The climate has changed many times over the course of the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. During the last ice age around 18,000 years ago, for example, what is now Manhattan in New York was covered by an ice sheet about 2,000 feet high. At that time, so much of the world’s water was trapped in ice that sea levels fell by around 400 feet, making it possible for people to walk from what is now called Europe to England and from England to Ireland. Eventually things started to warm, the ice melted, and sea levels rose again, all as part of the natural cycle to protect the noble English from the nefarious French (you don’t want them ambling over to visit whenever they feel like it).

Unfortunately, the rapid increase we are currently experiencing in global temperature cannot be attributed to natural cycles of warming and cooling. Changes that would typically span hundreds of thousands of years are now transpiring in decades.

Due to climate change, deserts are expanding, glaciers are retreating, permafrost is melting, sea levels are rising, heat waves and wildfires are becoming more common, and the world is experiencing more intense storms, droughts, and other weather extremes.

The main problem is the rise of greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat in the Earth’s lower atmosphere. Although there are several factors, including deforestation and some agricultural practices, the primary greenhouse gas source is carbon dioxide caused by humans burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

What can we do to help?

According to Hedges and Company, there are close to 1.5 billion cars in the world today. Furthermore, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 26 million of these are electric vehicles (EVs), although this number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

On the one hand, EVs seem like a jolly good idea, but there are problems, including the need for incredibly complex and expensive control systems to manage the batteries. Also, in addition to lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and graphite, EV batteries require rare earth elements (REEs), all of which involve intensive and polluting mining processes to be extracted from the ground. Furthermore, when it comes to charging the little scamps, renewable energy sources (sun, wind, water) currently account for only around 23% of electricity generation in the USA—the rest comes from (you guessed it) burning fossil fuels.

Almost 20 years as I pen these words, I heard tales about a French automobile company called Moteur Developement International (MDI). As reported in New Atlas, MDI had been the proud possessor of a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) prototype since 1994.

Tata/MDI OneCAT (Click image to see a larger version — Source: Deepak Gupta/Wikipedia)

A few years later, I heard about the Tata OneCAT, where the “CAT” portion of this moniker stands for “Compressed Air Technology.” This was to be a collaboration between MDI in France and Tata Motors in India.

The whole idea was to develop an automobile that ran on compressed air, which would be stored in tanks inside the vehicle. You know when you blow up a balloon and let it go, it zips around the sky with the compressed air acting like a jet engine? Well, this would be just like that, but different.

In the case of this pneumatic car, a 2-stroke engine powered directly by the compressed air would create movement. The tanks could be charged using a small pump located inside the car by plugging the vehicle into a regular wall outlet. This process would take about 3 to 4 hours. Alternatively, an external compressor could “re-fuel” the vehicle in around 3 to 4 minutes.

I seem to recall someone saying the Tata OneCAT would have a range of around 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a full “charge.” On the one hand, this isn’t very far. On the other hand, most of us travel less than 100 miles each day. In my case, my office is only about 15 miles from my home, so that’s 30 miles per day. I don’t know what the top speed was supposed to be (I vaguely recall 50 mph), but it’s harder to go more than 30 mph around here with all the traffic anyway.

The great thing about vehicles of this ilk is that they would be cheap to produce, cost virtually nothing to run, and create almost zero pollution (even manufacturing them would have an extremely low carbon footprint). My thought was to add solar cells to the roof, so the little scamp could be charging during the day while I was at work.

So, where is my pneumatic car?

Sad to relate, all has gone quiet on the pneumatic car front (which is ironic because minimal noise pollution was another of this vehicle’s touted advantages).

All I can say is that I live in hope that something like this will one day come to fruition, in which case I will be at the front of the queue to buy one. How about you? Have you heard anything about this? And would you be interested if such a beast existed?