Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How much longer before we can have solar-powered cars?

I saw a news item announcing that the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have developed an entirely solar-powered vehicle which they expect to run for 500 km in the next few weeks. However, Cool Robot (as it is called) weighs only 61kg and measures only 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.0 metres. Designed for summer use in the Antarctica and Greenland, it can drive on soft snow entirely powered by its solar cells at a speed of 0.78m/s, providing the summer sun is above 16°C. For the techies among my readers, four brushless DC motors feed the wheels, and a maximum power point tracker controls the solar cells. Moreover, the vehicle can cross 0.3m high, 2m wavelength, wind-sculpted ice obstacles. The vehicle's power consumption averages 160W - which is not a lot but, considering that the sun is VERY much hotter than 16 degrees centigrade in many parts of the world, it should be possible to build at least small cars that can operate on solar power alone. As far as I can see, the technology involved could be scaled up very quickly - in theory.

But there are at least two practical problems. First, I have not yet been able to discover how much this one-metre cube (more or less) hulk of metal and machine actually cost.

Second, there is a host of vested private sector or commercial interests (i.e. investors in, and employees of, today's car industry) who are not too keen for solar cars to arrive too quickly in our markets.

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1 comment:

Mark said...

but shouldn't the "normal" car industry be proactive and foreseen enough to invest in this and other techniques that is much better for our world?