Currently, a high-efficiency car company, Aperta Motors, is conducting test drives and safety tests on a new design of cars. These Aperta are three-wheelers, covered by 34 square feet of solar panels, which provide enough energy to drive up to 40 miles on a sunny day.

Advances in Solar Panel Technology in Recent Years and Its Use in Solar Car Development
Advances in Solar Panel Technology in Recent Years and Its Use in Solar Car Development

Dr. Raj Shah Mr. Andrew Kim, Mr, Stanley Zhang | Koehler Instrument Company

In response to increasing gas emissions, air pollution, and global warming, a new and reliable renewable energy source is needed to alleviate major environmental concerns and become a sustainable alternative to burning fossil fuels. Solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source in the US and is projected to overtake the current, most utilized renewable energy source, hydropower, by 2030 [1]. Solar energy refers to the conversion of heat and light energy from the sun into electricity. It is considered the “cheapest electricity in history with technology cheaper than coal and gas” [2] since the sun is a free resource and converting light energy into electrical energy takes the least amount of time and power [2]. Due to the pressing needs for a renewable, carbon-free energy source, the diffusion of photovoltaic (PV) panel applications has been growing exponentially in recent years. 

Although the primary use of solar power has been for producing electricity for the grid, many new applications have been emerging. These applications can range from its uses in satellites, rural electrification, solar roadways, buildings, and transportation [2]. Although solar power has its issues, such as potential environmental degradation, habitat loss, excess water use, and limited storage sites for sun energy, new advances in technology are showing promise in overcoming these challenges. 

 

Solar powered automobiles

Currently, the transportation sector is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.  While many countries are leveraging purely electric vehicles that are recharged from renewable energy from the grid, some countries do not have access to renewable grid energy.  Moreover, in many regions, accessibility to the grid is limited to those in urban areas. As such, solar powered automobiles provide an opportunity to move away from fossil fuels for these people.

Currently, a high-efficiency car company, Aperta Motors, is conducting test drives and safety tests on a new design of cars called Aperta. These Aperta are three-wheelers, covered by 34 square feet of solar panels, which provide enough energy to drive up to 40 miles on a sunny day [3]. However, overcast, or nighttime conditions would significantly decrease potential driving ranges due to reduced levels of solar energy available. Additionally, the state-of-the-art nature of this technology and its relatively recent development hinders its intranational, commercial success, as further improvements and safety features must be implemented. 

The cofounders of Aperta Motors, Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, wanted to create a new, more efficient vehicle that could run on solar energy instead of conventional internal combustion engines, which burn gasoline to fuel regular and hybrid cars. During the combustion of gasoline, up to 80% of the energy produced is lost as heat, wind resistance, braking, and rolling resistance, while only about 20% of the energy generated is used to move the vehicle [3]. Even hybrids waste an average of 70% of fuel to these losses. But electric vehicles can range from 60 to 70% efficient, depending on the technology, time of day, and location of the car [3]. Most electric vehicles waste about 30% of its full potential energy due to resistance and converting currents [3]. However, the novel design of the Aperta allows it to use 90% of its full capacitance on moving the vehicle  [3]. 

There are many benefits that the Aptera brings as a new car design. Its aerodynamic shape, unlike most vehicles, reduces friction, drag, resistance, and due to its slippery texture, can even make small, light objects slide off the mirror or itself. Additionally, it has a lighter frame requiring less energy to move the car; can automatically remove heat from both the exterior and interior of the car when parked; can be fully charged 10 times quicker than the average electric vehicle; and only a small number of solar panels are required to power it. 

The Aptera can go 150 miles after just 15 minutes at an ordinary charging station. Starting price is $25,900.

Figure 1: Aperta: There are three wheels in total and a very sharp curved end to minimize friction, and is shaped like an egg to provide robustness and keep it strong like a shield [3]. 

Toyota to test solar panels for electric cars

Figure 2: Installed solar skins on a hybrid car. These skins allow for cosmetic customization and cost less than installing regular solar panels on cars [5].

The integration of photovoltaic panels on cars is becoming more feasible and in demand due to new advancements in PV technology, and in response to rising fuel prices [4]. These vehicles will be efficient solutions to environmental issues and saving energy.

Solar Skins, Wearable Solar, Solar water purifiers, and increase in solar panel efficiency

For much of the history of solar panels, they have been heavy, rigid, and inefficient. As such, their use was very limited to larger applications, such as powering a house or a vehicle.  However, advances in solar panel technology have allowed solar power to be a viable solution for a range of consumer products as well.  

In recent years, researchers and developers of solar energy applications have been striving to conceive higher efficiency solar panels. Through the contributions of Swiss and American researchers, perovskite solar panels have had major breakthroughs. Currently, perovskite solar panels can achieve more than 20 % efficiency while still being one of the lowest cost options available on the market. MIT researchers are currently working on developing a new technology that can double the energy production of overall solar cells by capturing wasted heat. If the trial tests and results are as expected, costs of solar panels could plummet in the market [6].Additionally, solar panels are no longer required to be heavy, rigid surfaces. Solar skins are custom designed solar panels that allow for the solar cell to conform to almost any surface. It can be beneficial for businesses, homes, and government offices because these solar skins can display custom images on surfaces and provide an equal amount of solar energy as regular solar panels [7]. Although wearable solar devices are not exactly new, there has been new textile developments. Solar devices before this were made strictly of hard plastic material or even metal, but now can expand into chairs, seats, and cotton [6]. 

As solar power continues to improve, it can be used on a number of new applications.  For example, last year, Stanford University collaborated with the Department of Energy to develop solar water purifiers. These purifiers are solar devices that can purify water with exposure to sunlight, and they are capable of filtering water more quickly and efficiently. Prior designs required days of exposure to radiation to fully purify water, but the newer designs can access visible light and purify the same amount of water within minutes (about 4000 times quicker) [6]. 

 

Future Innovations Worldwide: Solar Roads, Solar Paint, Solar Windows, and more solar cars

Solar Roads

Solar roads are solar panels that are installed in roadways. They are designed to be strong enough to overcome large amounts of pressure and should be capable of generating significant amounts of solar energy, even when covered by other materials. The purpose of solar roads is to provide energy to vehicles so that they can be driven without extensive fuel usage. The installation of solar roads became a popular idea once near to efficacy (expected) results were yielded from a French trial. The trial showcased that 2800 m2 of road covered with solar panels could yield 420 kWh per day but at a price of $14,000 per kilowatt (The average installation costs for solar panels on homes is $3140) [8]. The panels also generated less than a third of the energy that regular panels generate at optimum angles. Despite these problems, the technology is still prevalent in solar bike lanes, a huge solar roadway in China, and solar sidewalks in America [8]. Although the technology is expensive, with advancements and more testing, solar roadways will be large contributor in propelling solar energy as the primary energy source throughout the world. Although the solar road trial in France did not provide a lot of efficient results, it still produced electricity and provided incentives to improve upon solar road technology. 

 

Solar Paint

Solar paint can capture energy from the Sun and convert it into electricity. The advantages associated with these paints revolves around the wide range of applications, but they currently lack the efficiency of traditional solar panels. Despite this, solar paints are likely to be commercialized within the next five years [9]. There are three types of solar paints: hydrogen-extracting solar paint (solar paint hydrogens), quantum dot solar cells (photovoltaic paint), and perovskite solar paint, which can all be applied in a variety of situations. Hydrogen-extracting solar paints absorb moisture from the atmosphere and absorbs light energy shining on the paint with its titanium oxide composition materials. This light energy provides energy (in the form of heat) to break the H2O molecule into two elements hydrogen and oxygen; they hydrogen can then be captured for providing power through a fuel cell. A lead researcher states that they do not need filtered water to power the system because their development of solar paint can produce hydrogen from even a little water vapor present in the air. Solar paint hydrogens are a cheap and environmentally friendly way to produce energy from only surrounding H2O molecules [9]. 

The photovoltaic paint, developed by the University of Toronto, consist of quantum dots, which are nanoscale conductors that turn light into electrical currents.  They are cheaper and more efficient than regular solar panels. Additionally, by increasing the quantum solar paint dot size, the amount of light absorption can increase at a larger scale which causes an exponentially increase in conversion of light energy to electricity. Researchers say at some time in the future, photovoltaic paints will be mainstreamed once they finish testing that solar paints actually work on every surface (Currently can’t be applied to solar panels because it decreases the overall efficiency and can only be applied on wooden surfaces) [9]. 

The last paint innovation are perovskite solar paints, which consist of one type of titanium oxide mineral and are the components of solar cells [9]. Additionally, although all three solar paints are in liquid form, perovskite solar paints have the lowest viscosity. This allows perovskite solar paints to be sprayed on surfaces to form a sun-harnessing layer. Solar paint can enhance solar systems already built in whether it be on your roofs, door, or cars. Additionally, with increased efficiency levels and cheaper production costs or market prices, solar paints can serve as a primary energy source for homes and businesses and can completely revolutionize the energy industry. 

 

Solar Glass 

Solar glass along with solar windows, are transparent solar cells that can transform the way solar energy is collected and harnessed. They can turn sunlight into energy without needing the bluish-grey opaque panels, where electricity is generated from, and can be harnessed on any glass surface. Solar glass is regular glass that has a coating of an organic dye on its surface which allows visible light to pass through and invisible infrared rays to be collected, captured, and then converted into electricity [10]. But solar windows are relatively new and with the same shape and size, produce about two thirds of a regular solar panels. Along with this, the costs of solar windows are about an average of 20% higher than regular windows [10]. But the company that first developed this product, Ubiquitous Energy, says the more solar material installed on buildings the more energy production there will be which may equal the electricity consumed or even produce more electricity than used. 


Integration of photovoltaic (PV) systems into window design... | Download  Scientific Diagram

Figure 3: This image shows a solar window that acts like a regular window by the optical system allowing visible light in (creating a shading effect), but also absorbs invisible infrared light with the air/argon inside of it [10].          

Conclusion

Clean energy, such as solar power, is a key piece of growing a greener world. Solar energy is the fastest growing energy source in the world. Being named the most efficient/cost-effective energy source and as global warming increases, solar energy is looking the best alternative to burning fossil fuels [1]. It is also expected to grow much faster than other renewable sources, like hydropower and wind energy, because sun energy is the most abundant renewable energy source [2].  

The recent innovation of solar-powered cars showcases a prominent application of solar energy technology. These vehicles are capable of harnessing solar energy through solar cells and can more efficiency use the energy for motion, compared to traditional gas-powered automobiles. In addition, the advent of solar skins introduces levels of cosmetic customization to vehicles, while incorporating solar energy technology at economically feasible costs. Advancements in calcium titanium oxide will likely further increase the efficiency of solar panels and widen the range of solar applications in the future [9].

Meanwhile, solar roads are now being made in major countries like America, China, and Japan, to generate energy for on-road vehicles. Hydrogen-extracting solar paints, quantum dot solar cells, and perovskite solar paints can serve as primary energy sources for buildings and may revolutionize the energy industry. In the next five to ten years, solar applications are expected to boom significantly as new uses for solar power are discovered and solar technology continues to advance. Additionally, the employment of PV installers is projected to grow 15 times faster than average growth of jobs in the US, and as there is an 22% increase in employment annually in the solar industry [12]. 

 

 

About Dr. Raj Shah
Dr. Raj Shah is a Director at Koehler Instrument Company in New York, where he has worked for  the last 25 years. He is an elected Fellow by his peers at IChemE, CMI, STLE, AIC, NLGI, INSTMC, The Energy Institute and The Royal Society of Chemistry An ASTM Eagle award recipient, Dr. Shah recently coedited the bestseller, “Fuels and Lubricants handbook”,
details of which are available at https://www.astm.org/DIGITAL_LIBRARY/MNL/SOURCE_PAGES/MNL37-2ND_foreword.pdf

A Ph.D in Chemical Engineering from The Penn State University and a Fellow from The Chartered Management Institute, London, Dr. Shah is also a Chartered Scientist with the Science Council, a Chartered Petroleum Engineer with the Energy Institute and a Chartered Engineer with the Engineering council, UK. An adjunct professor at the Dept. of Material Science and Chemical Engineering at State University of New York, Stony Brook, Raj has over 330 publications and has been active in the petroleum field for 3 decades.  More information on Raj can be found at https://www.petro-online.com/news/fuel-for-thought/13/koehler-instrument-company/dr-raj-shah-director-at-koehler-instrument-company-conferred-with-multifarious-accolades/53404

 

About Stanley Zhang and Andrew Kim

Stanley Zhang and Andrew Kim are students of Chemical engineering at State University of New York, Stony Brook, where Dr. Shah the chair of the external advisory Committee in the Dept. of Material Science and Chemical Engineering.

 

Works Cited Page

[1] “Renewable Energy.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Habitat Seven, 27 Apr. 2020

[2] Evans, Simon. “Solar Is Now 'Cheapest Electricity in History', Confirms IEA.” Carbon Brief, Carbon Brief, 16 Oct. 2020

[3] Kaplan, Sarah. “It Looks like the Batmobile, Works on Solar Energy, and Could Be the Future of Cars.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 25 Feb. 2021

[4] Rizzo, Gianfranco. “Solar Energy for Cars: perspectives, opportunities, and problems” University of Salerno, 27 May 2010 (Is this too late of a date?) 

[5] Cohen, Nancy. “Toyota to Test Solar Panels for Electric Cars.” Tech Xplore - Technology and Engineering News, Tech Xplore, 6 July 2019

[6] Richardson, Luke. “Solar Technology: What's the Latest Breakthrough?: EnergySage.” Solar News, EnergySage, 22 Aug. 2019

[7] “Which New Solar Panel Technologies Will Revolutionize Energy Production?”  Solar Reviews, Solar Reviews, 29 Jan. 2021

[8] Alter, Lloyd. “Solar Road in France Generates Half the Power Expected.” Treehugger, Dash, 18 Oct. 2018

[9] “Solar Paint: the next Big Thing in Renewable Energy?” Solar Reviews, Solar Reviews, 5 Feb. 2021

[10] Iyengar, Rishi. “This Company Wants to Turn Your Windows into Solar Panels.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Mar. 2020

[11] Mohanraj, Grace. “Everything you need to know about Solar Energy!” Toppr, Central Board of Secondary Education, 17 July, 2018

[12] “National Solar Jobs Census.” The Solar Foundation, The Solar Foundation, 2 Mar. 2021

[13] Lawhorn, William. “Occupational Growth over the next Decade.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb. 2021

 
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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