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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 9:38am

Georgia Tech Helps Develop Solar Powered Hybrid Car

First, there was the hybrid. Then, there were the plug-in electric vehicles. Now, we have the Ford C-MAX Solar Energi concept car.

Think of it as a plug-in electric car with solar panels on the roof. With this vehicle, drivers don’t need a cord to get the power. The idea: leave the car in the sun and let the solar panels do the work.

Innovative, yes, but there’s a problem—getting the solar panels to actually charge the cars take a while. That’s where researchers from Georgia Tech come in. Their job is to figure out how to make the panels more efficient. So the researchers turned to the same technology you see in a lighthouse.

They’re developing a canopy to go over the car. The canopy magnifies the sunlight, making sure the sun always hits the solar panel’s sweet spot. In fact, the car will even move itself to catch the sun at a perfect angle.

The Solar C-MAX is a concept car, so it may never hit the showrooms. But professor Bert Bras, a researcher at Georgia Tech, says it’s the idea that matters.

“This research as is might not potentially show up on a parking lot near you but spinoff {like} little things like they do in Formula One racing,” said Bras. “You know, you never see a Formula One racecar on the roads. But technology that comes from racing ends up in cars.”

Some industry experts say a solar hybrid may be a cool idea, but making it consumer-friendly could be a challenge. Brian Moody, editor of, Ford hasn’t limited experimenting with alternative energy to just solar power.

“They have in Europe diesel-powered cars so that’s a little bit of an alternative and then they also have a hybrid, the Fusion, which they sell here in the US, which has been really popular,” said Moody. “ So, if they can apply that kind of engineering to a solar-powered car, that would be great. But the chances of that existing the way that we see it right now is probably not great.”

Experts believe eight hours of sunlight would give you enough juice to drive the C-MAX about twenty miles on electric power alone.

Ford says that should cover about seventy-five percent of trips that an average hybrid driver makes. So far, the car has been all the rage at car and technology shows. So much so, that Ford built an extra prototype just to meet the interest in Europe.