One of the criticisms made about electric vehicles is that they’re only as “green” as the source of the electricity used to charge their batteries. A Tesla Model S may not emit any carbon, for instance, but the coal-burning power plant that allows it to recharge certainly does. In order to be truly carbon-neutral, EVs need to be able to run completely on electricity derived from clean sources. Well, that’s just what the P-MOB prototype car does ... as long as you don’t need to take it too far.

Of course, any electric vehicle can run on cleanly-generated electricity if enough of it is available. The difference with the P-MOB car is that it’s able to charge its battery up to a “practical” level using its integrated solar cells alone – albeit for a modest range, in sunny southern Europe.

The tiny two-seater weighs less than 600 kg (1,323 lb) without its battery pack, utilizes a kinetic energy recovery system when braking, and is reportedly 30 percent more aerodynamic than other vehicles of the same dimensions. It has two motors and two differentials – one assigned to each axle – essentially giving it 4-wheel drive. This provides it with improved control in curves, better traction control, plus it allows each motor to operate at peak efficiency as dictated by driving conditions. It has a maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).

The car’s mono-crystalline solar cells are managed by a self-adapting control system that compensates for shadows falling on part of the photovoltaic panel, or for the malfunctioning of individual cells. The battery can also be charged using mains power if need be, and can even supply excess solar power to the municipal grid, once it’s fully-charged.

When tested at Fiat’s track in Turin, Italy, the prototype was able to travel 20 km (12 miles), using power generated solely by its solar cells. The speed at which it traveled hasn’t been stated, although it did reportedly consume energy at a rate of about 80 watt-hours per kilometer.

The P-MOB project (standing for Integrated Enabling Technologies for Efficient Electrical Personal Mobility) is funded by the European Commission. It includes researchers from Siemens in Germany; Mazel in Spain; IFEVS, Polimodel and Fiat in Italy; plus Magnomatics and the University of Sheffield in the UK.

There is no word on plans to commercialize the car.

Sources: P-MOB, CORDIS