French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen is taking the road less travelled with its latest concept car. The company has developed a hybrid gasoline vehicle that does not rely on batteries to store energy. The PSA Hybrid Air system uses compressed air instead.
The oddly shaped concept is said to be very efficient and it should achieve 81 miles per gallon, with very low carbon dioxide emissions to boot. The idea of using compressed air to store energy has been around for ages, but Peugeot engineers believe it might give their eco-cars a competitive edge in the future.
Hybrid cars usually rely on costly and heavy battery packs to store energy. According to Fast Company, the typical battery pack used in hybrids and electric vehicles costs about $11,000. Battery packs are bulky, heavy and they have a limited lifecycle, which is not the case with a simple compressed air system.
However, there are quite a few downsides to Peugeot’s approach. Air compressors are not very efficient and compressed air can’t match the efficiency or energy density of batteries or liquid fuels. So, although compressed air is a cheap and simple way of storing energy, a lot of energy is wasted in the process.
Peugeot hopes the simplicity and low cost of its approach outweighs the drawbacks. Compressed air cars should end up a lot cheaper than battery based hybrids and the simple, low-tech approach should allow designers to incorporate it into existing cars with relative ease.
Peugeot’s compressed air technology is intended for small B and C segment vehicles, with engines up to 110 horsepower. Like other hybrid designs, PSA’s Hybrid Air features regenerative breaking and it can operate in three modes, compressed air only, internal combustion or a combination of the two for peak power.
In terms of fuel efficiency, hybrid air vehicles could deliver 45-percent savings in fuel usage and a 90-percent increase in range compared to a similar vehicle powered by a traditional petrol engine.
PSA plans to start fitting the new drivetrain to several B-segment models in 2016 and it could license the technology to other carmakers.