Solar-Powered Car Seats Family of Four

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Here's big news, literally. Solar cars just got roomier. Forget those sun-fueled one-seaters that look like they ought to be in a soap box derby. Students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed a solar-powered family car. Oh, it can produce electricity too. The technical manager for the project, Roy Cobbenhagen, describes the car for us.

Roy Cobbenhagen: It's a four-seater car. The windscreen in the front is very curved, and it goes, actually, in the tail it goes all back to a pointy end at the back to make it as aerodynamic as possible. And the entire rooftop is covered with solar panels, so that's six square meters of beautiful blue solar panels.

Werman: Wow. And what about storage space in the car? If it's a family car you need room for gear.

Cobbenhagen: Exactly, exactly, so that's why we have a trunk with quite a lot of space. So we can pop the trunk and it seats about four pieces of luggage.

Werman: So I'm thinking a minivan that's powered by the sun. Am I right, or is that not quite correct?

Cobbenhagen: Well, in order to make a car that can actually run on solar energy, you have to make it really lightweight, you have to make it aerodynamic and highly efficient. So especially for the aerodynamic and lightweight part, it's key that you have the small car. So the interior should be spacious enough to be comfortable in. It's not a minivan because minivan is way too big. So our car is much, much smaller actually.

Werman: Now the other cool thing is that it actually can produce electricity. I know people with solar panels on their roofs often sell that power back to the grid. How do you do that with this car?

Cobbenhagen: Well, if you look at cars today, most cars are actually, ironically, standing still most of the day. So people go to work and the car is parked outside. Now with solar panels, you are charging your car, but after a little while the battery is fully charged, but sun still hits the solar panels, so you can feed that back to the grid. And we did some calculations and it shows that in ten of the 12 months here in the Netherlands you actually produce more energy than you use, so over a year you actually contributing energy back to the power grid in compare with what you use.

Werman: Wow, that is really cool. Why has it taken so long to come up with a very practical solar-powered car that would carry more than one person?

Cobbenhagen: I think that we've seen enormous increase in the use of electric vehicles, so there a lot of technology has been advanced, in the last couple of years especially. So now with the technology of the batteries, now it's good enough and the solar panels are good enough, that this is now possible.

Werman: So as far as putting it on the market and making it available to people, isn't this going to be highly expensive and are there any retailers interested in selling it? Any car manufacturers who would build it?

Cobbenhagen: Well, our car is a prototype, but if we took it to manufacturing, the solar panels are not aerospace technology, it's really what you put on your roof so it's much, much cheaper. The exterior is of carbon fiber, but we see that many car manufacturers are also using carbon fiber more and more on their cars. We've seen it in sports cars and super cars, but now it's coming to all traditional cars. So you see that it's really heading the right way. So in five to ten years this car will be on the road, hopefully, and well, I'm curious which car manufacturer will do that.

Werman: Roy Cobbenhagen, the technical director of the project at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands to build a solar-powered family mobile. Great to speak with you Roy.

Cobbenhagen: Thank you very much. Thank you.