Fiat collaborates with Irish company on solar cars

29 Jun 2010

Italian car manufacturing giant Fiat has entered a partnership with Irish energy technology company SolarPrint to develop solar panels that can be incorporated into the roof surface of vehicles as a means of generating alternative sources of energy by converting light to power.

The new ‘smart roof’ will incorporate low-cost photo voltaic (PV) – or solar – cells and lithium batteries that will in turn be used to power on-board devices in cars.

SolarPrint has begun working with the Centro Richerche Fiat (CRF) – the innovation and research arm of the car manufacturer – as a key part of a consortium working on the €3m project, which has been titled the ‘SMARTOP’ initiative. It also includes scientists from University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and Imperial College in the UK.

New technology will revolutionise car industry

“The SMARTOP project has been set up to create a technology that will revolutionise the auto industry and the cars that we drive, by converting everyday light into a form of power. Simply put, in the not too distant future, cars will be partially powered by PV technologies, which will have significant knock-on benefits for consumers, manufacturers and society as a whole,” said Dr Mazhar Bari, chief executive officer, SolarPrint.

“The continued depletion of the world’s fossil fuels means that power-hungry industries have become compelled to look at alternative sources of energy to power their products. The auto industry is a perfect example of this, with manufacturers looking at forms of energy other than petrol that can be used in cars. The SMARTOP project is truly a revolutionary step forward for the automotive sector.”

Smart roofs have a number of advantages

Vito Lambertini, new scouting materials and nanomaterials, CRF, also welcomed the SMARTOP project. “The smart sun roofs that will eventually be installed in cars offer a number of important advantages, in terms of energy that is both generated and saved, the lower cost of the component materials, and the overall comfort and benefits for the driver.

“Also, the energy generated and stored using this smart roofs concept is expected to reduce the CO2 emission with related fuel consumption by up to 15pc. For these reasons, at Fiat, we believe that this technology will be a major addition to our product lines in the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Conor Lenihan TD, Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation, described the SolarPrint deal as being a perfect example of the contribution of innovation-oriented industries to Ireland’s economy. “As a country and as a Government, we need to do all we can to continue to support Irish, globally focused firms, like SolarPrint, as they develop closer links with major international enterprises,” he said.