Solar power could come to play an important role in motor vehicle transport. If solar energy boffins have their way we could soon be driving on solar roads in cars with solar roofs powered by fuel derived from sunlight. The first and last are still being developed but you can get a car with a solar roof (not to be confused with a sun roof). A solar roof is made from solar panels that make the car more efficient and you can find them on the latest models of Toyota's Pruis.
The Prius is the front runner in the eco-friendly car market. It gets a lot of flak from some (read Top Gear) for lacking proper power. In the past it's also been dismissed as a fad that would only be popular for its illusion of greenness. But it was a hit with celebrities of a certain mien and soon gained a respectable following. Since its early days it has shown that it is much more than a flash-in-the-pan novelty car with the result that its competitors struggle to keep up.
The solar panels are just one of example of Toyota's ingenuity. Their primary purpose is to provide the energy required to run the air conditioner, which means that you do not have to feel guilty about staying cool. They will also absorb heat while the car is parked, which means that you will not bake when you get in. Nor will it take long to get the interior back to a comfortable temperature.
Fuel derived from sunlight is a more fantastic idea than solar panels on a car's roof. But according to Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it is a real possibility.
Renewable Power News reports that a team of scientists from Sandia Labs have developed a Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator, and as that is a bit of a mouthful they're also given us a handy acronym – CR5 for short.
Put very, very simply, CR5 is a solar-powered reactor. It collects carbon dioxide contained in the fumes emitted by power plants. Using the Fischer-Tropsch process and some cerium oxide rings, it turns the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and changes water into oxygen and hydrogen. It then combines the separated components to make hydrocarbon fuel. The team is currently working on an extraction method that would enable the reactor to use carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, which would make the fuel 100% carbon neutral. But using CO2 that would ordinarily see into the atmosphere and do some damage is a pretty good start.
The technology is not perfect. At least not yet, but the efforts of the team at Sandia National Labs, spurred on by some friendly competition from the guys at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, will soon see us puttering about in state-of-the-art solar powered cars .