Let’s get something clear: the electric car pollutes. Less than the internal combustion engine, yeah, but it pollutes. Altogether, one car emits as much as nine tons of CO2 in its lifespan, according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency. And we know why. It’s the electricity needed to recharge the batteries. In China, for example, electricity comes from carbon plants. In France, it’s less damaging, as it relies on nuclear. To fix the problem, cars would have to completely charge themselves, producing an equal amount of energy as they use. It’d be a never-ending cycle where you could forget about pit stops to recharge or refuel. Four innovations have taken the lead.
Eclectic, the compact pioneer
Unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 2006, Venturi’s small autonomously energized car called Eclectic was ranked, two years later, second in TIME Magazine’s “Best Innovation of the Year” – just behind the iPhone. With its solar panel roof, it’s considered to be history’s first fully autonomous car. Better yet, a small and integrated 300W wind turbine allows it to run even on rainy days. Though that car’s been sold, it’ll be a stretch for it to find its way into common use. Its curious design features—the lack of doors comes to mind—make it fairly impractical.
Immortus, a jewel of design
The self-charging car that can run forever may no longer be a dream. That’s thanks to Immortus, a supernal car dreamed up by the Australian manufacturer EVX. Working with Swinburne University in Melbourne, the startup plans to affix 7 square meters of solar panels on the outside of the car, which will allow it to charge while it runs. That, in theory, will allow it to drive forever. As long as it stays under 37 mph, its solar energy will be enough to fuel its 10-kWh battery. If the car continues to fuel the curiosity of auto show visitors, it’ll only be a prototype of what’s to come.
Renault or the art of reinventing the classics
As Motor Authority reports, Renault has stepped into the ring as well. In May 2017, the French manufacturer equipped a Kangoo with an induction charging system that will self-charge as it drives. The test was part of a European research program that included Qualcomm and Vedecom. The route was somewhat modified: specially designed for the occasion, it was equipped with electromagnetic generators so that, as the Kangoo drove, the car’s magnetic receiving strips would recharge it up to 62 mph. If the experiment was a success, all we’d have to do to integrate the new system would be…rebuilding every road from scratch. Complicated.
The battery of batteries
Developed by the University of Warwick, the ultimate battery could exploit a well-known automobile technology: the fuel cell, wherein voltage is generated by oxidizing a reducing fuel electrode like hydrogen. “What we would envisage in the future is a combination of an electric vehicle with its electric battery combined with a fuel cell acting as what you would call a range extender so you’ve got an electric vehicle that produces no emissions,” explains Mark Amor-Segan, the researcher behind the invention. “When the battery gets a little bit depleted the fuel cell will then recharge the battery.” So the general energy transition to electric cars would not be ignored. We’d need to first create hybrid cars—mixing solar and electric—before we get fully autonomous ones.
And Tesla, of course
Who better than the today’s iconic manufacturer of electric cars to be the first to find a viable solution? As Wired reports, Elon Musk already has all the necessary ingredients. On one hand, he’s acquired SolarCity, which is none other than the world leader of solar energy. On the other, he also has Tesla, which just unveiled a fully electric car. All that’s left is to fuse these two assets by covering the top of the engine with solar panels. Obviously, it’s not that simple. The car’s battery is energy-intensive, and the mere presence of solar panels requires 80 hours of exposure to recharge it. But knowing Elon Musk, it’s quite possible that he’ll pull some miracle solution out of nowhere. The ball’s in his court.