The world’s first solar powered off-road car successfully completed its 1000km test drive across Morocco and the Sahara on Sunday 15th October. This technological milestone saw the off-road car navigate harsh conditions and terrain so that its lightweight frame and aerodynamic profiles could be tested. Travelling through the sunny locations of North Africa, it allowed the designers, 22 Dutch students from the Eindhoven University of Technology, to trial a solar powered 2-seater vehicle – something that has never been done before.
With top speeds of 90 miles per hour, a weight of 1200 kilograms, and a range of at least 440 miles on a sunny day, it seems this off-road car has many of the capabilities of a modern road car, but that it is one step further ahead by being powered by converted solar radiation. Despite a steering system failure during the week and a half experiment which called for a replacement steering rod, the trial run went according to plan. The project’s technical manager even admitted that the converter for the solar panels was found to be 97% efficient in absorbing sunlight via the PV cells and turning it into electrical charge. This, he claimed, proved to be a third more efficient than previously anticipated.
According to EuroNews, the long-distance off-road car even used 30% less energy than expected. Other compliments of the vehicle’s accomplishment was the recognition of the comfort that the off-road car provided, even through challenging locations. It was lightweight and didn’t get stuck on any difficult terrain. Furthermore, the designers included a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, making the car suitable for less sunny climates, or times when solar exposure is reduced. This offers manufacturers a new avenue to explore, particularly when ideas around renewable energy systems and sustainability coincide with the need to address the climate crisis and decarbonise the economy.
This is a pivotal moment in the technology and automotive industries, as a car has been able to travel a humongous distance without the need for stopping for fuel or a charging port. The technology is clearly ahead of its time, making use of highly efficient solar panels mounted atop of the car. The manufacturers did have the challenge of providing enough surface area for the panels to lay so that it optimises the sunlight exposure. The Stella Terra car has custom made converters, inherently making the panels more expensive to produce as they can be up to 30% more efficient than most solar panels on the market. However, Stella Terra is clearly paving the way for new technologies to grow. These innovations could change the future in how we use transport and energy. It was observed that sufficient energy was generated to even charge a phone as well as power the car.
These innovations could change the future in how we use transport and energy
The pioneers of this exercise aimed to make it clear to well-known, worldwide car companies, such as BMW and Land Rover, as well as the automotive industry in general, that there are sustainable methods that can be incorporated by harnessing the powers of renewable energy sources, such as solar radiation.
It is said that more work needs to be done to adjust and perfect the Stella Terra before it is put on the market, but, despite that, the students particularly wanted to showcase the potential of sustainable transport and its feasibility. Stella Terra relies on sponsors to cover financial costs, but the cost of manufacturing was said to inhibit breaking into the automotive market.
Nonetheless, it is hopeful that a more sustainable future is possible, and with such a positive outcome from this test trial, it seems that the automotive and transport industries are set in good stead to make this change happen.