Driving a Solar-Powered Car Might Be Closer Than You Think
Since we can already fly on sunshine, why can't we drive on it? Chinese company Hanenergy, the world's largest thin-film solar panel maker, has launched four concept cars that are fully powered by sunlight.
Hanenergy's cars are basically electric vehicles (EV) covered with solar panels. According to Dr. Gao Weimin, Hanergy vice president and CEO of its Solar Vehicle Business Division, the vehicles are covered with the company's gallium arsenide thin-film solar cells that claim an impressive conversion rate of 31.6 percent (most commercial panels have a conversion rate hovering around 15-20 percent).
Gao said that with five to six hours of sunlight, the panels can generate eight to 10 kilowatt-hours of power a day, allowing the prototype cars to travel about 80 kilometers, the equivalent of more than 20,000 kilometers annually.
Since the panels are directly mounted on the cars, the idea is that you can charge while driving and would not have to stop for juice at a charging station like with traditional EVs. If the concept proves successful, it would eliminate range anxiety—or the fear that your car might run out of power before reaching your destination. Range anxiety, after all, is one of the most frequently cited drawbacks to EVs. The company said that these "zero charge" cars are ideal for short and medium length journeys in cities under normal weather conditions.
"Breaking the bottleneck of poor practicality of previous solar-powered vehicles, the four launched by Hanergy are the first full thin-film solar power vehicles that can be commercialized, redefining new energy vehicles," the company said in a statement. The company has also partnered with China-based Foton Motor to help develop clean energy buses.
The cars debuted at the company's Disruptive Innovations Drive the Future event at its Beijing headquarters on July 2. Hanergy board chairman and CEO Li Hejun drove the sports car series Hanergy Solar R around the venue.
If the cars actually do what the company says, these cars must be much more aerodynamic and lighter than your average two-ton American car sedan. Car News China described that the weight of the Hanergy Solar L, a MPV-like model with gull wing doors and a six-meter solar panel, is estimated at just 700 kilo (0.8 tons).
Car News China has shed light on how they work. For the Hanergy Solar R, the energy generated from the roof goes to the rear wheels and the panel on the hood goes to the front wheels. The door panels power the car's other electrical systems.
Hanergy Uveils 4 #Solar Powered Cars In China https://t.co/D0q2zM2JjB https://t.co/VRN1405mh8— InSunWeTrust (@InSunWeTrust)1467695342.0
In a speech in front of 4,000 attendees, Hejun boasted about the potential of thin-film solar cells and how the light-weight and flexible material allows the cells to be integrated onto a range of products in addition to cars such as unmanned aerial vehicles, mobiles, backpacks and clothes.
While the technology sounds promising, Stephen Engle of Bloomberg News expressed some doubts about the car. Instead of range anxiety, Engle said the driver might experience "cloud anxiety" since the car cannot charge if the sun is not out or if it is a particularly hazy day—a likely occurrence especially in China's smog-choked cities. He did, however, point out that the cars are equipped with lithium batteries that enable travel of up to 350 kilometers per charge. Additionally, a smart managing system allows the driver to choose between different charging modes when traveling in varied weather conditions.
Engle also brought up Hanergy's uncertain future in the market, as the troubled company's shares have been frozen for months as it undergoes investigation over possible stock price manipulation.
That said, while a 100 percent solar-powered car might be more science fiction than reality at this point, the concept has enormous potential. According to Car News China, Hanergy said solar-range will expand dramatically in the future due to improvements in solar panel technology. And Forbes reported that the company expects their panels to increase efficiency to 38 percent in 2020 and 42 percent in 2025, meaning a future of fuel-free transportation might be closer than we might think.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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