MIT builds solar-powered race car that runs all day

By , Computerworld |  Tech & society, MIT, solar power

Wish you could drive all day long on nothing but the power of sunlight?

If so, you may be in luck.

A group of researchers at MIT have developed an out-of-the-ordinary new race car, one that isnt dependent on gasoline. Thats right, the team has built a car that runs on solar power.

The car, dubbed Eleanor, can reportedly maintain a cruising speed of 55 miles-per-hour and run all day -- if the sun is shining, according to MIT. To get that kind of power from sunlight, researchers have designed the car with six square meters of monocrystalline silicon solar cells and an improved electronic systems.

And if the car is running on a rainy day or at night, its batteries can store enough energy for the car to make the trip from Boston to New York City without any sunlight, MIT researchers added.

The university's Solar Electric Vehicle Team announced that it plans to enter the solar car in the World Solar Challenge race across Australia that's slated to be held in October. To get ready for that competition, the team is slated to drive it across the U.S. this summer.

MIT has been producing a great deal of solar energy research.

Last December, researchers there announced they were working to boost the output and efficiency of solar cells while lowering the cost of solar power. A team of MIT physicists and engineers said the advancement could dramatically reduce the cost of using solar power by drastically cutting the need for very pricey, high-quality silicon.

And last August, MIT reported that a team of researchers there had made an energy storage breakthrough that could transform solar power from an alternative energy source to a mainstream source.

The problem with using solar power has long been the difficulty of figuring out an inexpensive way to store the sun's energy for use when the sun isn't shining, said Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and a researcher on the project. It can be done today, he said, but the cost is prohibitive with current technologies.

Nocera said he's hopeful that within 10 years, people will no longer power their homes using electricity wired from a central source. Instead, homeowners will be able to power their homes with solar power during daylight hours and use this new energy-storage method for electricity at night.

Last July, MIT announced that its researchers had created a new way to harness the sun's energy by turning windows of large buildings into solar panels.

That technology, dubbed solar concentrators, harvests light over a wide area, such as a window pane, and then concentrates or gathers it at the window's edges, Marc Baldo, a professor at MIT and head of the effort, explained in an MIT video. Baldo added that the technology also could be used to soup up more traditional solar panels, increasing their efficiency by 50%.

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