Ford plug-in hybrid solar car uses fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight for charging

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi concept car
© Ford

Ford's latest concept car builds on the innovations in its C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid by adding solar panels to the roof and coupling it with a concentrating solar charging canopy, allowing owners to produce renewable energy to charge its batteries.

"Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy. As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future." - Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure

The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car, said to be the "first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle," promises to deliver the benefits of a plugin hybrid, without the reliance on fossil-fuel inputs for its electric drivetrain, which could help reduce the associated GHG emissions for owners of hybrids.

The SunPower X21 solar panels integrated into the roof of the Solar Energi car aren't that large (1.5 square meters, with a 300 to 350 watt capacity), but an innovative solar concentrating canopy that uses Fresnel lenses to amplify the sunlight (said to be by a factor of 8) is claimed to make this solar-powered hybrid vehicle "feasible for daily use."

"Researchers developed an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. Fresnel is a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts)." - Ford

In addition to the solar concentrating canopy, Ford also integrated a feature into the C-MAX Solar Energi car that allows it to automatically move itself while under the canopy to maintain the best position as the sun moves through the sky, in order to optimize the amount of sunlight that can be captured.

Ford C-MAX Solar Energi canopy© Ford

According to Ford, the concept car has the same overall range as its conventional C-MAX Energi car, which allows for up to 21 miles on electric only, and 620 miles total. The Solar Energi isn't solely dependent on the sun for its electric drive, as it can still be plugged into the grid at a charging station if necessary.

With the solar canopy and solar panels working together, the new concept car is said to be able to reduce the annual GHG emissions by about four metric tons, when compared to the original C-MAX Energi model. While this is strictly a concept car, not a production model, Ford estimates that if the technology was integrated into all light-duty vehicles in the US, GHG emissions could be reduced by about 1 billion metric tons.

C-MAX Solar Energi Concept will be shown to the public at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, and is a collaborative project of Ford, SunPower Corp. and Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ford plug-in hybrid solar car uses fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight for charging
With the launch of Ford's latest concept car, the company demonstrates one path toward integrating solar energy with plugin hybrids, by featuring a real "sunroof."

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