August 10, 2022

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Image / Supplied. ‘Green’ vehicle able to spin into a parking spot could revolutionise inner...

Image / Supplied.

‘Green’ vehicle able to spin into a parking spot could revolutionise inner city driving.

As the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand inches upward, another energy alternative may soon be on our roads – cars powered by air.

The Airpod 2.0, a nifty two-seater ideal as an inner city service vehicle and said to be so manoeuvrable it can literally spin into a parking spot may be the first of several air models to appear on N.Z. city streets.

Digital concept image. Photo / Supplied.
Digital concept image. Photo / Supplied.

One of a range of air vehicles planned for launch by Kiwi company Air Future Ltd, it can be powered by air alone or through a hybrid option using clean burning biofuels. Able to reach speeds of up to 80kmh, it will have a range of up to 120km on air alone or up to 360km with the hybrid mode.

Air Future CEO John Mennega believes the “zero emissions vehicle has the potential to be as green as you can get and envisages it becoming the inner city and suburban vehicle of the future.”

Compressed air technology developed by a French-based company Motor Development International (MDI) will power the vehicle. Air Future holds exclusive rights to this technology in New Zealand and Mennega says he intends the first models to be made public soon.

Air Pod modularity. Image / Supplied.
Air Pod modularity. Image / Supplied.

Air Future Ltd, an unlisted public company incorporated in 1998, is seeking to raise $2 million through crowdfunding to finance demonstration models as a first step towards the mass production of the vehicles.

Mennega says models are already available in limited numbers in Europe. Ultimately the company seeks to establish a network of “micro-factories” in New Zealand to manufacture the vehicles once market demand for them has been established.

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“We have been waiting for this for a long time,” he says. “We are ready to introduce them not just to New Zealand but to Australia and the Pacific as well and if all goes to plan with interim local manufacturers we hope to be demonstrating the first model towards the end of the year.

“We are targeting people who drive 50km or less a day, which is just about everybody.”
News of the air car comes as the number of electric vehicles is rising (about 127 join the fleet each month). The government target is for 64,000 EVs by the end of 2021 and by September this year there was a combined total of 32,780 new and used EVs on the road, according to figures produced by the Ministry of Transport web site.

Air Pod range. Image/ Supplied.
Air Pod range. Image/ Supplied.

Mennega says concerns about price and range are both addressed in the air car. The core technology uses a compressed air engine to firstly store air in tanks to create a compressed air battery and then drive the vehicle. Its hybrid mode can be fuelled very efficiently by heating the air with traditional fuel or, preferably, using biofuels produced from organic material such as plant materials and animal waste.

The extended range using the hybrid mode is achieved by expanding the vehicle’s power source by up to three times through heating the air to 600 degrees with no explosions as in normal engines.

“In addition to a range of vehicles for commercial and recreational users, the air battery is planned to also be used in energy storage in conjunction with solar and wind electricity generation,” Mennega says. “Our goal is to help New Zealand accelerate to affordable and sustainable energy and show that this can be available for all people and businesses – and we think energy storage will be a huge market.”

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The first vehicle Air Future is planning to demonstrate is an air-powered golf cart (known as GreenAir it will have a range of up to 60km), suitable not just for golf courses but for use in places like holiday resorts, retirement villages and gated communities.

Air Pod Green Air. Image / Supplied.
Air Pod Green Air. Image / Supplied.

It will be followed by the AirPod itself in models both for inner-city service vehicles and as part of the fleets of organisations like city councils, airports and universities.

Also in the pipeline is the AirOne model, a more spacious and family oriented family vehicle for city and country driving. It is expected to be available in three or five seater versions and to be customised not only as an urban family-style SUV but as an off-road vehicle.

Air Future chairman Russell Fitts says he believes the vehicles will not only be extremely competitive with battery electric vehicles but as economical alternatives to fossil fuel vehicles. Models are yet to be priced but he expects this will be between $10,000 and $35,000 across multiple markets.

The origins of the air car, which precede both the current global climate concerns and the digital revolution, go back to the mid-1990s. The idea was first proposed by MDI’s founder Guy Nègre, an engineer who manufactured a prototype. However the concept was initially welcomed with scepticism at the time by both investors and regulators.

The mantle then passed to Nègre’s son, engineer Dr Cyril Nègre, who coordinated with major corporations to bring the concept to reality.

Digital concept image. Photo / Supplied.
Digital concept image. Photo / Supplied.

According to an article in global energy news site Oilprice.com, MDI refused to give up on the idea. In 2016 it was recognised by the United Nations as a leader in air technology and by 2019 it had developed the AirPod 2.0 that Air Future is seeking to launch in New Zealand.

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Mr Fitts says that under the crowd funding offer the minimum individual subscription level of $1,000 is designed to enable as many investors as possible an opportunity to invest. Investors are invited to proceed to the PledgeMe platform and download an Information Memorandum.