Innovative Italian solar-powered car races to victory

Using innovative technology, a race-winning solar-powered vehicle was designed and built in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.

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Photo of Emilia 4, Solar Car developed in the framework of the OndaSolare Por Fesr Project of the Emilia Romagna Region  ©Thomas Cicognani 2018 Photo of Emilia 4, Solar Car developed in the framework of the OndaSolare Por Fesr Project of the Emilia Romagna Region ©Thomas Cicognani 2018

" With the support of the University of Bologna and collaborating companies, we were able to draw up a fully integrated project and make the leap from amateurs to professionals. In comparison to other more professional racing teams, we have a very high level of electronics. Moreover, by using some Formula 1 materials, we were one of the best performing vehicles in the 2018 American Solar Challenge. As ambitious as it sounds, we intend to demonstrate that solar energy-powered cars are an effective transport solution for everyone. Our idea for the future is to make our vehicle available to all. "

Mauro Sassatelli, founder and vice president of the Onda Solare Association

The vehicle produced by the Onda Solare project can carry four passengers and is the first exclusively solar-powered car in Italy to take an outdoor drive. Named Emilia4, it weighs less than 320 kg and travels at 120 km/h. It has a cruising speed of 65 km/h and can participate in long-distance competitions. 

The vehicle took part in a race called the American Solar Challenge (ASC) in 2018, where it won in its category. It completed the 2 780 km circuit using only solar energy, with no external battery recharge. This is a unique achievement, particularly since the energy used by each of the two engines powering the vehicle is the equivalent to a regular 1 200 watt household hairdryer.

Integrated design

The project established an integrated design procedure to create the vehicle. To achieve maximum energy efficiency, several design factors were taken into account. These included aerodynamics, structural optimisation, innovative materials, manufacturing technologies – and solar power.

The prototype was made from composite materials that were sandwiched together, and hybrid-manufactured solutions.

Through the creation of high-efficiency solar panels, battery packs and innovative electric motors, knowledge was passed on to university students who worked on the project. These young participants gained valuable experience that could help them secure jobs down the road. Many of the students who took part are now working both on their PhDs, as well as a new version of the solar car. 

Interdisciplinary team 

The project linked up the well-known Italian automotive industry with a team of enthusiasts, professors, students and professionals. Participants came from the University of Bologna, as well as small and large companies and sports association volunteers. 

The team members combined their passion and skills to create the car and won an award for best mechanical design from the Innovators Educational Foundation. They also won an award for best battery pack at ASC 2018. Winning that race led to technical and commercial sponsors that are now taking the car design forward following the end of the project. A new version of Emilia4 is expected to participate in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October 2019.

Eight additional researchers gained temporary employment during the project. One temporary staff member was employed full-time.


Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Onda Solare, A car from the future: From Idea to Prototype in less than 24 months” is EUR 1 506 375, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 979 750 through the “ROP Emilia Romagna ERDF ESF” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Research and Innovation”.