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Solar Cars

Jul 13, 2008
The "Almost" Forgotten Energy

Absoprtion of solar energy by atmospheric convection, evaporation and condensation of water vapor powers the worldwide water cycles and determines and drives wind streams. Solar energy converted into chemical energy via photosynthesis produces food, wood and the biomass from which fossil fuels are derived. Solar radiation and sunlight, with the addition of a variety of solar resources, accounts for 99.9% of the renewable energy on Earth! The available stores of solar energy accessible in the natural environment way beyond sufficient in comparison to current human energy needs.

Solar energy technologies and other technologies that use sunlight and secondary solar resources are critical to the current green/cleantech revolution.

Technologies using solar energy, such as photovoltaics and water heaters increase the supply of energy while technologies including passive design and shading devices reduce the need for alternate resources and may be characterized as demand side. Enhancing the performance of solar technologies have become massive projects for governments and alternative energy companies who have established niche markets for products, services, and expertise. These solar technologies are currently being developed in conjuction with automobile manufacturers to revolutionize the resorces available for personal and mass transportation.

The Technology

Solar power technologies convert sunlight into electricity using photovoltaics, solar thermal devices, or a plethora of experimental technologies. A solar cell, or PV cell, is a device that converts light into direct current to generate power for small and medium-sized devices. For example, the calculator is powered by a single solar cell, but massive increases in demands for alternative energy sources are revealing trends worlwide toward the construction of larger photovoltaic power stations.

The History

The high cost of solar cells limited development and production in the early stages of this emerging technology. Recent applications of solar energy have proven very successful. Energy shortages such as the 1973 Oil Crisis and the current rise in price of oil have shifted government resources to pursue solar energy as a legitimate alternative energy source. Over the past decade the United States, Japan and Germany have provided the infusion of funding and support for research and development of solar power. France, Italy, and South Korea have followed with programs and critical funding for solar energy research.

Rays of Sun versus "Liquid Gold"

A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered by solar energy obtained from solar panels on the surface of the vehicle. At present, solar powered vehicles are not practical for day-to-day transportation.The creation of a viable everyday solar powered automobile has been an engineering challenge for several decades.The center of this development is the World Solar Challenge, a biannual solar-powered car race in which teams from universities and enterprises compete over 3,021 kilometers, or1,877 miles, across central Australia.

The research and development of solar cars has resulted in technology and engineering utilized from industries including, but not limited to aerospace, bicycle, alternative energy, and automotive technology. At present the design of a solar vehicle is severely limited by accessibility and storage of the energy, via solar panels and solar energy, needed to power such a vehicle.To date, solar cars are still in developmental stages and though they contain many of the features available to drivers of traditional vehicles often contain space for only a driver and one passenger.

The Systems

In the solar car the battery pack plays the identical role of a petrol tank in a normal car. The battery pack stores power, or fuel, for future use. Solar cars use a range of batteries including lead-acid batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH), Nickel-Cadmium batteries (NiCd), Lithium ion batteries and Lithium polymer batteries.

The mechanical systems of a solar car are specially designed and manufacturered to keep friction and gross weight to a minimum while maximizing strength and durability. Designers predominantly use titanium and composite materials to ensure a good strength-to-weight ratio.

The "Real World"

The Venturi AstroLab has been highly regarded as the world's first commercial solar hybrid car due for release in January 2008. In May 2007 Canadian-based Hymotion altered a Toyota Prius to use solar cells to generate up to 240 watts of electrical power in full sunshine.

Practical applications for solar powered vehicles currently includes golf carts and a variety of single passenger vehicles for elderly and handicapped. One independent entreprenuer and inventor from Michigan has built a street legal, licensed and insured, solar charged electric scooter. The scooter designed for single occupancy has a top speed controlled at just over 30 miles per hour, and uses several fold-out solar panels to charge the batteries while parked.

A Swiss project called Solartxi, seeks to build a dependable everyday use solar car with a trailer, carrying a 6 mē sized solar array. The Solartaxi is equipped with Zebra batteries, enabling the vehicle with a range of 400 km without recharging. The car is also able to run for 200 km without the trailer and maximum speed just exceeds 90 km/h. The car weighs 500 kg and the trailer weighs 200 kg. Reportedly, in mass production, the car can be produced for 6000 Euro.

Auto manufacturers and leading designers and engineers are refining leading prototypes for road-worthy automobiles by 2012.
About the Author
Sammy Bickmen specializes in energy information. Learn more about solar energy and solar cars
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