There is no question that electric cars are more environmentally sustainable than vehicles that rely on fuel, but within the realm of electric vehicles, there are still things that can be done to improve eco-friendliness, including using electricity from renewable sources to powder the cars.
Solar Team Eindhoven, a Dutch non-profit that develops new clean-energy solutions, set out to address the issue by making electric cars even more sustainable and self-sufficient. The result is a solar-powered family car called Stella Era, which autonomously maximizes its solar-energy gain. According to Solar Team Eindhoven, the innovative vehicle is the first charging station on wheels.
“The goal stated in the Dutch climate agreement is to drive emission-free by 2030,” Solar Team Eindhoven writes on its website. “To achieve this, around 200 charging stations will have to be installed every day in the Netherlands to supply the energy required that is needed to sustain all these electric vehicles. On top of that, we will encounter the challenge to supply these charging points with fossil-fuel independent energy. Currently, 85% of electricity comes from non-renewable sources. Society is facing an enormous challenge.”
A possible solution to this issue—which seems quite obvious—is to forego the need for charging station infrastructure and instead design a fully self-sufficient vehicle, which is powered by the sun. Solar Team Eindhoven has been working on this project for some time—in fact, the Stella Era is the fourth electric vehicle created by the non-profit—and has relied on 3D printing throughout the development process.
Before we dive into the development process, let’s take a look at the Stella Era and its eco-friendly features. With four people, the car has been developed for a range of 1,200 km (meeting the WLTP standard). When optimized for efficiency, it can reportedly drive up to 1,800 km.
The unique looking car is capable of these distances thanks in part to its aerodynamic design, light weight and carefully engineered electric efficiency. According to Solar Team Eindhoven, it developed the car’s whole power train in-house for optimal efficiency, including its two in-wheel motors, which can reach an efficiency of 98.5%. The in-wheel motors can also generate energy by regenerative braking, meaning that the motors actually help to decrease the car’s power usage.
The future-forward vehicle is perhaps most impressive for its energy-sharing feature, which relies in part on the Stella Era’s ability to autonomously drive to a sunny parking spot in order to recharge.
“Stella Era is able to autonomously drive to a sunny parking spot,” the Dutch team says. “When you park her in the sun and go off to work, she will relocate herself to a spot where the energy gain is higher. This way she maximizes the use of the solar energy that is available. The car takes into consideration the location of the owner and his/her calendar, so that you do not have to go look for your car in a sunnier country.”
The car also lets the driver share its stored solar energy with other electric vehicles, operating as a sort of mobile charging station. The team reassures that the car will always ensure there is enough energy for the driver to get to their destination and back.
3D printing Stella Era
As mentioned, the electric Stella Era vehicle was developed using 3D printing technologies, which enabled the team to rapidly iterate prototypes to find the optimal design for the car. The Eindhoven-based team worked closely with Dutch 3D printing service Oceanz, which delivered parts, including the door handles, that were printed using selective laser sintering (SLS).
“When designing and building a new family car powered by solar energy, it is important to be able to iterate quickly on different designs,” commented Evan Evan Quadvlieg, Technical Acquisition Manager and Oceanz. “In this process, 3D printing offers us a high degree of design freedom with a short production time. Oceanz has printed the handles on the outside of Stella Era by Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This technique was particularly suitable for this design because in this way virtually no support structures were needed, which gave us even more freedom of form.”
The futuristic car is evidently not road-ready, but the prospect of a solar-powered, energy-sharing vehicle is somewhat thrilling.