2016 Stella Lux
You don’t see too many turning points in the world of automotive history — most often, incredible and impossible developments tend to fly under the radar until some major manufacturer adopts them. It’s not fair to the devolpers, but that’s generally the way it happens. Every once in a while, though, something magical happens, and we get to bear witness to history turning in real time. We get in on the ground floor of impossibility, and get to see the faces of the people weaving it. This may be one such case.
The Dutch never have been afraid to go way out there in the pursuit of greatness — making possibly the best case for drug legalization there is. Hailing from the Netherlands Eindhoven University of Technology, this group of students have accomplished what many have long considered impossible by building the world’s first "energy positive" electric vehicle. That is, an electric car that produces more energy than it uses — a rolling power station.
And better yet, this rolling power station is no cramped, single-seat, three-wheeled x-pod. It’s got four seats, four wheels, five doors, a trunk, and goes plenty fast enough to keep up with traffic on the highways. In short, this rolling power station is a real car.
Here’s how this 22-strong group of flying Dutchmen built the impossible.
Continue reading to learn more about the Stella Lux.
2016 Stella Lux
Top Speed:77 mph
The Stella solar racer isn’t exactly a new car. It debuted in 2013, storming the Cruiser Class in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia that year. It covered the 1,864 miles of the race far quicker than any other, while stopping to top up its tiny 15 kWh battery three times along the way. For perspective, according to the EPA, one gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.7 kWh. So, effectively, each top-up gives the car about 0.44 gallons of gas.
In real-world conditions, the Stella's massive solar array would be easily capable of charging the car's 15 kWh battery pack in 30 to 45 minutes of being parked, sitting in traffic, or tooling around town at low speed.
This new car is predicted to span a stunning 683 miles between top-ups — that’s the equivalent of 1,529 miles per gallon, running all day, non-stop, at top speed, with not a moment to stop, bask in the sun and recharge. This is a race, after all.
And it’s a race the team handily won in 2013. By such a wide margin, in fact, that they decided to sacrifice some of the car’s speed to turn it into a legit cruiser. This year’s car isn’t quite as fast as the 2013 car, but it’s still plenty quick at 77 mph. There are four-seat sedans out there right now that aren’t too comfortable at almost 80 mph. Nevermind doing it all day across the Australian Outback, while getting almost 1,500 miles to the gallon.
Bear in mind, too, this is a full-race scenario. Top speed, all day, with no chance to stop and recharge in the sun; hence the recharges, as previously mentioned. In real-world conditions, the Stella’s massive solar array would be easily capable of charging the car’s 15 kWh battery pack in 30 to 45 minutes of being parked, sitting in traffic, or tooling around town at low speed. That’s less than an hour in the sun, and you’ve got more than 600 miles of range on tap. Nevermind the fact that the sun would continue to charge it as you drove.
In the real world then, outside of full-race conditions, a Stella Lux would easily produce far more energy than it used. That makes this Flying Dutchman (as far as anyone knows) the world’s first "energy positive" solar car.
But what to do with all that extra energy? The Dutch suggest plugging the car in at night, and selling the power back to your local electrical grid. Or it could directly power your house at night; the possibilities are endless. This is the car that pays you to drive.
Imagine: A large enough fleet of these cars would effectively become one massive, distributed solar grid, turning every road and parking lot in the country into consumer-owned power co-ops. A city full of Stella Luxes could quite easily run on almost nothing but this citizen-owned "mobile power grid." And that’s a potentially world-changing shift in the balance of power.
So, how’d they do it? Let’s take a closer look at the car itself.
The Stella Lux
As you know, the Stella Lux is essentially a second-generation car based on the original 2013 Stella. The "Lux" comes from its longer wheelbase, larger seating capacity, and consumer-friendly amenities. Compared to the original car, this new model is far slicker, much better-looking and actually seems like something a non-blind person might drive.
And speaking of looks — the old farts and history buffs among us might find the Stella’s odd, ridiculously aero-perfect shape ringing a certain bell. Like, maybe you’ve seen something similar before? What was that thing? Oh, yes — this:
That’s right. The three-wheeled Dymaxion, built by legendary American inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller. Bucky first displayed his rear-steering behemoth at the 1933 World’s Fair as an example of what transportation would look like a few decades hence. Define "visionary."
Speaking of looks -- the old farts and history buffs among us might find the Stella's odd, ridiculously aero-perfect shape ringing a certain bell.
Granted, a lot has changed between the two designs, owing largely to the number of wheels and the Stella’s requirement for roof area. The Dymaxion, for instance, used a vertical "boat tail" rear to reduce aerodynamic drag. The Dutch car is tapered horizontally at the rear to allow for a completely flat roof; but in principle, it’s exactly the same idea. This is Bucky’s boat-tail to the letter — it’s simply turned sideways.
One thing the Stella Lux uses that the Dymaxion didn’t is a "catamaran" style hull, with a huge tunnel cut out in the middle. This tunnel is actually new for the Lux model; the original Stella used a completely flat face. It effectively reduces the Lux’s frontal area, allowing it to punch a much smaller hole in the air and cut through it more efficiently.
Also, it just looks cool as hell. And that’s not something anyone that didn’t build it would say of the original Stella. Personally, from my perspective, this massive duct is far and away the best feature of the car, and actually matches up pretty closely with contemporary sports car styling. It’s hard to not see a little bit of Nissan GT-R in that face.
As you’d expect, the Lux is made of the lightest stuff imaginable. The team hasn’t been too specific about it, but you don’t get something this size down to a mere 826 pounds without investing in some serious carbon fiber. At a guess, it’s probable that everything that doesn’t need to be either metal, rubber or monocrystalline silicon solar cell is pure carbon.
"A-HA!" you say. "I knew this thing wasn’t practical. What about the weight of the driver and passengers? Won’t that kill the range?" Nope. The race rules require a driver and passenger in the vehicle, so the Stella’s stunning range estimate includes standard human occupancy. It might drop 30 percent if you added kids and a load of luggage. But, that only means you’re getting 400 miles on an hour’s worth of solar charge instead of 600 miles. Somehow, I imagine people would manage.
Quick rundown of the specs:
|Battery Capacity||15 kWh|
|Motor Efficiency||97 percent|
|Range on sunny day (Netherlands)||621 miles|
|Range on sunny day (Australia)||683 miles|
|Range at night (on battery)||403 miles|
|Top Speed||77 mph|
|Cell Surface Area||86 square feet|
Some of those numbers are pretty impressive, particularly the size. Aside from the fact that it’s only (a completely legal) 44 inches tall, the Lux isn’t far off of a new 2016 Ford Explorer in terms of dimensions. But draw your attention specifically to that motor efficiency number.
Most electric motors run at about 80 percent energy efficiency. A really good one might top 85, or approach 90 percent — that’s about Tesla range. The fact that this one runs at 97 percent is beyond stunning. It almost borders on witchcraft. It also means that the team is probably giving up quite a bit in terms of power to maintain efficiency numbers that high. Frankly, speaking as an electric car enthusiast, of all the impressive stuff about the Lux, that motor efficiency has to be the most impressive. I’d love to know how they pulled off 97 freaking percent, while maintaining any kind of power output. Dutch witchcraft. (Which surprisingly, isn’t yet a name for a strain of marijuana.)
It’s truly rare that we get to see the future unfold right before our eyes. Rarer still that we get to see the people unfolding it, doing the impossible and making headlines in the process. This may be one such case.
It’s hard to say how Buckminster Fuller would have felt about what this crazy group of Flying Dutchmen are doing to shape the future. But it’s probably safe to say he’d approve.