Modern transportation has significantly improved our lives for the better, be it cars, bullet trains, airplanes, etc. they have all played a huge role in getting us to where we currently are as species. We have made use of all of these means of transportation, but the problem with all of them is that they use some type of fossil fuel to work, meaning they contribute to our global carbon emissions. Thankfully, due to modern innovation and the hard work of many scientists, we are moving to a realm of eco-friendly fuel and power, and for the sake of this article, we will be keeping the conversation centered on solar-powered transportation. Yes, electrical cars are currently popular, but if things go well, then solar-powered technology can become the future of transportation as well.
A lot of us believe that electric cars, and now solar cars are very new and have only been created recently, but that is not the case. It is interesting to note that both electric cars and the idea of solar power were created in the 1950s, and we can see a future where the two types of power might combine and merge to form a completely different type of car.
Solar-powered cars can completely change how we use our cars, and it is believed that solar technology, especially in the field of transport will prove to be very popular over time.
Several companies are currently working on developing solar-powered cars, and they seem to be making progress every day. Solar-powered and electric cars are similar in their setup, and the only major difference here is that solar cars need solar energy to function. We have mentioned this many times before, solar energy is collected by photovoltaic cells which will convert the energy into electricity, and yes, they can be used during night time as well due to the presence of storage batteries that will collect solar energy throughout the day so that it can be used at night.
Solar-powered cars can prove to be very eco-friendly since carbon emissions are virtually non-existent with them. Sunswift IV is a great example here since the model is currently the faster solar-powered car, and it is created by New South Wales university students, and this car can be used for the increasingly popular solar car race events.
The Advantages of Solar-Powered Cars
If we talk about what we are gaining by switching over to solar-powered cars, then you will get:
- More savings since you are saving money that would have otherwise gone into paying for fuel for your car.
- Solar-powered cars do not come with extra costs and do not require a lot of extra spending on the side. You will at most need to get a replacement battery once your original battery has run its course.
- Living an eco-friendly lifestyle since you are being responsible for your carbon footprint.
- Not contributing to extra pollution since solar-powered cars are not adding to air pollution, and they are quiet vehicles so you are not adding to noise pollution either.
Another exciting development in the world of solar technology is the potential for solar trains. They essentially use the same technology to run solar trains that they use for solar cars, only at a larger scale. Solar trains are a recent development and the first one was fully developed in New South Wales, and this solar train is expected to run only on clean energy.
Coal and diesel engines were replaced by electric motors, and now by batteries. These batteries that are used for trains have a 77kW/hour rate. This means a single charge of these batteries could last between 12-15 hours. A future with solar power trains might not be immediately possible right now, but it can become a reality in the distant future. Technology is rapidly growing and evolving, and currently, another technique is being explored where electricity moves from solar panels to charge train tracks, and this can in-turn make solar-powered trains faster and more efficient, so we might be seeing solar-powered trains happening in our future soon enough.
How Do They Work?
If you are still curious about the process, then the answer is pretty simple; having photovoltaic panels placed near the rails helps the solar-powered trains move because the electricity that is generated ends up creating traction of electrical current which gets distributed to the entire grid. This makes for a clear and quicker system that can potentially benefit us and help the environment.
Solar transportation is not just being limited to the ground. Inventors are trying to broaden their horizons, and many of them have been successful in created solar-powered planes. These planes are currently not commercially viable, but there might be room for that in the future.
In 2015, one solar plane was able to cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean on solely solar power, and this feat is more remarkable when you think about the fact that this plane spent 23 days in the air. In 2018 the Solar Impulse 2 was able to complete its first trip around the world as a solar-powered plane, and this is due to the placement of over 17,000 solar cells along with the wings of the plane.
Airbus is another company that has its solar-powered plane which was in-turn able to complete a 25 day, 23 hours, and 57 minutes flight, another impressive feat to accomplish.
The Advantages of Having Solar-Powered Planes
Jet fuel contributes to a lot of emissions and is no eco-friendly at all. Solar-powered planes are not contributing to any gas emissions, and this in turn in proving them to be incredibly eco-friendly. Plus, planes will end up saving money that would have otherwise gone into fuel costs.
Solar Scooters And Bikes
There is no limit to human creativity and ingenuity. As you are reading this article, solar-powered scooters and bikes have come into existence and are now a part of our reality.
How They Work
Solar bikes and scooters are possible because of the use of an electric motor which is in turn being charged and powered by electricity that is being generated from solar panels that are present on the bike.
The solar panels, as we said before, are helping to capture and convert sunlight into electrical energy, and this electrical energy is stored inside accumulators in the bike/scooter, and then used whenever it is needed.
The solar panels are mounted in a way that allows you to move in any direction, as long as the panels are getting sunlight. The first solar-powered bikes were able to complete a 64-day journey where they covered 13,000km as they race from France to China.
Veemo is an electric-assist bicycle that comes with an 80-watt solar panel (which is located on the roof) to charge the battery. Venmo can become incredibly useful to us since it is a complete bike and it can let you navigate any distance of area without releasing harmful carbon and other gas emissions. The Daymak Photon is currently an affordable option that you can buy and use. The solar panel in this case is present at the base of the scooter, and it is self-charging. This scooter is perfect for short-distance traveling and it comes with a USB port and speakers, so that is an added plus.
Another avenue that is currently being explored and talked about is the idea of solar roads. These roads can prove to be incredibly useful. An Idaho-based company that goes by the name of Solar Roadways has currently raised over 2 million dollars in their effort to promote their hexagonal road tiles. The hexagonal road tiles are made of a heating element, photovoltaic cells, LED lights, and the potential for wireless communication.
While Solar Roadways is still in the process of collecting funds, China has also started playing around with solar roads. One Chinese company has been able to create a polymer panel that shares a lot of properties with plastic, but it tends to create more friction than a normal road surface, so they are still trying to work on adjusting the level of friction, and are also exploring different ways to increase the overall durability of the panel and whilst cutting costs wherever possible.
We mentioned this when we talked about solar-powered planes, companies and innovators are not limiting their scope of solar-powered transportation. Yes, we talked about land transport, air transport, and we will now bring our attention to sea travel.
The Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered airplane that we had mentioned above, inspired the possibility of a solar-powered ship. This solar-powered ship cost around $4.2 million, so it was a rather pricey investment. The solar-powered ship first started on the West French Coast and is expected to start its 6-year maiden voyage soon.
This boat is currently not using solar power, but it will still be powered by renewable energy sources. Wind turbines will be primarily used, along with different autonomous electrolysis machines and equipment to help produce hydrogen. The purpose of producing hydrogen, in this case, is to help assist and power the boat during rough weather conditions, a thing which is very likely when one is dealing with boats out on the open sea.
So, solar-powered technology for boats is still going to take some time, and it will currently take another four million dollars for this boat to start and complete its 6-year maiden voyage, so this is an area that is currently still being explored.
This particular solar-powered vehicle also goes by the name of the Velomobile. This is a unique vehicle since it is a cross between a car, a motorcycle, and a bicycle, so the driver chooses how to ride this entirely. This vehicle can be powered by electricity, human power and, solar energy to run itself, so really you decide what you want, so you can either turn on the 480 W battery-powered motor or you can choose to peddle. This battery can be fully charged in either less than two hours, or it can keep slowly charging itself throughout the day.
The Elf or Velomobile, once charged can travel up to 48 miles at a steady speed of 30 mph. Another interesting thing about the Elf is that its cargo compartment can carry and hold up to 158 kg in cargo weight, which is another impressive feat.
The Gamera is a solar-powered helicopter which is the brainchild of a bunch of Maryland-based university students. This plane was able to successfully take off with one passenger using just solar power. It was able to ascend and then levitate 0.3 m above the ground in the air and was then able to stay in the air for a full 9 seconds.
Of course, this is still not developed but it still proves to be a great accomplishment, and this potentially inspires bigger companies and manufacturers to invest in renewable energy for their technology and creations.
Tuk-Tuks are a very common sight in different countries throughout Asia from India to Pakistan to Thailand and so on. Recently an Indian automotive engineer was able to cover a Tuk-Tuk with solar panels and then took it for a tour around different countries.
His Tuk-Tuk departed from India in February and managed to travel all the till London and stopped its tour on the 16th of September there, and his battery packs had eventually died.
The Tuk-Tuk included a passenger seat, a bed, a cupboard for food, and a solar-powered cooker inside of it. The entire point of this trip and creation was to raise awareness about the potential of solar energy and the need to tackle pollution since the idea occurred to the engineer when he was stuck in Mumbai’s infamous traffic jams.
We have been able to cover many solar-powered vehicles and means of transportation in this article. Yes, a lot of these are still in development and are not commercially available, but we are trying to show you how it is possible to have a future where we are not so heavily reliant on fossil fuels to make it through our lives.
Yes, fossil fuels are primarily used in multiple areas in our lives, and that is because fossil fuels were once all we had and knew. We all know that a future with fossil fuels is not possible, and is currently leading us to ruin. So, a future with clean energy is currently our only hope, and if you want to make a difference now, you need to lobby for it and start making small eco-friendly changes in our lives as well.