This Carmaker Wants To Make A Car Run Forever

 

There have been plenty of audacious attempts to come up with the next big thing to shake the automotive industry. But carmaker Toyota might just have put out an idea that beats all those other ideas, for the same reason because it’s so ridiculous. What do you get when you put together a car with the best solar panels, efficient batteries and a carmaker with a long and illustrious history? You’ll probably get a car that, theoretically can run forever. 

Yes, that’s what Toyota Motor Corp, partnering together with Sharp Corp. and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) is planning to do in the next step of revolutionizing transportation. To do so, they have fitted a Prius hybrid with as many solar panels as they possibly can, with the ambitious goal is to one day end the car’s dependence on charging stations entirely. The idea is that there is one renewable source of energy that could make electric cars more convenient and environmentally friendly; the Sun. 

Image from:  Bloomberg

Image from: Bloomberg

If this idea seems familiar to you, you may be pleased to know that Toyota and Hyundai have already released car models, including the 2017 Prius, that feature solar panels on their roofs. But the solar-powered cars hardly have the ability to run and power the car, since they only charge the batteries when the car is parked. Further, the maximum amount of power for driving only lasts about 6km, said Mitsuhiro Yamazaki, director at the solar energy systems division of NEDO.

So even when the time comes where fully electric cars overtake the traditional petroleum-powered vehicles in sales, they still need to be plugged in, which means building a network of charging stations across the globe. But with their brand new design, their solar car will now feature a special, high-efficiency solar panel that is mounted on the hood, roof and even hatchback of the car, charging the car’s batteries with the power of the sun even when it’s moving. 

“The solar car’s advantage is that — while it can’t drive for a long range — it’s really independent of charging facilities,” said Koji Makino, a project manager at Toyota.

However, there are some issues with the efficiency of using solar power to run cars. One such issue is the face that Toyota’s partner, Sharp’s solar cells are more commonly used for charging homes and satellites rather than moving vehicles. The demo Prius is covered by about 1,100 solar cells, each about the size of a business card. That’s a lot of solar cells, which also translates to a much higher cost, making mass production unlikely for now.

 

Image from:  Supply Brain Chain

Image from: Supply Brain Chain

Furthermore, while the car’s greatest potential markets are the sunny climates like Malaysia, western US and western China, places without much sunlight for long seasons may not be suitable for a solar-powered car. NEDO will be evaluating whether it’s also suitable for cities such as Tokyo and London, as a key assessment for deciding whether it is worth the time and effort to mass-produce such a vehicle.

“There is potential in this technology,” said Takeshi Miyao, an auto analyst at consultancy Carnorama said, “But this is not a technology we are going to see widely used in the next decades.”

This technology will no doubt be further explored, as China’s efforts in using the sun for transportation purposes has led to its “intelligent highway” that buries solar panels, mapping sensors and electric-battery rechargers under transparent concrete, with the photovoltaic cells generating enough electricity to power highway lights and 800 homes.

If Toyota’s dream of their solar-powered Prius comes true, it could compete with startups like Lightyear. The startup, founded in 2016 by a group of Dutch engineering students, uses 54 square feet of solar panels on the roof and hood that add more than 7 miles each hour to the car’s driving range. The Lightyear One is a $170,000 luxury electric car that, according to its developers, can drive almost 500 miles on a single charge. Production is planned to start in 2021. 

Image from:  Electrek

Image from: Electrek

What do you think of this new technology? It should be very, very useful in Malaysia! Leave a comment below!