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Dutch students build world’s first solar-powered family car

'Stella' seats four, has a usable trunk and produces more electricity than it needs, returning the excess to the power grid.

By Douglas Newcomb Jul 17, 2013 10:12AM

Solar Team Eindhoven Stella solar car. Photo by Solar Team Eindhoven.Solar-powered concept cars usually have huge solar panels covering tiny passenger compartments. But not "Stella," the vehicle built by the students at the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology who refer to themselves as the Solar Team Eindhoven (STE). They boast that Stella the world’s first solar-powered family car.

Stella has room for four people, a usable trunk, and a range of more than 350 miles. It is being entered by STE in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October. STE also said that Stella is the first "energy-positive car" that can generate more electricity than it needs to run and can return juice to the power grid.

"If you look at cars today, most are standing still most of the day," Roy Copenhagen, technical manager for the project, told Public Radio International’s The World. "People go to work and the car is parked outside."

"We did some calculations and found that 10 of the 12 months here in the Netherlands, you actually produce more energy than you use," he added. "So over a year, you’re actually contributing energy back to the power grid compared to what you use [to power the car]."

STE's goal, like that of many automakers, was to develop a very fuel-efficient vehicle using an aerodynamic design and lightweight materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum. "The windshield is curved and rear end is pointed to make it as aerodynamic as possible," Copenhagen said.

He added that the car has "a trunk with quite a lot of space and can fit about four pieces of luggage, while the interior is spacious enough for four passengers." While STE wanted to create a practical solar-powered car, the group said it also wanted to develop "the car of the future." Technologies such as "intuitive steering," which allows the steering wheel to expand or contract to indicate when a driver is going too fast or too slow, aren’t found on your average production vehicle.

And Stella isn’t just a novelty meant for science fairs and demonstrations. STE plans to have the car officially licensed to prove that it's road-ready. It will compete in the Cruiser class at the 372-mile-long World Solar Challenge across the Australian outback Oct. 6-13, along with other university teams from around the world.

Copenhagen credited advances in battery technology with helping make the development of Stella possible. "We've seen an enormous increase in the use of electric vehicles," he said. "So a lot of technology has been advanced in the last couple of years."

Copenhagen also foresees the car coming to market. "Our car is a prototype, but solar panels are not aerospace technology -- it's what you put on your roof," he said. "The exterior is carbon fiber, and we see that many manufacturers are using carbon fiber . . . in sports cars and super cars." But now it's also being used to traditional cars, he added.

"It's heading the right way," Copenhagen said. "So in five or 10 years, this car will be on the road, hopefully. And I'm curious which car manufacturer will do that."

[Source: The World]

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