Africa: Off-road solar-power car finishes trials

A solar-powered vehicle that is touted to be the first in the world to be capable of driving off-road over extended distances without the need to recharge its batteries recently finished a test run that spanned 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) across Morocco and the Sahara Desert.

As a part of the final test of its lightweight structure and aerodynamic profile, the two-seat Stella Terra, which was built by students at the Eindhoven University of Technology, successfully completed the journey across a variety of tough settings.

On a bright day, the vehicle is capable of traveling at least 440 miles (710 kilometers), has a top speed of 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour), weighs only 1,200 kilograms (1.2 tons), and runs off of the energy given by several solar panels that are mounted on its roof.

According to Wisse Bos, the team manager of Solar Team Eindhoven, the technology that was used was a decade ahead of anything else that was available on the market. This technology combined a lightweight frame with extremely efficient solar panels.

He explained that Stella Terra has to be able to survive the rough circumstances of off-roading while still being efficient enough and light enough to be powered by the sun. Because of this, we were forced to come up with virtually the whole design for Stella Terra on our own, from the suspension to the inverters for the solar panels. We are on the cutting edge of technological advancement.”

The vehicle had lithium-ion battery that can be recharged, which not only enables it to function in environments with less sunlight but also enables it to travel shorter distances. Because they produce such a high level of energy, the solar panels on the automobile are capable of supplying enough electricity to be used for cooking and charging electronic gadgets like a phone or a camera.

After taking a year off from their studies, the group of 22 young people who worked on the car brought the project to fruition. The students’ ages are between 21 to 25.

During the trial that lasted for a week and a half amid the dry and varied landscapes of north Africa, from Tangier to the Sahara, the steering system on the olive-green car failed, but it was quickly fixed, according to Bob van Ginkel, 24, the project’s technical manager. The experiment took place from Tangier to the Sahara.

He stated that “we hope this can be an inspiration to car manufacturers such as Land Rover and BMW to make it a more sustainable industry.” He was referring to the automotive industry. Because it is so light and does not get bogged down easily, the vehicle proved to be surprisingly easy to drive in challenging off-road environments.

It was discovered that the solar panels’ custom-made converter had an efficiency of 97% when it came to converting the sunlight that was absorbed by its PV cells into electrical charge. It turned out that Stella Terra was about a third more effective than had been anticipated when it was first designed.

Britt van Hulst, 21, who is the project’s financial manager, stated that additional work needed to be done before the design could be put on the market, but that it presented a path that large vehicle manufacturers could investigate.

The limited surface area available on which to mount solar panels presents the greatest obstacle for automotive designers working on the development of solar-powered vehicles. Producing solar panels that are both highly efficient and have the capacity to provide sufficient energy to power cars over significant distances is an expensive endeavor. In general, the most efficient panels now available on the market achieve somewhere about 45% efficiency, although the majority of panels achieve anywhere between 15% and 20% efficiency.

Because the Stella Terra team operates on a not-for-profit basis, it has traditionally relied on financial support from sponsors. A spokeswoman for the company stated that they were unable to provide an estimate for the whole cost of the project.

Atlas Technologies, a subsidiary of Lightyear based in the Netherlands, attempted to enter into the automotive market most recently, but it appears that the high cost of production was an issue that prevented them from succeeding. The company declared that it will be filing for bankruptcy due to a lack of orders for solar-electric automobiles, which were supposed to have a retail price of €500,000. The company had planned to construct the cars in the previous year. Since then, the company has reemerged with a new model that will have a price tag of $40,000 per automobile and will have a range of approximately 500 miles between charges.

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