It seems like just yesterday that Toyota pulled its old “self-charging hybrid” scam. As anyone who finished high school and paid attention knows, there are laws of physics. Human laws can be broken and if the authorities don’t notice, you can probably get away with it (especially for small things). But, nature is a little more hard-nosed. Things like conservation of energy are not only strict, but self-enforcing.
This hasn’t stopped people over the millennia from trying, because the allure of getting something for nothing is very, very tempting. All sorts of attempts have been made to create perpetual motion machines, but none of them have succeeded. Some have appeared to succeed, but it’s always been a scam or a machine that you can’t really extract any free energy from. The believers in perpetual motion want to blame a massive conspiracy to hide free energy from the public, but there’s no evidence of that, either.
While Toyota didn’t claim to invent a perpetual motion Prius, it did hide where the energy is actually coming from for “self-charging” vehicles: fossil fuels. At the end of the day, a hybrid is better than a normal ICE vehicle, but it’s still powered exclusively by an internal combustion engine.
But, what if there was a way to charge a vehicle without having to plug it into the grid or having to feed it expensive and environmentally-damaging fossil fuels? One YouTuber figured out a way to get it done without breaking the laws of physics, but it’s probably not an idea that’s going to be popular with Americans.
On the Drew Builds Stuff YouTube channel, Drew takes a very different approach to cars than the average American. In short, he started with some metal, some e-bike parts, and some solar panels. The frame of the new vehicle wasn’t fancy, just some square tubing welded together and painted. We’re not talking about something like you’d see roll off an automotive assembly line in Detroit or Windsor.
Next, he chopped up some bikes and welded them strategically into the frame, making it almost like a 21st century chariot. The wheels stick out into some spaces on the front corners of the frame, fork and all. Some parts of the rear of the bike frames go on the back, allowing the two bikes’ rear wheels to bring up the rear. Everything, including hub motors, ends up as part of this simple vehicle.
There’s a lot more to it, including a steering system to turn both front bike wheels, other mounting points, and other odds and ends. It’s worth watching the video to see all of the details, including a roll cage and a flip-up section that allows for the adjusting of solar panels toward the sun when driving/riding this around.
One key fact: the frame weighs just over 100 pounds, which is pretty damned light by automotive standards. Adding on wooden and fiberglass body panels and creature comforts led to a lot more weight, but still far, far less than even the smallest traditional cars.
For solar power, he used three flexible solar panels, which weigh about 6 pounds before adding some wooden fence boards to give a little bit of rigidity. For batteries, he used two 24-volt Red Odo LiFePO4 (aka LFP) batteries, combined in series into a 48-volt system. This sits behind the driver’s seat in a wood frame. He used a 60-amp solar charge controller to provide 48-volt power to charge the batteries with a custom wooden bus bar.
For motors, motor controllers, and other drive systems, he used common off-the-shelf e-bike parts, which draw from the main battery system. Once again, there are plenty of small details you can watch the whole video for.
Overall weight was about 320 pounds, enabling the two e-bike motors to push the solar-powered car around a lot faster than a single e-bike or a comparably-sized golf cart. The overall range with no solar charging is about 60 miles, but even on a short ride, the solar panels ended up adding over a dozen additional miles (and that’s on the go). So, charging it isn’t really a problem, even with so few solar panels (about 400 real-world watts, even in September in Canada).
Because it was based on a fat-tire e-bike, he was able to drive it on some mild off-road areas, and it didn’t need additional suspension. It would probably be a rough ride with an overinflated set of tires, but it seemed to work out well for what he was doing.
Total cost: $5000 Canadian, which is a LOT cheaper than just about anything on the road. It isn’t highway capable, but for lower-speed roads that most people drive around town on, it’s a perfect little car.
But, let’s keep in mind that this was a one-off garage project. If one were to contact e-bike manufacturers in China, it should be pretty easy to get custom parts for cheaper that take a lot less work. The result would be pretty close to the mini-EVs that are popular there to begin with, and those could be a good comparable option if you were to add some solar charging to it.
All of this should be available for significantly cheaper, and could give some basic creature comforts like protection from the rain and wind.
What Real-World Good This Could Do
To many, a machine like this probably seems impractical, but it shows that solar-powered electric transport is possible for a LOT cheaper than the average car. Even upcoming vehicles like the Aptera are far and away more expensive than something like this would be. This would enable many people who struggle to own a car today to breathe a sigh of relief on the way to work.
Environmentally speaking, this is even better. The production impacts are minimal. The battery production impacts are minimal. The use of fossil fuels is zero, and there’s no arguing that because there’s no “long tailpipe” argument to be made here. A small vehicle like this works with only a few solar panels, too, so that impact is minimized.
I know this can’t replace cars for everyone, but it’s a good way to pursue electric transport at a time when manufacturers are struggling to provide EVs at prices normal people can afford! The only real question is: why aren’t these being sold for cheap??
Featured image: a screenshot from the video.
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