When Sono Group N.V. (NASDAQ: SEV) went public last week, it caused a storm in the markets. More commonly known as Sono Motors, the company’s promise of a solar-powered Electric Vehicle (EV) captured the public imagination in a big way.
However, while the early hype might suggest something big is in the making, a close look reveals something more pedestrian. The Sion—the company’s first solar EV—is an entirely ordinary EV. Its major twist is that it baked a bunch of solar cells into its panels.
In other words, it’s something any other auto manufacturer could roll out at any time given the will.
Why aren’t Tesla and Other Auto Manufacturers Building Solar EVs?
There’s a reason solar-powered EVs are yet to take the market by storm. Sono Motors reveals the reason for this by its own admission: the Sion will only cover 70 miles per week without additional top-ups. This is barely enough to cover 25% of the average mileage put on a car per year. Presumably, undercover parking, buildings, and other sun-obstructing features of city environments—environments where the Sion’s limited solar-powered range would still be useful—will limit this range even further.
The reason for the Sion’s limited range also isn’t something any auto company will be able to fix any time soon, either. The simple reality of the situation is that it’s impossible to mount enough solar panels to an EV to deliver much more than this.
Of course, the Sion is still nothing to sneeze at. Any cutdown in the use of mains-supplied electricity is a win while we power our grids with a predominantly fossil fuel-based energy mix. However, for the average user, it achieves nothing that a small solar installation at home can’t already do better. Its limited range means that the average driver will still have to top up the Sion with regular mains charges, which begs the question: why not just install the solar panels in an optimal, unobstructed location to begin with?
To say all of this another way, the reason we haven’t seen Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), Volkswagen (OTC PINK: VWAGY), or any other auto manufacturer come out with a solar-powered EV is simple: the utility of solar cells, when mounted to a regular commuter, is limited.
Surprise: Sion Is not the First Solar-Powered EV
While we shouldn’t expect car-mounted solar arrays to revolutionize the daily driver for a while, there are applications where solar-powered EVs make perfect sense. Indeed, one manufacturer, Triad Pro Innovators, Inc. (OTC PINK: TPII), is already onto its second generation of one such vehicle. The difference, however, is that the use of solar is application-specific. It’s also not the company’s main focus—more on that later.
The EV in question here is Triad’s Spree solar-powered golf carts—an application perfectly suited to the limited solar-carrying capacity of a vehicle. Indeed, when used in the obvious application—on a golf course—the buggy is more than capable of daily use without ever needing top-up charges. The same applies to other common uses for golf carts, such as mobility within gated residential communities.
In both of these applications, the desirability of an ultra-lightweight vehicle, combined with a shorter average trip distance is ideal. The reduction in both weight and trip distance means the solar panel can actually keep up with regular usage.
Of course, as with the Sion, it is possible to charge the solar-powered Spree EV using regular mains power. And this is when the Spree reveals the true breakthrough that sets it apart from other EVs—its ultra-rapid charging eCell.
The Spree Solar-Powered EV’s Real Breakthrough: The eCell Energy Storage Unit
Hidden behind the Spree’s almost-ordinary interior, Triad Pro has installed its patent-pending eCell energy storage unit. Based on solid-state technology and exhibiting a range of benefits that lithium-ion can’t come close to touching, this could prove to be one of the bigger advancements in energy storage. And not just in EVs.
Indeed, while Triad Pro’s first product to market is the Spree solar-powered EV, it is, first and foremost, an energy storage company at its core. The Spree is just the first commercial product the company has developed around its innovative battery technology.
To give an idea of what the eCell is capable of in terms of charge time, the Spree golf carts take just one hour to achieve a full charge. This is in the range of 5-8 times faster than other golf carts utilizing standard battery banks.
However, the eCell unit is capable of accepting a much faster charge than this. In theory, “The eCell will accept a charge at any rate from any source, depending on the source,” said company CEO, Murray Goldenberg.
What this implies is that the only cap on the Spree’s fast-charging abilities is the power available from standard 110V wall sockets. Given a more powerful source, the eCell could achieve much faster charging times.
The True Impact of the eCell
The secret to the eCell is its patent-pending control circuits and software, combined with the use of solid-state supercapacitors as its energy storage medium. When compared with lithium-ion and other chemical-based battery solutions, this brings several big advantages, not the least of which are the ultra-rapid charging abilities, as touched on already.
However, the eCell’s benefits over existing battery technology go far beyond its fast-charging abilities. Via the use of non-explosive and non-volatile solid-state materials, the eCell also remains stable in extreme temperatures far outside of lithium’s safe operating ranges and is free from the fire and explosion risks that come with traditional batteries’ tendency to overheat. It is also 100% recyclable and capable of over 30,000+ recharges.
Of course, it is not without its downsides. When compared with lithium-ion in terms of energy and power density, lithium still wins. For this reason, we’re not about to see eCells appearing in modern, ultra-sleek smartphones any time soon. However, for all other applications where keeping battery size to an absolute minimum isn’t the number one priority, the eCell shines.
Triad Pro Innovators: More than a Solar-Powered EV Company
While the Spree golf cart might be the first product available from Triad Pro Innovators, Inc. (OTC PINK: TPII) it is careful not to market itself as an EV company.
Instead, as one of the quickest ways to get revenue-generating activities underway, the Spree was more of a strategic move than a company-defining one. With any early-stage innovator, R&D is often what makes or breaks the company—the cost that comes with a high pace of innovation is ultimately unsustainable unless the company either manages to generate revenue quickly or takes on a large amount of dilutive capital.
To this end, the Spree was a smart move. The company has already exhausted stocks of its first-generation model and is now ramping up operations to manufacture its second iteration. This has also given the company the breathing room it needs to develop several new products around its eCell technology.
These additional developments include the company’s EEL Diesel Hybrid Genset and its eTower portable lighting trailer. In these applications, the eCell’s ability to effectively have power dumped into it, at any rate, is being used to cut fuel consumption by as much as 80%. This allows the diesel-powered generators to run for short periods of time in their high-power band of maximum efficiency, dumping excess power into the eCell which then continues to provide power once the diesel unit shuts down.
Besides expanding its range of revenue-generating activities, all of this will allow the company to continue developing its eCell technology and expanding its available use cases. The company also now has UL/CSA certification underway, which will only help here. It also has a patent pending on its eCell which will open up countless other licensing opportunities as other firms look to capitalize on the eCells major benefits over existing battery technologies.
(Featured image courtesy of Triad Pro Innovators, Inc.)
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