Ford has been developing alternative fuel vehicles for years, and is now offering several electric and hybrid models, including the Focus EV, the C-Max Hybrid, and the Fusion Hybrid. Lately, the automaker has been trying to develop a solar-powered vehicle, and has managed to build a concept that could become a production vehicle in the future. Other car manufacturers have been playing with the idea of building a car that relies on solar power as an energy source, but none of them has been able to come up with a concept that can be a viable alternative to conventional, gasoline-powered cars. That’s exactly what Ford hopes to ultimately achieve with this project, create a solar-powered car for everyday use.
It’s called the C-Max Solar Energi Concept, and was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show that was recently held in Las Vegas. Ford built it in collaboration with SunPower Corp., and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and it’s based on the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, that was first launched back in 2012. The car is equipped with solar panels, that are mounted on its rooftop, and are not exactly the same as those used to power residential or office buildings. They are made of photovoltaic cells that have a thin metal sheet on the back, which makes them flexible, so that a curved panel can be created and installed on the rooftop. According to SunPower, manufacturer of the solar cells, they 50% more efficient than other cells.
The panels collect energy from sunlight, and convert it into electricity, which powers the vehicle. However, they are not able to generate enough electricity to power the car for longer periods of time, which is one of the main reasons why solar-powered cars are not viable, so Ford has come up with a solution that could help make up for this deficiency. They have built a so-called solar concentrator, which basically serves as a magnifying glass that directs sun rays to the rooftop panels. It’s essentially a parking canopy, under which the car can move back and forth by itself, so that it gets as much sunlight as possible. According to Ford, this system can supply the car with 8 kilowatt of electricity during the day, which equals to a 4-hour battery charge. The C-Max Solar Energi, just like other plug-in hybrids, has an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, and can be recharged through a standard power socket. The company says that the concept car has a total range of 621 miles, including 21 miles of all-electric range.
Although solar-powered cars are not exactly a novelty, this concept is one of the most intriguing ones, and although it’s highly unlikely that it will commercially available soon, mostly due to the high cost of solar panels and the fact that demand for hybrids is still not as high as it should be in order for them to be economically viable, it can serve as a good example of the potential that these types of vehicles have.
Jordan Perch is an automotive fanatic and “green cars” expert. He is a regular contributor to DMV.com, a collaborative community for US drivers.
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