The Mini CAT

Ah! This is not feline at all; CAT in this context stands for compressed air technology. Now, I had read about this development from newspapers some days back and I was wondering when and how the development will hit the streets what with the influence of the powerful oil & conventional automobile lobby.

A few days ago, I was listening to the LA 103.5 FM station and one of the RJ’s said, “know what India’s TATA is launching? an air powered car” and the lady DJ wise cracks “aha, so the car has windmills on it or what”. My blood pressure rose in a jiffy, but came down when the male DJ calmed her and me down by stating all the great things about the car. Of course the end of the clip was spoiled by another RJ who said well, “Nowadays Indians can also lay their hands on Jaguar and Range rover and all those high end cars”. I did feel he was a bit sanctimonious about the whole thing, but let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Politely the others said wow! Fantastic! And all that…not remembering that many Americans had air car inventions to their credit years back but had gotten steamrolled by so called ‘better petrol driven inventions’.

When Guy Negre - Renault F1 engine developer and aeronautical engineer, his son Cyril and his 17 year old company Motor Development International (MDI) completed the designs for an air engine, the Frenchman had finally realized the dreams of Jules Verne. In his book ‘Paris of the 20th Century’, Verne had foreseen aero cars driving on the streets of Paris. Our modern cities, with streets a hundred meters wide and buildings three hundred high, and which are always maintained at the same temperature, and with the sky furrowed by thousands of aero-cars and aero-buses! (Verne 1863)

MDI has had a long haul since then. MDI promoter and US agent Shiva Vencat struggled to get the project flying in the USA, funds were hard to come by and the response was lukewarm. It finally took a 27M$ infusion from Tata Motors in 2007 to jump start the air car project. Tata as part of the deal got the rights for licensing and further developing the engine in their vehicles, MDI got the finances to develop their own version for Europe & other countries (Tata is the only big firm Negre’ll license to sell the car - and they are limited to India). For the rest of the world he hopes to persuade hundreds of investors to set up their own factories, making the car from 80% locally-sourced materials.

Well, I am not sure we would see many aero cars in US freeways or streets in the short run, even with the high price of gas and the uproar about fossil fuels in the public media, but I can foresee and look forward to seeing such cars running on the roads in Indian cities by next year. But back to the topic…the Mini CAT air powered car…

Air technology - The idea first came up in Englishman Dennis Papin’s mind in 1687, with the first model made in 1840 in France, then the idea died off. Starting with the Mekarski engine in 1872, Porter, Hardie, Hodges, Kiser, Barton and Wardeiner came out with successive working models. Since the world war, no further attempts were made in the mainstream until the 70’s by Truitt followed by Russell Brown, Starbard and Miller. Liesler, Mead and Miller refined the ideas further and provided renewable and perpetual versions. For details of all these inventions, and for those interested in the milestones, check here.

Tata and the air cars - Tata had a lot of headway in this due to the fact that they had been selling air powered buses since 2000, something that I did not know. All eyes would be on the Tata MDI model which would be the first to produce about 6000 of these cars, maybe later in 2008. Tata’s Air Car, which MDI calls a MiniCAT, is expected to cost the equivalent of $8000 (reports vary between $5000 to $8000)in India, and would have a range of about 300km between refuels—an event which, due to the fact you’re only paying for the power needed to work the compressor, would cost around $2. Until the market for this car is properly developed though, owners will find included a small compressor which can be connected to any regular power supply, and will refill the tank within 3-4 hours. While Tata has been tightlipped on plans, Forbes states the following - MDI is shipping a prototype to Tata this summer. Tata will either reproduce that car or, more likely, install the MDI technology in one of its existing cars, such as its recently unveiled Nano. The MDI technology - Air car models today have a four-piston engine powered by compressed air stored in tanks at 4,500 pounds per square inch. The lightweight tanks hold around 3,200 cubic feet of air. The air car is propelled when compressed air from the tanks is injected into a small chamber, where it expands and cools. This expansion pushes a down stroke of the piston and as the temperature again heats the air in the first chamber, that air is forced into a second chamber, where it expands again to drive an upstroke.

Forbes adds – MDI versions come in bright colors, can go 70mph and have a range of 125 miles on flat roads. The motor uses a whoosh of air to push its two pistons up and down. Exhaust from the engine consists of harmless atmospheric air, cold enough to serve as air-conditioning on a hot day. But don't try to tow a trailer with one of these things. The engine can't top 75 horsepower.

The designers say on long journeys the car will do the equivalent of 120mpg. In town, running on air, it will be cheaper than that. The developer Mr Negre says there's no issue with safety - if the air-car crashes the air tanks won't shatter - they will split with a very loud bang. "The biggest risk is to the ears”

So looking forward to an air driven vehicle and many more such ‘green’ inventions.

Pics – from related manufacturers sites on the net - thanks


Happy Kitten said…
Next time before I google, I should do Maddy!

that was a great one.. even I had a small note on this same car on my blog but I dint know that Tata was already running buses on this concept..

after reading your article, I feel this car is going to make an impact.. and the Indian roads can manage such speeds only.. and for that matter with the traffic building up in roads everywhere, this speed is sufficient enough.

as you said, maybe the Tata Nano may run on those.. and those complaining about the clog in the roads should fly (hope you read about the flying cars coming out in 2 years)
Maddy said…
I am just wondering how two aspects are going to impact all these new developments

1. the drastic fall in oil price
2. the resistance to spending on R&D owing to the economy crash..
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