Ford unveils new solar-powered concept car

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Ford on Thursday unveiled its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle powered by integrated solar panels.

The car is a collaborative project between Ford, San Jose, California-based SunPower Corp. and the Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology.

Instead of charging its battery from an electrical outlet, the C-MAX Solar Energi uses a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle’s roof.

SunPower, which has been Ford’s solar technology partner since 2011, is providing high-efficiency solar cells for the roof of C-MAX Solar Energi Concept. Because of the extended time it takes to absorb enough energy to fully charge the vehicle, Ford turned to Georgia Institute of Technology for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid 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 kW).

The rooftop solar panel system makes the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept independent from the electric grid for its battery power and Ford estimates the system could power up to 75% of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. “This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use,” the company points out.

Ford adds that the new vehicle takes a day’s worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance as the carmaker’s conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, which draws its power from the electric grid.

In terms of miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) — the measure used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to compare energy consumption of alternative fuel vehicles, plug.in vehicles and other advanced technology vehicles with the fuel economy of conventional internal combustion cars expressed as miles per U.S. gallon — Ford said the C-MAX Energi gets a combined best MPGe in its class, with EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 MPGe.

With a full charge, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to have the same total range as a conventional C-MAX Energi of up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. Additionally, the vehicle still has a charge port, and can be charged by connecting to a charging station via cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up via the grid, if desired.

Ford estimates that its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept would reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons – the equivalent of what a U.S. house produces in four months. The company added that if all light-duty vehicles in the United States were to adopt its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept technology, annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by approximately 1 billion metric tons.

The automaker will present the car at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, which runs Jan. 7-10. Afterwards, Ford and Georgia Tech will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios. The outcome of those tests will help to determine if the concept is feasible as a production car.

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept debuts as Ford caps a record year of electrified vehicle sales.

Ford expects to sell 85,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles for 2013 – the first full year its six new electrified vehicles were available in dealer showrooms. C-MAX Energi is Ford’s plug-in sales leader, with sales of more than 6,300 through November.

C-MAX Hybrid over the last year has been a key driver in helping Ford sell more hybrids than any other automaker in the United States, second only to Toyota, the company said.