A novel SUV that uses solar panels put on its sloping roof to charge its electric batteries has been tested in Morocco, as manufacturers begin to develop vehicles that can be utilized in areas where petrol outlets or electric chargers are not available.
Built by a team of students at Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE), the “world’s first off-road solar-powered vehicle” could help connect remote areas “where roads are less developed and energy grids are not as reliable.” ,” and can assist with emergency assistance and delivery, says Thiem Bosman, the team’s events manager.
Earlier this month, the crew tested the car in Morocco, traversing more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) between the country’s northern coast and the Sahara Desert in the south.
“There’s a variety of landscapes and different surfaces in a fairly short distance in Morocco,” says Bosman, adding that the car was tested on “every type of surface that a car like this can encounter.”
The road-legal vehicle has a top speed of 145 kilometers per hour (90 miles per hour). On a sunny day, its battery range is approximately 710 kilometers (441 mi) on-road and approximately 550 kilometers (342 mi) off-road, depending on the surface. The team predicts that in overcast conditions, the range could be reduced by 50 kilometers.
According to Bosman, the vehicle was one-third more efficient than projected during the trip, and its lightweight construction made it less likely to get bogged in tough terrain and put less strain on its suspension.
Capable of traveling off-road, and without the need for charging points, drivers of solar-powered SUVs are free to go where they want, says Van Ginkel. The only restriction, he says, is, “What will you do when you want to sleep?”
Stella Terra is based on the concept of a previously created solar-powered campervan at the university, and designers have added components of an SUV to make it livable for long-distance, multi-day travels, such as a car. The chairs totally recline to make a bed. When the car is stopped, the solar panels may be extended to provide maximum charging while simultaneously acting as an awning to provide shade.
According to Bosman, the team has also developed highly efficient solar panel converters, which he expects will benefit the broader solar sector.
Electric SUVs are larger and heavier than normal electric vehicles, necessitating the use of larger, heavier batteries to power them.
“Where the SUV market is currently innovating on previous models, we really started from the ground up and designed everything ourselves,” says Bosman. It was essential to reduce the vehicle’s weight, and the team of 22 students focused on making each element ultra-efficient. At only 2,645 pounds (1,200 kg), the Stella Terra weighs approximately 25% less than the average mid-size SUV.
The aerodynamic design also reduces drag and uses “light and strong” composite materials to reduce weight, says Bob Van Ginkel, Stella Terra’s technical manager.
“(One) advantage of top-mounted solar panels is that we can have a much smaller battery because we’re charging while driving,” says Van Ginkel.