Wind-powered car succeeds in hard Australian voyage

Wed Feb 16, 2011 9:46am EST
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A car powered primarily by wind and kites has made it across a vast swathe of Australia, enduring searing heat and freezing cold along the way -- and all for roughly $10 Australian.

The more than 5,000 km (3,100 mile) journey of the "Wind Explorer" was the first major test for the prototype car, which its German inventors hoped would show that the technology already exists to power cars with renewable energy even through tough trips like this one.

"It is the first 'road worthy' wind-generated car that can travel these distances, and definitely the first kite-propelled car to drive on the roads anywhere in the world," said Dirk Gion, who with Stefan Simmerer built the vehicle.

"We wanted to show that if you build a light-weight electric efficient car, they are ready today."

The open, vaguely racer-style car has a carbon-fiber body and bicycle tires and was powered primarily by a lithium ion battery that was recharged at night by a mobile wind turbine, although a kite similar to a parasail was used at times instead.

While the car weighs only 80 kg (177 lb) without the batteries, even with the batteries loaded it totals only around 200 kg -- still far below the weight of an average car. It can reach speeds of over 90 km per hour.

During the journey, which ended in Sydney on Monday, Gion and Simmerer hit temperatures of 50 C to 60 C (122 F to 140 F) as they crossed the Nullarbor Plains, raising concerns that the batteries would overheat.

Their comfort also suffered at times due to the fact that the car sits only 15 cm (6 inches) off the road, Gion said.   Continued...

<p>The Wind-Explorer, a wind powered car, is pictured as it is driven by Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer, both of Germany, across Australia in this undated handout photo obtained February 15, 2011. The car, fuelled by batteries which are recharged by windmill every night, travelled more than 5000 km (3100 miles) from Perth and arrived in Sydney on Tuesday, according to local media. REUTERS/</p>