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Peugeot-Citroen to debut air-powered hybrid in 2016

French automaker says that without batteries or electric motors, its new hybrid system can hit more than 80 mpg

By Clifford Atiyeh Jan 24, 2013 1:22PM
Peugeot-Citroën will build compact hybrids that run on a combination of gasoline and compressed air within the next three years, marking a potential for small cars to hit more than 80 mpg without batteries.

The French automaker said its Hybrid Air system can run a small car, like the Peugeot 208, entirely on air for 60 to 80 percent of the time during city driving. It's also possible for the air-powered hybrid to use 45 percent less fuel in city driving than a standard gasoline car and extend its range by 90 percent, the automaker said. Fuel consumption is estimated at 2.9 liters per 100 km, or about 81 mpg.

General Motors, which has a 7 percent stake in the company, may use the technology, according to Automotive News. So how does it all work?

Compared with gas-electric hybrids, which require a relatively large battery pack, the Hybrid Air system runs on air pressure. A skinny, long, high-pressure air tank sits in the center of the car, while a hydraulic motor and pump -- as opposed to an electric motor and generator -- captures energy from braking and deceleration by pumping air from a low-pressure tank over the rear wheels and pressurizing it into the large tank. The air can then be used as electricity would, with the vehicle able to run solely on the hydraulic motor for up to 44 mph, or in tandem with the standard gasoline engine.


The advantages stem from eliminating batteries, which are expensive, require precious metals and eventually lose their charge. The Hybrid Air system is mostly mechanical, says Peugeot-Citroën, and can be more easily adapted to existing powertrains. While the central tank appears to negate the system's use in a rear- or all-wheel-drive car, Peugeot-Citroën says larger cars -- like the Citroën DS5, an all-wheel-drive plug-in diesel hybrid -- should have no trouble with Hybrid Air.

Similar hydraulic hybrids, which use fluid and pressurized nitrogen gas, have been used in heavy-duty commercial and construction vehicles for years. UPS has used them on its delivery trucks since 2005, and many companies convert existing diesel and gasoline trucks to hydraulic hybrids. In these vehicles, the hybrid systems are far more efficient under braking and are able to recover 70 percent of available braking energy versus about 30 percent for a gas-electric hybrid. That bodes very well for the Hybrid Air system. But like normal hybrids, the Hybrid Air system doesn't improve highway efficiency like it does in the city; the automaker claims a 5 percent bump.

A cutaway model of Peugeot-Citroën's hybrid system, which features a compressed air tank in the center. (PSA)

Other companies have pursued air propulsion during the past two decades. MDI, a Luxembourg engine company, has experimented with air compression engines since 1996, and in May 2012, it signed an agreement to test its engines with India's Tata Motors, which makes the world's cheapest production car. MDI's low-speed creation, the AirPod, looks like a Disney ride and supposedly can travel 136 miles on a refillable compressed-air tank. A production version was planned for the U.S. but never arrived.

A Massachusetts-based company called Scuderi has invented an entirely new engine that separates the 4-cycle combustion process into two parts -- one smaller cylinder for intake and compression, and a larger cylinder for ignition and exhaust. That setup makes it ideal for an air hybrid system, and while Scuderi has signed nondisclosure agreements with Peugeot-Citroën, the company so far has no plans for production.

[Source: Peugeot-Citroën via Automotive News]
6Comments
Jan 25, 2013 11:45AM
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This sounds pretty cool.  I hope it works!

Mar 7, 2014 6:28AM
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THE FIVE MAIN PEUGEOT ENGINEERS WHO INITIATED THIS AIR CAR PROJECT SWORE A VOW OF SILENCE  FIVE YEARS AGO.     GEE, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY HAD TO DO THAT? LOL        ALL YOU POOR FELLOWS,YOUR JUST SLAVES AND SERFS OF THE ILLUMINATI.
Mar 7, 2014 6:19AM
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THE PRODUCERS OF THESE CARS BETTER WEAR SOME BULLET PROOF VESTS .   LOL
Jan 27, 2013 1:44PM
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This looks promising. Would like to see where this technology goes and see if the it can be adopted into more mainstream trucks and SUVs that the American public craves.

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