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Students Create a ‘Solar-Electric Taxi’

Invention Is a Sustainable and Pollution-Free Way to Move People

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Electrical engineering and computer science double major Alexander Gribov demonstrates the prototype solar/electric-powered taxi that he and fellow undergraduate students have developed.

11/16/2014
By Edwin L. Aguirre

A team of electrical engineering and computer science students led by sophomore Alexander Gribov has designed, built and tested a prototype solar/electric-powered quadricycle, or taxi, that could ferry up to four passengers at speeds reaching 25 miles per hour without consuming a single drop of gas.

“This vehicle has the potential to replace both commercial taxis and personal cars,” says Gribov. “It’s a cleaner, more sustainable way to commute.”

The students’ taxi uses a 150-watt solar panel to charge a 20 ampere-hour battery, which in turn runs the taxi’s DC motor.

“It can travel more than 20 miles on a full charge, making it ideal for commuting around campus and in crowded cities as well as transporting people in hotels, resorts, golf courses and between hospital wings,” says Gribov.

In addition to Gribov, other members of the team include Christopher Leger, Anass Dahany, Jared Mrvos and Oliver Kayego. The group’s inspiration came from an electric-powered tricycle that Leger, now an electrical engineering senior, completed in 2012.

“Our quadricycle design can accommodate more passengers and is more stable at high speeds,” notes Gribov, who received a grant from the university’s Co-op Scholars program to work on the project.

A Low-Cost Alternative

Gribov says even today’s electric cars are not completely free of pollution.

“The electricity used to recharge their batteries has to come from somewhere, and most people charge them using the commercial power grid, which burns fossil fuels to generate electricity,” explains Gribov.

All-electric cars are also not that efficient, he points out.

“For example, the 2014 Nissan Leaf attains an average energy efficiency of 300 watt-hours per mile, whereas the solar-electric taxi has a measured efficiency of 45,” notes Gribov. “This means that the Leaf uses over six times more energy per mile than the solar-electric taxi. This also means that it generates the equivalent of more than six times the amount of pollution if charged from the grid. On the other hand, if the solar-electric taxi is charged completely using the solar panel, then there is no pollution produced.”

Leger adds: “In the United States, the average cost of residential electricity is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. This means the Leaf costs 3.6 cents per mile to recharge at home. By comparison, charging the solar-electric taxi from the grid costs 0.5 cent per mile and, if charged completely using the solar panel, there is no cost at all.”

Gribov says this is largely due to the fact that the taxi was designed to mimic a bicycle rather than a car.

“It has much less torque and speed than the Leaf, but offers less air resistance and a much lighter frame,” he says.

Next Stop: Kazakhstan

The government of Kazakhstan has expressed interest in applying the technology in its own country, according to electrical and computer engineering Prof. Samson Mil’shtein, director of the university’s Advanced Electronic Technology Center and the students’ faculty adviser.

In May, Mil’shtein was invited to talk about the university’s solar cell research at a world economic forum held in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana. During the meeting, Nurala Sultanovich Bekturganov, chairman of the board of the JSC Kazakh Academy of Natural Sciences “Parasat,” asked the professor if the students can develop a similar solar-electric taxi for exhibition at the Astana Future Energy Expo in 2017. The government provided a seed grant of $27,000 to develop the prototype.

“Our students are designing an improved version of the taxi right now and we are preparing to submit a grant proposal to the Academy to fund the project,” says Mil’shtein. “We are thinking of commercializing this technology in the near future.”