“Instant” Solar Powered EV Fleet To Be Showcased At ARPA-E Summit

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A company called Current Motor has come up with an “instant” EV fleet that combines four of clean tech’s favorite solutions — solar power, shipping containers, microgrids, and electric cargo bikes — in one tidy package. If that sounds too good to be true, you can see it in action for yourself. The Current Motor “Mini-fleet-in-a-box” is one of four new technologies selected as feature demonstrations at the upcoming ARPA-E Seventh Annual Energy Innovation Summit in Maryland, from February 29 to March 2.

ARPA-E is the Energy Department’s cutting edge technology funding arm. It was established by an Act of Congress under the Bush Administration to do for clean tech what the Defense Department’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) did for the Internet, so expectations run high for the annual ARPA-E Summit.

EV cargo bikes

Teaching An Old EV New Tricks

With all that in mind, including the Current Motor Mini-fleet-in-a-Box among the select group of featured projects is an interesting move for ARPA-E. The EV (electric vehicle) product doesn’t involve any spectacularly new cutting edge technology, but it does represent how now-familiar clean tech products can be recombined and repackaged to attract customers. Getting new clean tech out of development and into the marketplace is, after all, the end goal.

Current Motor announced the debut of the Mini-fleet-in-a-Box last February, so we took a look back at press release and picked out the following highlights.

The shipping container angle means that the whole package is easily transportable without requiring modifications to existing transportation infrastructure. Transportability is an important consideration for remote, off-grid locations. It’s also one of the limiting factors for land-based renewable energy harvesting, primarily in the wind energy field, so the infrastructure issue is a significant one.

The EV angle lands squarely on the hot area of zero emission delivery vehicles. The idea is to provide for sturdiness without too much weight gain. Here’s the rundown on the Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycle from Current Motor:

…a 100% electric, zero emissions vehicle with very low maintenance requirements (no belts, chains or gears ). The Nb has a top speed of 70 mph, and can go up to 50 miles per charge. The Nb’s frame has been made stronger to carry more cargo (a driver and substantial cargo or 2 passengers and light cargo), and is 31% lighter to improve performance through the use of High Strength Niobium (Nb) micro-alloyed steel.

If Niobium sounds like something Scotty would need to make the Enterprise go, well, it does. Niobium is a silvery-gray transition metal commonly used to strengthen alloys used in manufacturing jet engines and rockets, among other things.

EV electric motorcycle

As for the solar power angle, Current Motor has a patent pending on the “Nb Solar Charging Station.” While at rest it takes the form of a shipping container with room for four Nb electric bikes. In action, the sides slide out to form a sizable solar array.

According to Current Motor, the four bikes can charge up fully in five hours from the charging station’s 22 kilowatt-hour battery.

The battery, in turn, fully recharges in 24 hours from the solar panels. Factor in the 50-mile range of the cargo bikes, and you’ve got a model for short range delivery usage during the day while the stationary battery is recharging, and using nighttime hours to recharge the EV batteries.

To ice the cake, Current Motors can outfit the whole EV package with optional microgrid capability (the company prefers to use “nano-grid,” but same idea) and office arrangements. GPS, carbon savings tracker, and fleet performance tracker come with the package:

EV Cargo bikes solar power

What Else Is Going On At The ARPA-E Summit?

You can get a sneak peek at some of the other EV and vehicle tech products exhibiting this year from the ARPA-E Summit website.

Two of the other three technology showcase demonstrations lean on EV technology. One is an aerial robotics system (aka drones — presumably battery powered) for natural gas monitoring, a quite timely selection considering the massive natural gas leak in California.

The other EV-related demonstration involves both aerial and ground-based robotic systems for raising bioenergy crops (also presumably battery powered). We’re not sure exactly what that is, but we’re guessing it has something to do with ARPA-E’s new TERRA program. Using sorghum as a platform, TERRA connects agriculture, robotics and advanced engineering, like this:

biofuel crops robot

Rounding out the four demos is a “personalized wireless heating and cooling device for building efficiency.” That could have something to do with the ARPA-E DELTA program, which does this:

The DELTA program seeks to enable saving 2% of domestic energy use by funding the development of Localized Thermal Management Systems (LTMS). LTMS modify the local thermal envelope around the human body rather than the building. When implemented in a built environment, LTMS are expected to enable an expansion of the temperature setpoints in buildings. ARPA-E analyses demonstrate that a potential energy savings for building heating and cooling >15% is available when compared to traditional HVAC setpoints.

We’ll have many more details about the ARPA-E Summit leading up to the event, so stay tuned.

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All photos: via Current Motors, except biofuel crop robot via The University of Illinois at Urbana — Champaign

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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