Scania, the Swedish automotive manufacturer, has recently unveiled an intriguing innovation in heavy transport.
Last week, it introduced a prototype semi-truck that boasts an exterior covered in solar panels – a significant feat for sustainable transportation solutions.
A viable prototype?
The highlight of this hybrid truck is its trailer, which is adorned with an impressive 100 square meters of solar panels. These panels are seamlessly integrated into an onboard electrical system. Scania has deployed this pioneering vehicle as part of a research project to evaluate the solar panels’ energy-generation capabilities and their impact on reducing CO2 emissions.
Given the country’s limited sunlight during the winter months, solar energy and Sweden might not seem like the most obvious pairing.
However, Eric Falkgrim, the project manager overseeing Scania’s solar truck development, has a clear perspective: “If you can make it work here with solar power in Sweden, you can make it work anywhere.”
The path to sustainability
The collaboration between academia and industry was pivotal in bringing this project to fruition. Scania was inspired by the advancements in lithium-ion battery technology and wondered if solar panels could undergo similar improvements in efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
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After conducting an initial feasibility study in 2019, Scania secured funding from Vinnova, Sweden’s state innovation agency. It officially launched the full-scale project in January 2021, enlisting the expertise of Uppsala University to develop efficient and lightweight solar cells.
Scania’s not holding back
The plug-in hybrid truck/tractor has all the essential components, including a 100 kWh energy storage system. Additionally, the trailer boasts an impressive 200 kWh of energy storage capacity, effectively acting as a “power bank” replenished by the solar panels.
Integrating solar cells into a moving vehicle presented unique engineering challenges. Falkgrim explained, “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.”
He emphasized that this project is still in the research phase, allowing room to address technical hurdles.
“It’s fairly involved from a technical point of view, but we don’t have the 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,” he elaborated.