Solar powered truck prototype starts European trials

Solar powered truck prototype starts European trials

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Scania has shown a prototype of an electric truck that uses solar panels for power as part of an evaluation trial.

The solar powered truck is a regular 100kWh Scania plug-in hybrid truck/tractor connected to a trailer with 200kWh of additional batteries. These are connected to the solar panel box that charges the power bank, with solar cells developed by Uppsala University.

“When we first began thinking about this more than three years ago, our starting point was the lithium-ion batteries that are used in battery-electric trucks. In the time that Scania has been working with that technology, we’ve seen the batteries become lighter, cheaper and more energy-dense,” said Eric Falkgrim, a Technology Leader at Scania’s Research and Innovation department and the Project Manager for the solar-powered truck.

An initial six-month pre-study in late 2019 and early 2020 made the team realise that it did make sense to explore this technology now. Once they’d received funding from the Swedish state innovation agency Vinnova, a full-scale project began in January 2021 with a team of 12 people combining hardware and software development.

“We specifically wanted to see if it made sense in Sweden because if you go to places such as Southern Europe, Australia or North Africa, there’s obviously a lot more sunshine. If it can work here in the less sunny and somewhat darker conditions then that would confirm the widespread validity of the project,” says Falkgrim.

“We knew very early on what we wanted to do. The overall task seems simple – putting solar panels on a truck and plugging it in to the electrical system. But it’s a little bit of a wild and crazy idea because it comes with a lot of new hardware and software systemisation and development, to make it safe to handle the transfer of power, and to handle faults,” he said.

There are also important safety considerations for a solar powered truck.

“You have to bear in mind that solar cells are not made to be moving around town in a vehicle. They’re designed to sit stationary on top of a house for 20 or 30 years. We’ve had to address safety challenges in putting solar panels on a vehicle.

“So it’s fairly involved from a technical point of view, but we don’t have that pressure of it being a full-scale project where we’re producing something that will be sold globally to hundreds and thousands of customers. It’s a research project that’s about seeing if the solution makes sense, and so far we believe it does. We’re pleased to have the cooperation of Ernst Express, who partnered with us in the Swedish e-Highway project. They know that this is a trial with the possibility of technical snags that we’ll have to fix,” he said.

Commercial application for the solar powered truck is some years away, but the handover to Ernst Express for the trial will evaluate the long-term prospects of solar cell technology.

“The data we already have says that solar panels do contribute significantly to the energy you’re getting for the truck, and it’s one part of the overall puzzle when it comes to decarbonised transport. The first thing we need to find out is ‘does this make sense?’ And to answer that: yes, it’s good enough to work on the scale that we are doing now,” he said.

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