May 27 - The idea of solar powered cars may seem far-fetched but researchers at Ford Motor Company and the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a system they hope will spark a revolution in sun-powered transportation. Ben Gruber has more.
It's called the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept Car and according to Ford's Mike Tinskey, it represents the first step towards designing a car that will tap into the power of the sun. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE TINSKEY, DIRECTOR OF VEHICLE ELECTRIFICATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE, FORD MOTOR COMPANY, SAYING: "It's 174 petawatts of solar that hits the Earth every single day, it is just an amazing amount of power and this is one way to start harnessing that power and start using it for transportation." But turning what may be a great idea into solar-powered reality has never been viable. With current technology, photovoltaic panels small enough to fit on the roof tops of cars would not be capable of providing the energy density needed to generate sufficient power. But Tinskey and Georgia Tech mechanical engineer Bert Bras say they may have found a solution. They envision a car port like structure fitted with a specialised lens that would act like a magnifying glass, concentrating sunlight onto the roof top solar panel of a car. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BERT BRAS, PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "Actually you create a large lens, a Fresnel lens above it that then funnels the light on to the roof and that basically amplifies the light that the photovoltaics get and therefore you start producing more electricity in the same amount of time." Bras says that by fitting the car with sun tracking technology, the vehicle would continually position itself under the lens so that it receives the full impact of concentrated sunlight, harnessing eight times more energy than what solar panels can produce without the lens, enough to run the car for 21 miles on solar power alone. Bras says the concept car offers a sustainable solution to future transportation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BERT BRAS, PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The one thing you need to understand with electric vehicles is that it is good to electrify and maybe get internal combustion engines off the car so CO2 goes down. But if your power is from a coal fire power plant you may not get all of the benefits. So Ford is pushing on two levels so yes you want to get electrification but we also want to get renewable energy, green and clean energy that actually powers it." (SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE TINSKEY, DIRECTOR OF VEHICLE ELECTRIFICATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE, FORD MOTOR COMPANY, SAYING: "This solution where you couple infrastructure with the solar on the vehicle essentially isn't reliant on a grid anymore. SO if you are in an area that doesn't have electricity either provided or a very unreliable source of electricity this concept will still work. It is a free-standing concept." And Bert Bras admits it's a concept that might also raise eyebrows..but he says the question is not IF solar powered cars can become commercially viable - but when.