The automotive sector seeks alternatives and new technologies aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of its vehicles to use less fuel, be more economical and reduce emissions of polluting gases.
FIAT contacted CSEM Brasil in order to use in its vehicles the organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar panels developed by the research center.
The Sunflower Project (Projeto Girassol) was developed in partnership with FIAT and sought to use the technology in its vehicles. In addition, field tests were carried out to assess the performance of organic solar panels in an actual situation of use, comparing them to other solar energy generation technologies.
In this assessment, some characteristics of the OPV were highlighted as ideal for application in vehicles: lightweight (approximately 300g/m²) so as not to overload the structure; flexibility to adapt to vehicle shapes; transparency, for it can be applied on glass; low carbon footprint; and its potential for very low cost.
The research included tests associated with lifespan, energy generation, and different types of lamination, rapid prototyping, and development of functional samples. Furthermore, it included the application of OPV and a remote data collection system, installed in the roof of 30 vehicles, for driving tests and power generation.
At the end of the project, CSEM Brasil delivered a full-size prototype to FIAT, including laminated solar roof with OPV modules, thus demonstrating the potential of the technology. This first development stage confirmed that this technology can be applied to vehicles and has potential to transform the automotive industry.
Due to its innovation and sustainability characteristics, the project was structured as research and development, supported by the Inovar-Auto program.
Vision of the future
Using organic panels for solar energy generation in vehicles may represent a significant impact on the energy efficiency of vehicles, especially with the hybrid and electric motors trend.
In addition to reducing fuel consumption, the solar energy source enables electric and electronic systems to operate even when the engine switched off and without battery overload. It would be possible, for instance, to keep the exhaust system switched on when parked in the sun to reduce cabin temperatures and increase user comfort when returning to the vehicle, also reducing the need for air conditioning, leading to lower fuel consumption.