Cars > Tech

This invention could give EV drivers free fuel forever

Plus, it doesn’t look as bad as previous iterations

This hood covered in solar panels could revolutionize the ways EVs are charged. PHOTO FROM FRAUNHOFER ISE

There’s no denying that electrification is taking over the world of automobiles, but one of the biggest challenges remains the ways in which all these EVs will be charged. Luckily, not only is the charging network growing globally (including here in the Philippines), but EVs also have the massive advantage that their fuel can essentially be produced for free.

The solution that makes this possible has been around for decades, but only recently have companies started to actually integrate solar panels into cars. German startup Sono Motors was one of the first, but scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems have just unveiled a way in which this idea could be brought to the next level.

Companies such as Fisker have been using solar roofs in their vehicles. PHOTO FROM FISKER

One of the problems of existing technology was the format and the appearance of currently available solar panels. Their often bulky shape meant that not many vehicle surfaces could really be covered in them, and painting them wasn’t really possible either. It might be good for the environment and save you money, but the idea of driving around in a box-shaped solar farm on wheels simply doesn’t have much mass-market appeal.

This is where the invention of the German scientists comes in. Their solution integrates solar cells into a standard sheet-metal hood like you’ll find it on millions of existing passenger cars, and the kicker is the fact that the whole thing can be painted so it looks just like a normal part of the car’s bodywork.

The possible uses for this are immense and could change the way we refuel our cars in a big way. Imagine if your whole passenger car is covered in solar panels of this type and you live in a sunny country like, well, here! Essentially this means you could enjoy free fuel for your car forever.

These new solar panels are more efficient and can be painted over for a cleaner appearance. PHOTOS FROM FRAUNHOFER ISE

The idea is still at the prototype stage, and boffins utilized different types of solar cells such as IBC, PERC shingle, and TOPCon shingle in their experimental setup that produces around 115W, but it’s already showing signs of being a viable concept. The fact they can be painted is down to another invention from the same research institute. Called MorphoColor, it lets most of the sunlight through while looking like a normally painted surface to the human eye.

The team behind the project is showing off the invention at the IAA Mobility exhibition in Munich, where they will also be looking for development partners. We’re pretty sure they won’t have to look very hard, as being the first carmaker to offer vehicles with free fuel for life must be a pretty tasty proposition. We’d sure buy a car like that.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.