Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cars Fuelled by Air: Guy Nègre and MDI (updated Feb 08)

I had never heard of Guy Nègre and his company Moteur Developpment International until tonight when I read a Times of India article about the Tatas collaborating with them. It is fascinating-- Nègre has designed an engine that produces momentum by releasing compressed air instead of using combustion of fossil fuels as in other engines! And these air powered engines would be running cars. A huge drop in pollution! A huge reduction in dependance of fossil fuels. Reduction in costs. Wow!
Guy Nègre is based in Nice in southern France, their prototype factory is in southern France too (Nice?). The company is Luxembourg-based (tax reasons?) while the official representatives are based in Barcelona. Nègre has apparently had experience working with aeronautics and racing cars, and started the company in 1991 to develop his dual-energy engine which ran on petrol and compressed air, as a low-pollution engine. Some of the technical information about the engine can be found here (see remark on the links in the update at the bottom of the page) .
They are developing two kinds of vehicles, the first with limited use would only run on compressed air and would have a maximum speed of 50km/h-- thus probably used only within city limits. The second would run with a dual-energy system-- with compressed air for upto 50km/h and (fossil) fuel at speeds higher than that (or when the air cylinders are empty) and would have a maximum speed of 110km/h. There are several models under development.
The compressors can be recharged at envisaged gas stations-- 2 to 3 minutes for around 1.5 EUR. Alternatively, a built-in small compressor could be connected to a power supply and recharge the tanks completely in around 6 hours. A fully charged car can be driven for 200km.
Oil (1l vegetable oil) would need to be changed only every 50,000Km.
MDI asserts that the compressed air cylinders are completely safe because the same technology is used to carry liquid gas in buses, or used to transport methane, a flamable gas, and hence potentially explosive.
Another interesting feature would be its radio controlled (hence wireless) connections that would take care of headlights, dashboard lights, lights inside the car etc with a microcontroller.
Costs: The compressed energy only cars would be expected to cost upwards of around 6,860EUR while the dual energy cars around 9,460EUR upwards; plus taxes, minus subsidies.
They still have no idea when these cars would be available in the market. They also make a request:

We need, among other things, people to talk about the project. One way to help is by putting links to our web page on your site. If you are a journalist and can write an article about the car we would be grateful. Finally, if you know any businesspeople who you think might be interested in the project, speak to them about the possibility of participating.

If you have been reading all this, I would strongly urge you to check out their website (although I admit it isn't very easy to navigate).
This is technology of the future (near future actually) and needs to be supported. I am very glad that the Tatas are collaborating on this and are involving in financing this.
I am really excited about these cars.
Update 13 Feb 08: Late last year, I had seen rumours on the internet that the Tatas would release their air car in mid-2008, some even said that it would be announced along with their Nano. The Tata Motors was rather tightlipped, and instead commented that the technology needed further fine-tuning. Subsequently I read that the deal was that they could release it in India only after Nègre/MDI released it in the European markets. The BBC has an article today that says what this fine-tuning might be (I say this because I don't remember having read about this feature earlier):
For long journeys the compressed air driving the pistons can be boosted by a fuel burner which heats the air so it expands and increases the pressure on the pistons. The burner will use all kinds of liquid fuel.
Especially since I'm moving to India in a few weeks, I am really looking forward to this car. I had been hoping that they would start selling the hybrid later this year, and that'd be my first car. My cousin-in-law (who has a Tata car too) said that Tata cars are great, but aren't so great when they are first released. It might be more sensible to but a cheap car and by the hybrid a year or so after it is released. Let's see...
Further update: The MDI links don't work anymore. They have changed their website design, and the new site is absolute crap, totally devoid of any relevant information. I'll leave the links as they are, and change them later if I find better links.