While the idea of a solar powered car is attractive, the physical manifestation usually fails in both aesthetics and performance. Most of the solar-powered vehicles we’ve featured in the past are either extremely tiny, using the sun to charge up their electric batteries, or extremely awkward, with solar panels sprouting out from every available surface. But the folks at Missouri Sustainable Energy LLC aren’t interested in going down that road. Instead, they’re putting the sun to work through a technology we’re all too familiar with — the combustion engine. If successful, they could be on the road to a bright new future where the cost of solar energy drops by 75 percent.
Finding it hard to envision the mechanics that would allow the sun to power a conventional combustion engine? Don’t worry — it takes a little imagination. Inventors Matt Bellue and Ben Cooper (the creative minds behind the HydroICE project) say that instead of using gasoline to ignite a spark and thus moving a piston to create power, their engine would use the heating power of the sun.
“Take that same [combustion] engine and modify the variables slightly; instead of injecting gas/diesel, inject hot oil (using mirrored parabolic solar collectors, temperatures of 800 degrees farenheit can be reached!) into the cylinder,” explain the duo on the HydroICE project’s Indiegogo page. “Instead of a spark, add a few microdroplets of water. When the water contacts the hot oil, the oil’s thermal energy is transferred to the water and it instantly flashes to steam.” While you’re probably wondering how this could be integrated into a vehicle, a more immediate application could be as an off-grid source of electricity that could replace gas-powered generators.
It seems like science fiction but this unique, cleaner-burning engine is already on its way to becoming a reality. Bellue and Cooper have converted a 31cc 2-stroke gas engine to run as a HydroICE engine. They’ve also partnered with Missouri State University and the Missouri University of Science and Technology to develop all the necessary peripheral hardware (such as the solar collectors), and to test the engine’s efficiency.