Testing solar-powered taxi

By Tereza Pultarova

Imagine a city powered fully by renewable energy – no microscopic dust in the air, no toxic emissions. Perhaps London could become one such city in the future and it seems it might start with its iconic taxis. In January, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson pledged to ban new taxis from the city centre that wouldn’t be able to switch into a zero-emission mode by 2018. 

One of the contenders aspiring to win over the  greener London taxi market is a Surrey-based tech-development company Frazer-Nash. In March, they invited journalists to visit their facilities in Mytchett, Surrey, to test the all new electrical range-extended Metrocab and take it for a short ride at the company’s test track.

The company has been developing electric power trains since the early 1990’s, when, as they say, no one really believed an electric vehicle could be good for anything other than a milk float.

The car – a spacious vehicle for six passengers – is fitted with two electric engines powering the rear wheels and a small 1-litre petrol engine designed to charge a battery pack placed beneath the floor in the middle of the vehicle.

As the company’s regional director Gordon Dixon said, Frazer-Nash hadn’t made the final decision yet which engine would be used in the final product and is testing engines of various European manufacturers.

With the battery lasting enough to power the car for up to 60 miles and less than 15 minutes needed to recharge the battery fully using the petrol engine, the company believes a taxi driver could reduce his operating costs to as low as £10 a day.

Moreover, the two electrical engines use a magnetic technology that mitigates all friction thus reducing risk of mechanical parts wear and tear.

Although pioneers of the electric vehicle development, Frazer-Nash says they don’t believe the world is ready for a fully electric vehicle, stating the missing infrastructure and the current state of the battery technology to be the biggest problem.

The company’s marketing executive and Formule Three driver Sheban Siddiqi says, the range-extender functions as a psychological safety net. Without it, an electric car driver would be in constant fear about how far he would be able to go without getting stranded.

To prove electric vehicles don’t just shift the emission burden from cars to power plants, Frazer-Nash developed and built a solar powered charging station.

Siddiqi explains the station uses the so-called concentrated photovoltaics technology, developed and patented by Frazer-Nash’s subsidiary Whitfield Solar.

Even in the rainy UK, each bay of the station produces enough energy to power a car for up to 20,000 kilometres and takes five to six hours to fully replenish a battery the size of that of a Metrocab.

As taxi drivers are highly unlikely to wish to charge their cars during the day, the company has equipped the station with lithium-ion batteries located under ground. The batteries capture the electricity generated during daytime for a later use. Excess energy could easily by sold to the grid.

Unlike luxury electric car manufacturers Tesla, Frazer-Nash won’t operate the stations by themselves and would like the  city to take control over it. They believe Hyde Park or London’s Heathrow airport would be fantastic locations for building solar-powered charging stations.

3 thoughts on “Testing solar-powered taxi

  1. The only bad idea is the waiting time in charging if someone could design a standard battery pack which could be changed at a re-charge station by just swapping it over would solve the problem!

    1. It’s a good point. Swappable batteries would be ideal. A bit like Calor gas canister refills, as used by caravans, camper vans etc. You swap out your empty canister for a full one: you don’t hang on to the same canister and have that refilled over and over again.

      If they can keep the recharge time down to a manageable level – e.g. half an hour – that’s time for a cabbie to have a cup of tea and a quick fag before heading out again. That wouldn’t be too intrusive.

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