Air Cars vs. Electric Cars vs. Hybrids – Which are Greener?

An ‘air car’ sure sounds clean.  A car that runs on air?  What’s cleaner than that?  But of course it’s not quite that simple.

ZPM Air Car

The world’s first commercial air car is currently being produced by India’s largest automaker, Tata Motors, who is licensing the technology from European-based company MDI.  A compressed-air car uses the force of super-compressed air to move the engine’s pistons up and down, as opposed to explosions produced from injecting a small amount of fuel.  At higher speeds the engine will burn a small amount of fuel to create more compressed air, sort of like how a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt produces on-the-fly electricity. The hybrid air-car setup should be able use any number of fuels, including gasoline, propane, or ethanol.

So now that we’ve established how the Air Car will work, how green is it?

Well, there are CO2 emissions associated with both the electricity required to power the air compressor, and the liquid fuel required to create more compressed air on-the-fly.

A comprehensive analysis of these emissions is available in the Huddler Air Car Introduction Wiki.  What it boils down to is that on average, the ZPM Air Car produces 0.176 lbs of CO2 per mile, using the average US power grid mix.  If you’re getting your electricity from a greener utility like California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), this brings the total emissions down to 0.155 lbs/mile.

In comparison, the second generation Prius emits 0.34 lbs/mile, so the ZPM Air Car does indeed produce roughly half the CO2 emissions of the Prius, as the company claims.

The Tesla Roadster creates 0.24 lbs/mile of CO2 for the average US power grid mix, and 0.093 lbs/mile for the PG&E mix.  The Aptera typ-1e creates 0.114 lbs/mile of CO2 for the average US power grid mix, and 0.044 lbs/mile for the PG&E mix.  So in most instances, the ZPM will produce lower emissions than the Tesla, but not when the power comes from low emissions sources like PG&E’s.  The Aptera typ-1e produces the lowest emissions by far.

The moral of the story is that the Air Car does quite well in terms of emissions.  It will also supposedly seat 6 with a low price tag at around $17,800, so the Air Car could be an affordable and green alternative to fully electric cars.

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Photo Credit: Zero Pollution Motors


Dana Nuccitelli

Dana earned a Bachelor's degree in astrophysics from UC Berkeley in 2003 and a Master's degree in physics from UC Davis in 2005. Through college, he grew increasingly interested in environmental issues, particularly global warming and alternative fuel vehicles. After earning his Master's degree, Dana became employed at an environmental consulting firm in the Sacramento, California area. He currently works as an Environmental Scientist, primarily perfoming research and contributing to the cleanup of contaminated former military defense sites.