that would fuel the car in no time at all.


The air-powered car would normally emit air, as air is what it would solely use. But it would totally depend on the purity of air that is put into the nair tak. If impure air is filled in the tank, same would be the level of impurity of the emission. The emission level would highly depend on the location and time of filling air in the tank.


  • Air is everywhere, and so freely available. Unlike gas, we don't have the fear of unavailability of air. There would also be no need to pay for buying air.
  • Air is not flammable. Hence, there are no chances of an explosion or fire in any way.
  • There would be no air pollution as the emission is the air itself.
  • If you own a compressor, refueling could be easily done at home.
  • The technology used in this type of car would be simple; as there would be no spark plugs, starter, mufflers, and cooling system to deal with.
  • The production and maintenance cost of the car would also be very low.


  • Refueling the air tank using a low-performance compressor can take up to four hours, as compared to the compressors installed at gas stations which would take a few minutes to perform the same task.
  • A study has shown that the cars running on lithium-ion batteries perform more effectively than compressed air cars.
  • As the air car's body would be made of light material, there would be no scope to use technology that is safe and accident-free. Some people are not sure about safety standards of these cars; but some are, as they think that technological advancements would meet the safety expectations of consumers.
Some companies have already started working on the commercialization of compressed air vehicles, but till then we need to wait for this ecological and economical traveler to arrive and be available to all.