It doesn't look much like the car of the future: the vehicle parked in a workshop in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt's Red Sea tourist haven, resembles nothing more than a golf cart or a milk float. But thanks to its pioneering solar technology, it could pave the way for the production of Egypt's first ever eco-friendly road vehicle.
© Kalafoto - Fotolia.com
The prototype is one of four built by the Sunny Vehicles project, which is developing the solar-powered electric cars for the Egyptian passenger and light transport market. The eco-friendly machine converts sunlight into energy with photovoltaic cells on the roof, which means there are no-fuel costs and zero greenhouse gas dioxide emissions.
Project coordinator Ahmed Abdel Hafez says the initiative was driven mainly by environmental concerns. "Over the years, Sharm el-Sheikh has grown as a city," he says. "That's good for the economy but the increase in vehicles and emissions is making it dirty and unhealthy. We decided to do something to save our treasured city, so we built an eco-friendly, solar car."
Backed by a €246,975 grant from the European Commission, Sunny Vehicles is also supported by local Sharm El Sheikh-based engineering firm Airtec, Egypt's Mansura and Suez Canal universities, the Egyptian Establishment for Import - Export and Communications
Agencies (BISO) and Jordan's Royal Scientific Society, as well as Italy's Comcor Engineering and University of Modena, both of which work with famed Italian car brands Ferrari, Lamborghini and Fiat.
The main prototype, which the team hopes to develop into a two-seater city run around car or small transport vehicle, can travel at 40-50km/h with around 80km autonomy. However, the team has also developed a sportier, dune buggy, which can be used for desert, and reaches 100km/h.
The innovative simplicity of cars lies in the charging process: each vehicle takes about ten hours to fully charge and any excess energy is stored in the batteries for cloudy days or night time. "Charging is not a problem," Hafez says. "Sharm el-Sheikh is a city full of sunshine; the sun glows 365 days a year for more than 10 hours a day."
There are other advantages: the solar panels work silently so they don't add to the noise pollution already on the road; and the electric motor is more efficient and quiet than a petrol engine, with few vibrations produced by the smaller, lighter and easier to maintain motor.
Much work remains to be done before Sunny Vehicles is ready to go into production, including cutting the cost of materials, and boosting the performance of the solar cells and batteries. "But every day we learn something new, and use it to improve the car," says Hafez.
Nonetheless, the prototype has already been showcased around the country, and in June 2011, the then Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf even lent his support to the project. Hafez talks of using the technology in buses and boats in Egypt's tourist centres, and says the zero emission electric motors will help transform the image of the region. "It is easy: you do not have to pay anything, so long as the sun shines," he says.