A new fuel is in the air

Paris, Jan. 23: In three years' time, cars will run on thin air. Or at least, they will run on thin air some of the time.

PSA Peugeot Citroen, the French car maker, unveiled a hybrid engine yesterday (Tuesday) that is powered by compressed air as well as petrol. Dubbed the Hybrid Air, it is the first such engine to be developed for mass production.

Europe's second-largest car maker claimed that it was cheaper to produce than battery-powered hybrid engines, is more efficient at recovering energy from braking and emits less carbon dioxide than existing hybrids.

PSA, which reported a 16.5 per cent drop in sales last year, said it intended to fit the Hybrid Air into its bestselling Peugeot 208 and Citroen C3 models ' and possibly many more ' from 2016.

Under braking, the car's wheels power reverse drives in its gearbox, which in turn drive oil pumps that compress air held in a long cylinder that runs from bonnet to tail under the vehicle. The energy stored during compression can then be used on its own, or in a combination with the petrol engine, to power the wheels.

The technology was developed in partnership with the French government.

PSA executives did not rule out selling their secrets to other car manufacturers. "I expect that the technology will be largely deployed," Karim Mokaddem, the project director, said.

"We want this technology to benefit the whole automotive community."

Mokaddem added that the Hybrid Air system could be fitted in any car. He said that PSA had shown the engine to General Motors ' the American owner of the German marque Opel ' with which PSA has an alliance.

PSA claimed that the 2016 production version of the Hybrid Air would emit 69g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, less than any hybrid engine in production. An hour's driving in the city would require only about 15 minutes of petrol power and for about three quarters of an hour the car would emit no carbon dioxide.

Guillaume Faury, the executive vice-president of research and development, said the project began two-and-a-half years ago with just a "small" investment. "The only component specifically developed was the gearbox," he said.

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