Ford eyes solar panels for future plug-in vehicles

The wet dream for environmentally focused drivers of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles is one in which self-contained renewable energy powers the car instead of having to plug into the grid.

While the technology necessary for such a vehicle is not quite ready for prime time as of yet, Ford, the Georgia Institute of Technology and SunPower have teamed to develop one such concept automobile that highlights what must just be possible in the future.

The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept, according to the American automaker,

is first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best of a plug-in hybrid without depending on the electric grid for fuel.

It does this through a solar panel roof that draws “power from a special solar concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass.” This concentrating technology, which works in conjunction with the SunPower provided solar panels, was developed by the university partner in this project. It is described as “an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. Fresnel is a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts).”

image via Ford

If the concept were able to get a full charge from solar energy, it is “estimated to have the same total range as a conventional C-Max Energi of up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. Additionally, the vehicle still has a charge port, and can be charged by connecting to a charging station via cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up via the grid, if desired.”

Using solar energy instead of being connected to the grid, it is believed the car could reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons. Internal Ford data as well suggests the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle such as this.

After the Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept is formally unveiled next week at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, it will begin testing “in numerous real-world scenarios. The outcome of those tests will help to determine if the concept is feasible as a production car.”

“Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, in a statement. “As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future.”

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling