Ford Motor Company announced today the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best features of a plug-in hybrid without relying on the electric grid for fuel. The concept car will be exhibited at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas next week.
Instead of powering its battery from an electrical outlet, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept harnesses the power of the sun by using a special concentrator that acts as a magnifying glass, directing rays to solar panels on the vehicle roof.
“Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. “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.”
With a full charge, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept 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.
SunPower, which has been Ford’s solar technology partner since 2011, is providing high-efficiency solar cells for the roof of the C-MAX Solar Energi. Because of the extended time it takes to absorb enough energy to fully charge the vehicle, Ford recruited Georgia Tech for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.
Researchers developed an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight eight times. Fresnel, a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses, works similarly to a magnifying glass, by tracking the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts).
Internal Ford data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use.
The vehicle also reinforces MyEnergi Lifestyle, a concept revealed by Ford, SunPower and several other partners last year at CES. The project uses math, science and computer modeling to help homeowners understand how they can take advantage of energy-efficient home appliances, solar power systems and plug-in hybrid vehicles to significantly reduce monthly expenses while also reducing their overall carbon footprint.
Ford says if all light-duty vehicles in the United States were to adopt its C-MAX Solar Energi technology, annual GHG emissions could be reduced by approximately 1 billion metric tons.
After the concept vehicle is shown at CES, Ford and Georgia Tech will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios to determine if the concept is feasible as a production car.
Last month, Ford released its second annual trend report for the coming year. Looking Further with Ford 2014 highlights 10 trends for the new year that explore how the technology explosion – such as, say, solar-powered cars – will affect consumer choices and behaviors.