Through Morocco to the Sahara Desert, Powered by the Sun!

Intrepid students test drive their remarkable SUV.

Nov 14, 2023
Through Morocco to the Sahara Desert, Powered by the Sun! | Intrepid students test drive their remarkable SUV.

Every year, a team of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands pause their studies for 12 months. They then put their heads together to create a solar car to drive sustainable transport.

This year’s creation, named Stella Terra, and the work of a team of 22 students, is a record breaker: The world’s first off-road solar-powered vehicle, an electric sport utility vehicle (SUV) with solar capabilities, CNN reported. And this off-road vehicle had just completed a 621-mile (over 1,000 kilometer) test drive across Morocco, from Tangier on the country’s northern coast to the Sahara Desert in the south, powered solely by the shining sun above it.

The test drive of the year!
DesignBoom details, the young design team faced the challenge of building a self-sustaining off-road car powered by solar panels. With the need to create a vehicle strong enough to withstand off-road conditions, yet efficient and light enough to be powered by the sun, the team found themselves designing almost everything for the Stella Terra themselves, from the suspension to the inverters for its solar panels, Wisse Bos, the manager of Solar Team Eindhoven shares.

After extensive tests in the Netherlands, the team chose Morocco’s rich tapestry of terrains in which  to prove the car’s capabilities, reports ARENAEV. And this unforgettable road trip didn’t disappoint, taking in dense forests, the off-road rugged trails of the Rif Mountains, and dusty desert track. This trip demonstrated that it is possible to produce an energy-efficient car that can handle rough conditions in remote areas.

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This two-seater, road-legal vehicle, is a small, strangely-shaped car that, as Euro News details, has been created to handle rough terrain. It has a top speed of 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour on sunny days, with a battery range of 441 miles (710 kilometers) on roads, and 342 miles (550 kilometers) off-road, depending on the surface.

At the end of the road trip, the team insisted its car surpassed expectations. Thieme Bosman, events manager for the team, tells CNN that the vehicle proved to be one-third more energy efficient than expected. In addition, its lightweight design made it less likely to get stuck on rugged terrain, also putting less stress on its suspension. Weighing 2,645 pounds (1,200 kilograms), Stella Terra weighs 25 per cent less than the average mid-sized SUV.

According to the Daily Mail, the power provided by the solar panels left surplus energy at the end of the day that could be used for cooking and charging devices.

Meanwhile, according to Bob van Ginkel, technical manager for Stella Terra, the aerodynamic design reduces drag, and placing the solar panels on top means it can have a smaller battery, as it’s charging while driving, with no need for charging points! With extended road trips in mind, features include car seats that fully recline to turn into a bed, and when the car is stationary, the solar panels can be extended to maximise charging efficiency, while serving as awnings giving shade.

What does the future hold?
Significantly, the vehicle’s creators have rural developmental goals in mind. For instance,  Bosman tells CNN that it could help connect remote areas "where roads are less developed and energy grids are not as reliable," so with limited charging capabilities, and assist with emergency aid and deliveries. As ARENAEV points out, Stella Terra isn’t intended to replace most people’s everyday ride. It aims, instead, to serve communities who have no other alternative.

While, Tomorrow’s World Today reveals, the student team admits there’s further work to do before the design can go to market, it also hopes that this concept SUV could be mass produced soon, with mainstream auto makers on board with them: “We aim to also inspire not only everyday people, but also the automotive industry, the Ford and Chryslers of the world, to think again about their designs and to innovate faster than they currently do,” says Bosman.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.