solar_world_gtA few years ago, Louis Palmer, a Swiss school teacher made an historic trip around the world in an electric car that he powered via solar electricity generated by a solar PV system he trailed behind the car.

Now, SolarWorld, one of the world’s leading solar panel producers, is trying to best that accomplishment. It’s worked to co-build a solar-powered car that has PV integrated into the body of the vehicle rather than in a trailer behind it, and which it is hoped will become the first solar car to circumnavigate the globe.

The two-seat SolarWorld Gran Turismo started its 21,000 mile global journey in October in Australia before moving on to New Zealand. This past week, it arrived in the United States where it will travel on solar electricity alone 3,774 miles from California to South Carolina.

Europe next for SolarWorld GT
Following the U.S. road trip, the vehicle and its crew will travel through Europe, Africa and Asia before finishing back in Australia in late 2012.

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“The SolarWorld GT is an ambassador for sustainable personal transportation, reminding us that the power to shift our driving habits away from dirty fossil fuels is within our grasp,” said Kevin Kilkelly, president of SolarWorld Americas in a press release.  “Clean energy from the sun is there for the taking – without depleting the Earth’s riches.”

According to SolarWorld spokeswoman Devon Cichoski, a car such as the SolarWorld GT is as much as five to 10 years from mass commercialization. The lightweight carbon material that makes up the car’s body, lightweight tires, and special solar cells – the type used to power the International Space Station – make the car expensive at a cost of $500,00 to $600,000.

But unlike previous models that were designed for one driver, Cichoski said the German college students who designed and are driving the SolarWorld GT made it a product that consumers can integrate into their lives. SolarWorld collaborated with  Bochum University of Applied Sciences in Germany to build the vehicle.

“We see this car as a model for what’s possible in the future,”  said Chichoski.

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