Ford builds solar-powered car

The car will run at 100 mpg, just like its hybrid predecessor, Ford says

Ford will display its first solar-powered vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas next week, the company announced on Thursday.

The Ford CMAX Solar Energi Concept car will have 1.5 square meters of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells on its roof to generate power to charge the car's battery.

By themselves, the PV solar panels generate only 300W of power -- not enough to charge the vehicle's battery in one day. Ford, however, said the car will be coupled with a carport that has solar concentrating lens atop it. The magnifying lens, called a Fresnel lens, will concentrate about 10 times the solar energy that the vehicle can produce alone, so the car can be recharged in a single day.

Solar car
Ford's CMAX Solar Energi Concept car

The acrylic carport canopy would also be tied into the car's onboard computer via software that would automatically move the car as the sun moves from east to west, keeping it under the highest concentration of solar light.

Combined with the PV carport, the CMAX Solar Energi Concept car has the same performance as the Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid vehicle, which draws its power from the electric grid, the company said.

"It's 174 petawatts of solar that hits our earth every single day. It's just an amazing amount of power. And this is one way to start harnessing some of that power and use it for transportation," said Mike Tinskey, director of vehicle expectation and infrastructure at Ford.

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is collaborative project of Ford, San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Georgia Tech engineers designed the solar amplifying carport.

With a full charge, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car will have the same driving range as the conventional C-MAX Energi -- up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. The C-MAX Solar will also continue to sport a charging station cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up via the grid, if necessary.

After C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is shown at CES next week, Ford and Georgia Tech will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios. The outcome of those tests will help to determine whether the vehicle is feasible as a production car.

Solar canopy
Ford's acrylic, solar magnifying canopy would move the car to keep it under the highest concentration of sunlight

By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons, the company said.

Ford said it expects to post a record 85,000-plus sales of hybrid and all electric vehicle for 2013.

The Ford C-MAX Energi will operate at an estimated 108 miles per gallon (MPG) in city driving conditions and 92 MPG on highways, for a combined average 100 MPG.

"Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy," Tinskey said. "We want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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