Pictures Ford Solar Car at CES 2014 and Past SunPower Vehicles

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Pictures: Ford Solar Car at CES 2014, Past Sun-Power Vehicles

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept Car

Photograph courtesy Ford Motor Company

Electric cars offer freedom from the gas pump, but they tie drivers to the task of charging up. To truly cut the power cord, it would help if you could carry your generator on board, and the fuel would be free.

That’s the allure of the solar car, in many ways the holy grail of clean energy transport. It came one step closer to reality this week with Ford Motor debuting its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car at Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 in Las Vegas. (Related Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Cars and Fuel )

Ford used the biggest consumer electronics show of the year to showcase not-yet-ready-for-mass-production technology and the possibilities for renewable energy transportation. (See related, Pictures: Cars That Fired Our Love-Hate Relationship With Fuel .)

The solar plug-in hybrid crossover, based on Ford’s C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, has 16 square feet (1.5 square meters) of photovoltaic panels built into the roof.

Even with a full day of blazing sunlight, the eight-kilowatt-capacity panels wouldn’t capture enough energy to fully charge the car’s lithium-ion battery. So Ford, along with the Georgia Institute of Technology, developed a flat acrylic lens to stand over the car in a canopy that can marshal sunlight from a larger area. The lens would act like a magnifying glass and concentrate sunlight onto the car, boosting solar uptake eightfold. It would take about seven hours of sunlight to fully charge the battery, which could then power the car for an estimated 21 miles (33.8 kilometers) before a gas engine kicks in. (See related, Pictures: A Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG.)

That means the C-MAX Solar Energi is still tethered to conventional fuel, but integrating solar energy into vehicles poses special challenges. Engineers—both professional and student—have been grappling for years with the issues of capacity, aerodynamics, and energy storage, in their zeal to design and build vehicles that run on the sun. (See related, Wireless Power May Cut the Cord for Plug-In Devices, Including Cars. )

—Josie Garthwaite

Follow Josie Garthwaite on Twitter.

Published January 9, 2014

University of Chile’s Solar Car, Eolian

Photograph by Reuters

At a staging area in one of the driest places on Earth, students from the University of Chile push their car, Eolian, a sleek wedge specially designed to soak up the sun of the Atacama desert. The photo was taken in 2011, the premiere year of the Atacama Solar Challenge, the first international solar race ever hosted in Latin America. (See related, Pictures: Cars Capture Solar Energy in Chilean Desert .)

The University of Chile students named their car, appropriately enough, after eolian processes. through which winds erode, transport, and deposit materials to shape the Earth’s surface-especially in arid environments. The Eolian team placed second in both runnings so far of the Atacama race, in 2011 and 2012, the latter a hard-fought competition traversing 1,000 kilometers (621.3 miles) over four days. The winner both times was team Antakari, from the Universidad de la Serena and Illapel Polytechnic as well as engineers from the Los Pelambres copper mine. The third running of the race is set for this November. (See related Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Solar Power. )

Published January 9, 2014

Tesla’s SolarCity Superchargers

Photograph by Car Culture, Corbis

Tesla Motors says you should be able to run your car on solar energy without waiting for engineers to work out the details of integrating photovoltaic panels onto a vehicle rooftop. (See related, Pictures: Eleven Electric Cars Charge Ahead, Amid Obstacles .)

The company’s vision is to install solar canopies above its supercharging stations. which in 30 minutes can provide enough juice for a Tesla Model S premium electric sedan to travel an estimated 170 miles (105.6 kilometers). Best of all, the charge-up is free of charge. (See related, Range Anxiety: Fact or Fiction? )

Tesla is building a network of supercharging stations to serve Model S owners across much of the United States and parts of Canada by the end of this year. (See related, In Tesla Motors-NYT Spat, Cold Realities About Electric Cars .)

And the company says it plans eventually to cover all of its supercharger stations with solar panels, with a goal of lowering the cost of electricity and addressing concerns about the carbon emissions associated with plug-in cars that draw energy from fossil-fuel-burning power plants. We are giving Model S the ability to drive almost anywhere for free on pure sunlight, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement about the project. But at this point, the supercharge stations—solar or conventional—are not compatible with other EVs on the market. (See related, Tesla Motors’ Success Gives Electric Car Market a Charge .)

Ford Focus Electric Cars

Published January 9, 2014

Toyota Prius with Solar Panels

Photograph by Toru Yamanaka, AFP/Getty

The Toyota Prius is the most popular hybrid electric-gas car on the market, but it has been available since the 2010 model year with a solar-powered ventilation system as an option. Here, an employee is wiping down the solar panels on the rooftop of a prototype at Fuji Speedway in Oyama, Japan, in 2009.

But drivers who fork over extra money for the solar panels should be aware that they won’t provide energy to move the vehicle. Instead the solar roof powers a fan that circulates ambient air through the cabin when the Prius is parked in direct sunlight. If you want to stay cool, park in the sun, Toyota says on its web site. (See related, Driving the Limit: Wealthy Nations Maxed Out on Travel? )

Published January 9, 2014

Drexel University’s Green Dragon

Photograph by Harley Soltes, National Geographic

Engineering student and driver Conjee Yeung smiles from behind the cockpit bubble of Drexel University’s Green Dragon during technical testing of the team’s solar vehicle at Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Houston in May 2011. (See related, Students Design Super-Efficient Cars in Eco-marathon .)

Solar cars compete against other alternative vehicles as well as cars with internal combustion engine in the annual contest on three continents to design and build the most fuel-efficient vehicle. While the conventional gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles in the race are typically designed to look like rockets, the Drexel students admitted that they had to forgo a sleek silhouette. (See related, Drexel Students Take On the Solar Car Challenge .) Their aim was to go wide in order to produce as much energy as possible from the solar panels. But they gave the car a contour so there would be a smooth flow of air over the car and a tapered edge. (See related, Pictures: Building the Perfect Solar Car. )

The Drexel students won the solar car category that year with a result of  90 miles (144 kilometers) per kilowatt-hour. Using the standard that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted for the new Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and other electric vehicles, which equates 33.7 kilowatt-hours of energy to one gallon of gasoline, their result was the equivalent of 3,033 miles per gallon (1,290 kilometers per liter).

That’s energy efficiency that would really shine, if automakers could only capture the technology for the mass market.

Published January 9, 2014

Ford Focus Electric Cars
Ford Focus Electric Cars
Ford Focus Electric Cars
Ford Focus Electric Cars

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