Next week at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Ford Motor Company will premiere what they refer to as a “sun-powered concept vehicle.” The car’s batteries can be charged by solar power alone. The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept car uses photovoltaic panels to concentrate and store the sun’s energy in its battery.
According to Ford, the C-Max Solar Energi Concept car’s photovoltaic panels are around 1.5 square meters in size and they are mounted on the roof of the hybrid, which can also be plugged in to charge faster, using electricity.
The Sunpower company created the photovoltaic panels used by the C-Max. According to the company’s module product manager, Zach Campeau, Sunpower’s photovoltaic panels are capable of providing 50 percent more power than similar-sized panels made by other companies
Still, according to Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, Mike Tinskey, the photovoltaic panels alone can only provide around 300 watts of power, which wouldn’t be enough to completely recharge the car’s 7.6 kWh lithium ion battery in a day.
The secret to recharging the C-Max Solar Energi Concept car in a day is a solar concentrator
However, Tinskey added, if the car is coupled with a “solar concentrator,” which he stated is basically “a lens that can magnify the solar energy,” then the battery of the C-Max can be recharged “to 100 per cent from solar energy.”
Tinskey also said that the C-Max Solar Energi Concept car didn’t require a climate that seems sunny all year long, like Florida or California. He emphasized it would work fine even in a Midwestern state like Michigan, saying some people would be amazed “at how much solar energy can be captured in Michigan.”
With help from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Ford company developed just such an off-vehicle solar concentrator. It’s a canopy which you park the C-Max Solar Energi Concept car under. There is a grid on the canopy of Fresnel lenses, and these focus the sun’s energy onto the photovoltaic panels.
This canopy and the Fresnel lenses increase the sun’s power by a factor of eight. The canopy tracks the path of the sun and keeps the focus of the sun’s rays on the roof of the car.
That off-vehicle concentrator was developed in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology, and is essentially a canopy under which the vehicle is parked, and which uses a grid of Fresnel lenses to focus the solar energy on the panels, boosting the sun’s power by about a factor of eight.
With a full charge, Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car will equal the range of the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. The 21 miles it can travel on electricity alone might not sound that impressive, but it can travel 620 miles when used in conjunction with its 2.0 L Atkinson-Cycle hybrid gas engine.
Regenerative braking is yet another way that the C-Max’s battery is charged, like with other electric and hybrid cars. Also, the car’s battery can be completely charged if it’s plugged in to an AC outlet, at 240 volts, in just 2.5h hours, or at 120 volts — standard in U.S. houses — in around seven hours.
Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car, if it’s in all-electric mode, can hit a top speed of 85 mph. However, the range at that speed, or if air conditioning or heating is used, will be less than 21 miles in this mode, because more electricity is being used.
Despite the 21-mile range limitation if the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car is in its all-electric mode, not ran at top speed, nor with cooling or heating, the Ford company estimates that approximately 75 percent of most people’s car trips could be made using the photovoltaic cells of the C-Max Solar Energi Concept.
When driven in conjunction with the car’s gasoline engine and the solar canopy, according to Ford, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car can get a combined city-highway mileage of around 100 mpg.
Though the Ford company will be debuting the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, the car company isn’t (yet) saying that they’ll mass-produce it, though Tinskey has said that the technology isn’t all that expensive to do so.
Written by: Douglas Cobb