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The Solar-Powered Off-Road Car That Made History

By Albulena Murturi


11 December 2023

Solar-powered off-road car

© Bart van Overbeeke and Rien Boonstoppel / Designboom

A fellow of 22 students from the Eindhoven University of Technology has etched their names in history with the creation of Stella Terra, an off-road solar car. According to Designboom, the innovative solar-powered off-road car completed a rigorous 620-mile test drive across Morocco and the Sahara. It showcased its capabilities in diverse landscapes and established itself as a groundbreaking development in sustainable transportation.

Concept to Reality: Designing for the Future

Stella Terra was introduced as a concept vehicle in March 2023 and transformed into a real-life model by September. It represents a significant leap in solar-powered vehicle technology. The pioneering vehicle is adorned in a green-colored design inspired by nature’s palette. It has demonstrated its ability to navigate through challenging terrains, including dry riverbeds, forest areas, steep mountain trails, and loose desert sands.

Solar-powered off-road car
© Bart van Overbeeke and Rien Boonstoppel / Designboom

The design team faced the daunting challenge of creating a self-sustaining off-road vehicle capable of enduring the harsh conditions of off-roading while being light and efficient enough to rely solely on solar power. For Designboom, Wisse Bos, the team manager of Solar Team Eindhoven, emphasized the need to design nearly everything for Stella Terra from scratch, including the suspension and inverters for the solar panels. The result was a khaki-green SUV equipped with solar panels on its sloping roof. This allows it to charge its electric battery and cover long distances entirely powered by the sun.

Efficiency Beyond Expectations

Before embarking on the epic journey from Northern Morocco to the Sahara, Stella Terra underwent extensive testing in the Netherlands. The team’s goal was to assess its efficiency and resilience under different conditions. During the actual expedition, the solar car surpassed expectations, using 30% less energy than anticipated. Stella Terra’s impressive efficiency allowed it to complete the entire trip relying solely on solar power. This eliminated the need for charging stations.

Bob van Ginkel, the technical manager for Stella Terra, highlighted the vehicle’s lightweight design. The solar-powered off-road car weighs approximately 25% less than the average mid-sized SUV. The aerodynamic structure, combined with robust yet lightweight composite materials, contributes to reduced drag and overall weight.

Innovation in Solar Technology

One of the key innovations in Stella Terra is its ability to charge while driving, thanks to solar panels on its roof. This feature, coupled with highly efficient solar panel converters developed by the team, addresses the challenge of limited surface area for solar panels in vehicles. The car’s bespoke converter was found to be an impressive 97% efficient in turning sunlight into electrical charge. This showcases the team’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of solar innovation.

Stella Terra’s off-road capabilities and freedom from charging points make it an ideal solution for connecting remote areas with less-developed roads and inconsistent energy grids. The vehicle has a top speed of 145 kilometers per hour. It also has an impressive battery range of 710 kilometers on roads and 550 kilometers off-road. All this makes it a versatile and sustainable option for a variety of environments.

Challenges and Triumphs in the Sahara

During the Sahara expedition, Stella Terra faced diverse terrains. This included the rugged Rif mountain range and the sandy tracks of the Sahara Desert. Despite a setback with the steering system, the team demonstrated resilience by sourcing new parts locally and repairing the vehicle in a workshop.

The journey not only served as a comprehensive test for Stella Terra but also highlighted its adaptability to different surfaces. The solar-powered SUV’s lightweight design proved advantageous. It reduces the risk of getting stuck on rugged terrain and minimizes stress on its suspension.

Solar-powered off-road car
© Bart van Overbeeke and Rien Boonstoppel / Designboom

Future Prospects and Inspirations

Solar Team Eindhoven hopes that Stella Terra’s success will inspire not only everyday consumers but also major players in the automotive industry. It will push them to reconsider their designs and accelerate innovation toward sustainability. The team aims to bring their concept SUV to the mass market. They emphasize the potential for large automobile manufacturers to explore similar paths.

While challenges exist, including the high manufacturing costs associated with efficient solar panels, the team’s focus on efficiency and innovation may pave the way for a more sustainable automotive industry. Stella Terra’s journey from concept to reality signals a significant step forward in the quest for practical and efficient solar-powered transportation.

In conclusion, Solar Team Eindhoven’s Stella Terra has proven its mettle in the challenging terrains of Morocco and the Sahara. It has also opened new possibilities for off-road solar-powered vehicles, marking a milestone in the evolution of sustainable transportation.

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Albulena Murturi

An enthusiastic learner rediscovering the joy of writing.