Tata Motors enters second phase of air-car development


May 7, 2012

MDI compressed-air technology is being developed in India by Tata Motors (pictured is MDI's MiniFlowAIR urban 3-seater)

MDI compressed-air technology is being developed in India by Tata Motors (pictured is MDI's MiniFlowAIR urban 3-seater)

Cars that run on compressed air sound like a fantastic idea on paper, but bringing this technology to the masses has proven, well, a difficult road to travel. There's some positive news on the air-car front though - auto giant Tata Motors, which holds the license to develop Motor Development International's (MDI) air engine technology in India, has announced that it has completed the proof of the technical concept and demonstration phase of its air-car program and is now moving toward a market ready product.

Created by mechanical engineer Guy Nègre back in 1991, Luxembourg-based MDI has floated a number of products in its efforts to develop and promote zero pollution engines. The roll-out of the technology has been plagued by false starts and litigation, however, including a promised U.S. launch in 2010 that never eventuated.

The most promising push to market appears to be the ongoing agreement between MDI and Tata motors. In 2007 Tata licensed MDI's technology with the aim of producing and selling compressed air cars in India. Tata has now released a statement that, although no firm time frame is given, suggests that the project is heading in the right direction.

Tata says that the first "proof of the technical concept" phase of the program is now complete with "the compressed air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles."

Phase two, which involves, "completing detailed development of the compressed air engine into specific vehicle and stationary applications," is now underway and, "the two companies are working together to complete detailed development of the technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years."

We'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

Source: Tata Motors, MDI

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007. All articles by Noel McKeegan

Hhhmmmmmmmmm , sounds like a lot of hot air to me ( pardon my humour)


I do not understand how it will work, from theoretical calculation, a tank 100 liter size, pressurized to 5000 psi ( very high), max energy content is less than 7 MJ ( < 2 kwh).


The motor part is easy, it's not even making the tank that holds air compressed to insane levels (like 3600+ psi) AND making the tank collision-proof, it's making it idiot-proof that's near impossible.

William Lanteigne

It's a dead-end that MDI have been chasing for years. With developments in electric motors and battery technology progressing as they are, the air motor is yet another also-ran which looks attractive at first glance, but, in reality, offers no significant advances in the long term. Just my opinion, having spent time looking at the investment possibilities several years ago when the French were touting it around.

Mike Hallett

Mr Negre is a very fascinating inventor-engineer "geotrouvetout" as we say in France (don't know the equivalent in english) ! But how do you compress air ? With elctricity ! What is the efficiency of "air motor" compared with the most recent batteries and those to come ? Hummmm let's stay charitable ! How is electricity produced, especially in India or China ? Coal fired plants? Clean air powered vehicule ??? Mr Negre is fascinating....


Mr Negre is either extremely shortsighted or blinded by ideology. His quest to "develop a zero emission engine" fails the BS test. This is NOT a zero emissions vehicle - unless the air somehow compresses itself with magic fairy dust. Fail.

Daniel Shewmaker

This is called research and development , and Tata Motors are doing this. Who knows if they will come out with a simple solution? Design improvements ? Let the Indian scientist do the job, and they are pretty good at this.

There is an old saying : if you have a hard problem, call the Chinese. If your problem is almost impossible, call the Indians. But if your problem is impossible to solve, call the Russians.


I have 28 years in Testing, and 11 years in Automotive testing, For the caution in High Pressure tanks it has been resolved many years ago thanks to the Space program of which is being a dire dismantlement to no thanks to ignorant people who side on the thinking of waste!, anyway got that off my chest.... High pressure tanks have a variety of safety features against impacts each different by manufacture such as HTL, Hi-Shear Morton Thykol just to name a few... Google it if your interested... here are a few examples... blow-out panels and safety relief impact valves. If given a chance the NASA program could develop technology that could make this Automotive air-tech really sweet!, We had 60Kpsi tanks that were typical and some as high as 200Kpsi for special applications. Imagine a safe 100Kpsi tank with a Solar powered high efficiency compressor system at home and work with an easy 100 mile /160 km daily range could be engineered easily. Only your imagination is the limit!

Sam Joy

Sam Joy, I seem to recall that in 1986 Morton Thiokol was responsible for the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger. Maybe you should choose something else to demonstrate safety.

Victor Engel

compressed air isn;t efficient, or very energy dense

that is to say, it is hard to put a lot of miles in an air tank

"max energy content is less than 7 MJ ( < 2 kwh). " that is about 3 hp, for an hour that would MAYBE go for an hour at 30 mph

you may as well try a big wind up spring too , it isn;t any better or a rubber band



I get that you have to make a tank that can handle high pressure, collisions etc... And thanks to Sam Joy it very well is possible. What I don't get is how do you compress air to such high pressures. My compressor at home only manages 120 psi. I go to the scuba shop and they compress air to like $3,600 psi, but it takes a long time. How the heck is this done?

Paul Anthony

@Sam... Thanks for you informative post! Great to see someone actually contributing to the topic, not just adding pithy "why it will fail" comments. yes, every invention through history may fail, but one never succeeds without first risking failure.

Cheers, Doc R

Matt Rings

Air motors are a possibility. I remember reading about a combination aircompressor-diesel motor that ran at first with diesel and then once it was up to a certain rpm, ran without diesel fuel. It had to do with the swirling of the air giving off energy. I believe it was called the Mc Intosh motor.

Adrian Akau

No, not "hot air". It's the real deal! Still, you have to use energy to compress the air in the first place but that can be done in ways that are much greener than they typical fossil fueled engine. I want one!

Phillip Noe

The other thing these engines are good for is working in environments where emissions is a big problem. E.g. vegetable warehouses etc. I remember seeing videos of forklifts powered by these things.

But batteries are also compelling. At least a tank probably has a lot more recharge cycles than a battery, and nowhere near as many noxious chemicals used in its production or use. Probably a lot cheaper as well, and lighter than batteries.

I'd imaging one big problem is the freezing over issue. You let highly compressed air out and it's damn cold, which condenses and freezes water out of the air, icing everything up. Probably a lesser problem in India though.


High pressure tanks age better than batteries and the cold generated by the expanding gas can be used for additional power.


One of the things that NO ONE - except for me has raised, is that when you severely compress lots of air, you can either store that heat energy in a material like a huge water tank, and recoup it when decompressing the air in the motor = minimal energy losses;

Or you can use all of that heat energy in industrial and domestic process's, or for desalination etc., and simply use the compressed air for transport.

Nothing stopping people making HUGE wind turbines that only produce compressed air and recoverable HEAT.....

Mr Stiffy

IF air tank is capable of 60ksi as Sam Joy said, then theorectical energy capacity of 100 liter tank is about 24 kWh. Assume a good efficiency car which has Wh/km =100, then the range is 240 km, so the idea of air engine car is realistic .

Also, unlike battery, air tank can be recharged almost instantly and has unlimited charge/discharge cycle.

Also,I think it is a lot easier to make a strong compressed air tank than whatever nanotechnology Lithium air battery.

As to the question of what is power source for the compressed air, it is the same for battery . So, Mr Negre is not so much a "geotrouvetout" .


if you solve tank, slap some solar panels on and add a small electric compressor with small petrol compressor and you have a low cost fuel short distance car (urban)


I assume that the motor will be similar to the CO2 engine depicted here:


Daniel, how about compressing air using a wind turbine? That's clean and green!

Someone has made a car that runs on liquid nitrogen. Presumably they have solved the freezing-up problem. I remember seeing Mechanics Illustrated in the early 1950s which showed a car with a small engine which powered an alternator which drove electric motors on the wheels. For some reason, nothing came of it. I think Gasoline was so cheap in those days. Oh, what a carefree world!


re; windykites1

The freezing-up problem is just an insufficiently large heat exchanger and with a Stirling cycle engine in the mix you can extract power from the warming.



the air motor may not be energy efficient, though that's okay. With green energy, energy efficiency is far less important than most people think. As long as we are able to create the energy in a green manner, it does not matter if we need a bit more of it. There is plenty. What the air motor is, is resource efficient. Resources are not plenty. It does not need the lot of precious resources and chemistry the electric motor and it's batteries require, and it can be much more easily recycled.

Also, compressed air can be stored easily and safely, and almost infinitely without a considerable loss. This problem of storage has not yet been solved for the electric car. So, for green energy production out of wind and sun - which as we know are not permanently available - it is a very interesting solution. Compressed air can be created E.G. by wind or water without generating electricity first. Eliminating the electric step simplifies the gear required and increases the efficiency, at least a bit. One big advantage of compressed air over electricity is the time required for a refill vs. reload. Even if the range of an air car was less, the short refill time would compensate it for a good deal.

I have seen commercially available air cars running in Portugal years ago. They made perfect sense in short distance commuting, and ... very important ... they were cheap. And, as a a funny side note: They 'naturally' emitted that kind of quiet burring sound, the engineers are trying to artificially add to todays electric cars for pedestrian safety reasons. I could well imagine using one for commuting myself.


It takes more power to compress air to use as the motive force. Simple battery power would be more efficient.

Guy Macher

Hi guys, I do not know how many of you can understand Portuguese, but you can watch a live demonstration of how the car runs, how the motor works, how it produces zero pollution at the exhaust, and how it is recharged - a simple bicycle air compressor. NOw, it is true that the compressor needs a source of power - electricity (or a fuel).

Look for this at:

My only problem with this car is its small size - I would not dare drive it in the freeway here in Texas, where many people have large trucks! In a crash I would not survive!

Luiz Cruz

@Sam, well said. There is another air motor checkout Dev

Dev Nully

The obvious opposition to this technology is governments, industrialists and the petro-chemical lobby, this type of propulsion will see them lose out financially in tax revenues, profits and control. Never happen in the UK; government makes vast tax, industrialists giant factories and as for the greedy fuel companies! All of these organisations will throw vast amounts of money to stop it before it gets of the ground. Remember the tobacco fiasco.

Ted Vallance
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