Solar Thermal Car Overview

This solar thermal car design uses the sun's heat to propel the car. Unlike solar panels, that can just be plugged into batteries, a solar thermal system has many more parts to turn the sun's heat into electricity.

Please check out Design Specifications if you would like to look at the overall engineering data used to shape this design.

This solar car is made up of two major systems: a solar thermal trailer and a modified conventional car


For the car, we have bought a 1999 Mazda Protege (with a manual transmission) as our prototype vehicle. This car will only provide breaking and steering for the solar thermal car system. The gas engine will be kept in the car for emergencies at the beginning of testing, in the event that the solar thermal system has issues.


The second part of the system is the solar thermal trailer.  This system is designed from the ground up and is constructed from, for the most part, used/recycled materials. The design consists of using a long boat trailer as the base. The solar thermal system will then be mounted on the trailer and provide all the power to propel the car.


The solar thermal trailer consists of many systems that work together to turn the sun's heat into electricity to drive the car. Please click on the title of each system to get more information on the system and all the parts in that system.

The Optical system involves concentrating the sunlight on the reciever pipe in order to create high temperatures.


The control system uses an Arduino micro controller to record data and control the sun tracking, oil pumping, water condensing and boiler water feed.


The oil loop system pumps oil through the receiver pipe to transport the heat to the heat exchanger where it is transferred into the water. This system also included the receiver pipe that must receive concentrated sunlight but must be insulated so very little heat is lost.


The water loop system starts in the heat exchanger/boiler where the water is turned to high pressure steam from the heat in the oil. This steam expands through a turbine and is then directed through the feed water preheater to conserve the heat in the system as it passes by the water entering the boiler. The steam then travels through the condenser to convert it back to water and is then fed back into the small water tank. A low flow high pressure boiler feed pump then forces water into the boiler through the feed water heater, when the level is low (see control water level), to begin the cycle again.


The Electrical system starts at the generator driven by the steam turbine. This electricity is used to charge a battery bank. This battery bank is then used to power the large electric drive motor to propel the car.


Aerodynamic system this system will transform the car and trailer into the most aerodynamic shape that is feasible. For high speed travel (above 60km/h) the mirror must be stowed. For low speed travel the mirror maybe able to rotate and charge the batteries while the car is in motion.


Camper System after a long day of travel, the trailer will serve as a living space. The mirrors will rotate to create the roof of the dwelling. The remaining stored heat from the system will be used for heating and cooking needs while the remaining electricity stored in the batteries will be used to power lights and other electrical needs.


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