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It heats the planet, tans our skin, and makes us squint when there’s too much of it.  Yup, I’m talking about the sun, and when it comes to turning it to fuel, there is no easily reachable conclusion.  Can solar energy be used to power cars?  Sure thing.  Is it extremely practical?  Not so much, but that doesn’t mean we can rule out solar-powered vehicles yet.  Take a look at these videos to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

This gives a brief overview of a solar car from ETS in Montreal.  If you thought your car was expensive, think again; this car has a price tag of $700k.

Here’s a car from the University of New South Wales, Australia that competed in the Global Green Challenge down under.

And if you thought you were living sustainably, you might want to think again after seeing this guy!

So what have these videos shown?  Solar powered cars are definitely a possibility.  However, their expensive price tags and limited capabilities mean that such technology maybe isn’t very practical for the roadways.

Of course, there are ways of incorporating the use of solar energy into cars.  There’s been talk of Toyota introducing a Prius with solar panels to give the hybrid a 15km energy boost.  Some Prius models already have a solar panel on the sunroof, which helps out the car’s ventilation system.  And students around the world work hard to compete in various solar car competitions, hopeful to develop new technologies that will make commercial solar cars more than a pipe dream.

And solar power itself seems to have great potential.  After all, it’s renewable energy that’s already shining down on everything anyways.  While it might not make sense at this point to cruise around in a solar-powered car, it certainly might not be a bad idea to put up some solar panels on your house or garage.

It might be.  But mostly, we don’t know yet.

Nine engineers talking about green automotive technology will give you ten different opinions.  So where is the truth?  Should consumers think about hybrids, hydrogen, or high-mileage?  Are batteries the way to go?  Should we give up cars altogether and start biking everywhere we want to get to?

Right now, I don’t think anyone knows.  And the thing is, it’s pretty hard to figure out.

For example, take a look at this video.  Take everything at face value and your jaw will drop.

I know I was ready to get signed up for this incredible invention.  But then I started looking around – at the comments on the video, an early mention of this technology, a CNN report, even Wikipedia – suggests that this might not be reasonable.

The biggest problem I’ve found so far is that there is no hard data about this car.  There are no published safety tests, no long-distance tests, no concrete information to back up the claims made by these companies.  These cars aren’t on the roadways anywhere, like they’re supposed to be.

Air Car

Will we be seeing those on the roadways anytime soon? Not likely.

Another issue: the air needed to make the car run must be obtained from an air compressor, which runs on electricity.  And producing electricity releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  How much?  Depends on how clean the electricity is.

I emailed Tata Motors in India, one of the car companies that was supposed to get these babies on the road.  I received a kind response:

Dear Haley,

We refer to you query on the compress air technology, please find below response from Tata Motors for your reference.

The compress air technology is still in the project stage. It is being developed by MDI of France. Tata Motors has financially supported the development works and is licensed to deploy the technology as an when it is ready, only in India.

Tata Motors does not have any time frame for introducing it in India.

Thank you,

Kind  regards,

Ashmita Pillay

I’ve been trying to get in touch with MDI, but no dice yet.  I’ve got another contact in Germany who might be able to tell me some more, and I’ll keep you posted on what I hear.

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August 2020