Despite decades of innovation, solar powered cars remain comparatively expensive and difficult to mass produce—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t starting to pack a serious punch. At least one prototype reportedly handled an off-road sojourn across the world’s largest non-polar desert at speeds as fast as 90 mph.
Designed by a team of 21-to-25-year-old college students at the Netherland’s Eindhoven University of Technology, their Stella Terra recently completed a 620 mile (1,000 km) test drive that began in Morocco before speeding through portions of Tangier and the Sahara. While miles ahead of what is currently available to consumers, the army green two-seater could be a preview of rides to come.
As highlighted by The Guardian on Monday, the aerodynamic, comparatively lightweight (1,200 kg) Stella Terra can travel at least 440 miles on a clear, sunny day without recharging. This is thanks to the car’s solar converter designed in-house by the students, which turns 97 percent of its absorbed sunlight into an electrical charge. For cloudier situations, however, the vehicle also includes a lithium-ion battery capable of powering shorter excursions. For comparison, the most efficient panels available today only sustain roughly 45 percent efficiency, while the vast majority measure somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. According to The Guardian’s rundown, Stella Terra’s panels actually proved a third more efficient than designers expected.
In a September project update, Wisse Bos, Solar Team Eindhoven’s team manager, estimated Stella Terra’s designs are between 5 and 10 years ahead of anything available on the current market. But Bos also stressed their ride is meant to inspire similar experimentation and creativity within the automotive industry.
“With Stella Terra, we want to demonstrate that the transition to a sustainable future offers reasons for optimism and encourages individuals and companies to accelerate the energy transition,” Bos said at the time.
While the innovative, army green off-roadster is unlikely to hit American highways anytime soon, the students believe larger auto manufacturers’ could look to Stella Terra to help guide their own plans for more sustainable transportation options. Speaking with CNN on Monday, the team’s event manager, Thieme Bosman, hopes companies such as Ford and Chrysler will take notice of such a vehicle’s feasibility. “It’s up to the market now, who have the resources and the power to make this change and the switch to more sustainable vehicles,” Bosman said.
And if off-roading isn’t your thing, don’t worry: Solar Team Eindhoven’s previous teams have also designed luxury vehicles, self-driving cars, and even mobile tiny homes powered by the sun.