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First solar-powered passenger car: solar cells in the bodywork

In 2021, the Lightyear One will be launched, the first fully solar-powered passenger car with solar cells integrated in the roof, bonnet and tailgate. This world first has been possible thanks to technology developed by TNO. The four-wheel drive, five-person car can travel up to 800 kilometres before it needs recharging, which is at least twice as far as the current electric cars. An important breakthrough for accelerating the energy transition.

Learn more about integrated solar cells in infrastructure, building environment, land and water

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Photo: Lightyear

The Lightyear One prototype was presented at the end of June 2019. It has its origins in Stella, the car that won the World Solar Challenge in Australia in 2013. The Eindhoven University of Technology students who designed that car continued development Lightyear in the company, founded in 2016. They took the original concept a step further together with TNO into an application that lends itself to mass production. The technology has been optimised, with performance, reliability, aesthetics and safety going hand in hand.

Technological breakthrough

The greatly improved performance of the car can be attributed to a technological breakthrough, developed by experts from TNO, for which extreme ageing tests were carried out at TNO's research facilities in Petten. TNO experts in the field of automotive have also contributed. This is about the relationship between energy, materials, drive and safety.

The special feature of the technology that has been developed is the ability to bend crystalline silicon PV solar panels, which are by definition rigid. This made it possible to integrate the solar cells into the roof, bonnet and tailgate, closely following the shape of the car. The Lightyear One is designed to be extremely aerodynamic, which means that air and rolling resistance are very low. In order to follow these lines, the panels had to be curved in two directions. As a result, Lightyear is ahead of the international competition. TNO has identified areas where much can be gained in the coming period from and smart integration of solar energy into our environment for instance the construction of PV systems: buildings, the physical infrastructure, on water, on land and on vehicles.

The curved solar panels cover an area of approximately five square metres. This halves the number of times the car needs to be charged since the car generates energy via the solar modules while driving and being stationary. In sunny periods, charging may often be completely redundant. The battery itself has a range of six to eight hundred kilometres.

Application and upscaling

The new technology of solar cells integrated in materials is also important for application in other areas, such as the built environment. The curved, lightweight PV modules can be used in facades, roofs and many other conceivable surfaces. Because shape, size and colour are no longer an obstacle to harvesting solar energy, aesthetic solutions for homes and buildings are possible. TNO has a comprehensive technology toolbox available for applying integrated solar modules on an extensive array of surfaces in a wide range of sectors.


TNO and Lightyear extend collaboration

17 September 2020
TNO is extending its collaboration with Lightyear; a high-tech start-up company from Helmond, that will launch the first solar-powered car on the market next year. In a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding... Read more
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The electric car that powers itself with solar energy

24 June 2019
It started in 2013 with winning the World Solar Challenge in Australia. A tough journey of about three thousand kilometres across the desert with the first family car fully powered by solar energy: the... Read more

Smart integration of solar energy into our environment

Solar energy plays a decisive role in the energy transition. By 2050, solar power could cover at least a quarter of our energy needs. This requires a great deal of effort in a large number of areas. TNO... Read more

Dr Bonna Newman

  • PV Modules


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