Forecasters Predict Active Hurricane Season in 2007
UN Report: Global Livestock Sector Generates More GHG Emissions than Transport

Around the World in a Solar-Electric Three-Wheeler

by Rafael Seidl

The Solartaxi on its cross-European trip.

Ten years ago, Swiss adventurer Louis Palmer set himself the ambitious goal of constructing a solar-powered three-wheeled electric vehicle: the Solartaxi. Next year, he intends to drive it around the world to educate people about global warming and what can be done about it.

Since the project’s inception, Palmer has enlisted the help of four Universities, ten business partners and some 70 volunteers (all located in Switzerland). The initial focus was on the vehicle itself. The trailer with solar panels is to be added in a second phase and deliver about 30% of the energy required.

The Solartaxi with proposed trailer.

Another 60% is produced by PV panels on the roof of Palmer’s house and fed into the grid, offsetting electricity generated using fossil fuels. The remaining 10% come from certified solar power generation farms.

Powered by Swiss-made Zebra batteries, the resulting vehicle was issued a roadworthiness certificate local authorities in June of 2006. Still rough around the edges of the interior (no upholstery yet etc.), the plucky one-off looks vaguely like a pint-sized Lamborghini Gallardo - except, it’s a trike.

This summer, Palmer and a mechanic friend took it for a 3,000-km (1,865-mile) endurance test from Lucerne (Switzerland) to Barcelona (Spain), through the Alps. The total elevation gain of 16,000 meters (presented no problems, with uphill speeds of up to 60 kph (37 mph). They had forgotten their toolchest, but in the end they never needed it anyhow.

On the way, the vehicle attracted lots of thumbs-up from passing motorists as well as occasional run-ins with the police who apparently really just wanted to get a better look. With its current range of approximately 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge, Palmer enlisted the support of fire stations and even a Ferrari dealership in Monte Carlo so he could recharge the battery off the grid for a few hours at a time.

Once in Spain, he was charged a whopping €0.29 toll on the motorway—plus a souvenir snapshot by the attendant’s digital camera. In Barcelona, too, onlookers took many pictures with their mobile phones. Palmer soon decided to get back on the open road and just enjoy the sheer thrill of cruising through the countryside in near-silence.

The upshot was that this little BEV that could managed to clock some 8,500 problem-free kilometers in its first three months, at a cost of ~€ 1 per 100km for electricity from the grid—not counting the amortization of the PV panels on Palmer’s roof. By the time the ’round-the-world trip is due to start, June of 2007, range on a single charge off the grid is to be extended to 350-400 km, thanks largely to the trailer. The interior will feature leather seats and an MP3 sound system.




Please swing by lala land & UCLA, and I'll roll out the red carpet for you,
give you the royal tour of our engineering labs, and
introduce you to the Engineering Chairs & Dean.

Would be nice if you could make it all 100% solar powered. You can tell me it is not possible, but you already know what I'm going to say, dont you ?

Roger Pham

Thanks, Rafael, for this article on the most interesting vehicle. Ferrari-inspired, indeed. I wonder why Zebra battery has not sponsored him with money and expertise, in exchange for painting the vehicle white with black stripes on it. Would look great with the stripes, and it would indeed be a true zebra in more ways than one. And may be trying enlist some Ferrari (or Lamborghini?) sponsorship as well, for the "ferrari-inspired" (or is it an yellow Lamborghini?) front end.

The trailered solar panel is a great idea, smart, very smart! I hope the panel can be tilted on each side to make the most of the sun's ray. And may a small lawnmower-engine powered genset underneath the solar panel for even more range extension.

Quite a superb vehicle for an individual with a lot of determination.


We are getting ripped off by big business!!! 1996 - successful EV1 program with no lithium ion batteries, no nano tech solar sheets, no in wheel electic engines. The USA could easily have a plug-in electric vehicle with a 200 mile range in mass production. In 1996 the internet was just starting and computers were pentium 166 MHZ/ yet they were able to produce a good electric vehicle. C'mon guys!!!!!! Someone out there must have the mechanical skills to make a good EV and not sell out to big business. To bad I have a hard time changing oil LOL:) if i had any ability i would at least try! try.


Here is another solar vehicle:

Owner uses it as a daily commuter... in the North of England!


Taxis use the most fuel, so converting them to hybrids/full electric/eventually solar would make a huge difference.

NYC cabs are driven 24 hours/day.

Rafael Seidl

Hybrid+E85 -

a number of taxi operators already use hybrids with great success, several models have been approved for NYC service as well.When you clock a lot of city miles, the fuel savings permit accelerated depreciation of the incremental initial outlay, so emissions are not the only attraction.

However, the Prius is smaller than a regular cab. In a more typical large sedan or minivan, a hybrids drivetrain would make even more sense.

All-electric taxis would need to feature extremely rapid charge or better yet, battery packs that can be swapped out for a fresh one quickly and easily by the fleet operator. Maintaining two or three battery packs per vehicle would be very expensive, though.

Roger Pham

Your optimism is admirable. However, as far as anyone can recall, the EV1 program definitely was not a success. The lead-acid battery was too heavy, rendering a car with only 2 seats and hardly any luggage space. How many two-seaters do you see in the street today as vs. 4-7 seaters? Lead-acid battery has to be changed every 2 years or less at thousands of dollars, and this is clearly unacceptable. The whole program tanked not because of any conspiracy, only due to the weight of the battery pulling it down.

The only reason that EV seems to have a chance in the near future due to the PROMISED quantum leap in performance of future nano-tech Lithium battery technology.


Jack --

Looking for EVs? Try these:


Jack: There are also an number of EV motorcycles out (or almost out) as well.

Bob Bastard

Peter, Neil, here is another little EV that would be nice for tooling around town:
It's a pedal-electric hybrid. I've actually played with one myself, as my company provided a major component of the power train. The one I played with was an older version.


Bob ... loved the twike ... great idea ... the price left my jaw on the floor.

Bob Bastard

Neil, no, they aren't cheap, and they aren't very useful in rural areas like mine where the roads have no shoulders and people barrel around in huge trucks and suvs at 75 miles per hour. Also I don't know what batteries they use now, either, but the old ones used NiCad batteries. My company owned one, and it sat in a trailer most of the time, and no one properly maintained the batteries, so of course the battery pack went to crap pretty quickly. I also don't like the idea of one wheel in front and two in the back, as the stability around turns is less than optimal. I much prefer the Solartaxi's two wheels in front and one in the rear configuration. Nevertheless, although the vehicle only has a small motor (5hp or 5kW- can't remember) it has really surprising acceleration (very light weight), and stability rather than power train seems to be more of a limiting factor regarding how fast you can drive it without feeling like your going to die. I think many of the features in this vehicle could be incorporated into an affordable, massed produced unit that would be great for running around an urban area.


Hello Rafael,

believing that the GM EV1 was "not a success" because of the weight of the batteries shows a strong determination to stick blindly to GM propaganda.
Fact is that the EV1 Gen II had NiMH batteries with much more capacity and less weight.
This is the same type of battery that gave the Solectria Sunrise a range of >200 highway miles in 1997, and have a proven lifetime of >100k miles in the Toyota RAV4 EV.

BTW how about an article about the electric Renault Twingo and Fiat Panda equipped with Zebra batteries, which are already available FOR SALE TO THE PUBLIC in Switzerland?
Or the upcoming Fiat Panda Plug-In hybrid, presented at the Vel Expo Ticino some weeks ago?

Regards, Skarrin


If you think that they can't make an electric vehicle then listen to this. When i was about 10 years old, the year was 1983, a friend of mine invited me to his house. His father made him an electric go-cart. He used a car battery hooked up to a rear wheel electric motor. The thing was awesome. It ran for about one hour with a top speed of about 30 miles per hour(stop and go local street driving). The accelation was nothing short of amazing. Do the math people, this was 1983 with a single car battery. With lithium ion batteries, 40.2% efficient solar panels, efficient in-wheel motors, regenerative brake systems, nano techs, and all the other high tech crap out there, an electric vehicle at the cost of todays priced vehicles is possible and long over due. However a little thing called big business and oil companies fighting these electric vehicles from entering the market is the reason why EV1 was scrapped and nothing like it (affordable EVS) has followed!! Why won't they allow for Toyota to sell their Yaris diesel in the USA? Because it gets 65-70 MPG that's why. Oil companies have a huge influence on our economy and they(oil companies and our government) will not allow a quick transition to PEVS. But don't listen to me, listen to the auto makers say its not possible. Our government and oil companies have no influence upon the auto industry, right? :)


NYC cabs do run 24/7, but most are running from ~6AM to ~11PM.


Dear Sirs& Dame
I have making a new Battery generator. My inventive not need to charge and give us12v&24v&48v DC electric. Also not need to any fuel. And same time/ give us like generator (AC) electric. I had been testing it, for 30 days, it was work for 30 days without any problem. Especially I have making for electric auto. And possible, to use anyplace too.
to have dc electric1- (mA) 2- maximum 5.5 W
to have ac electric 1- 2.5 A up to 4 A 2- 50 W up to 300 w 3- 250 v
35*30*17 the size
my new invention is / 375 volt/ 16 A/ 6000 watt
Sincerely yours amin koranlou

vikas kotgyale rajkumar

i am vikas kotgyale from india (pune),
i complited diploma in electronics and, i tink from three year ago about the solar vehicle.but due to remote area and low knowledge getting and due to economical problem i am not start this aim to develope a solar vehicle hence i find to do work or job in automobile research center.but when i see your project on internet so am very happy.also i like your project and thinking.i wish for your success.i like to contact with you.please send me your email.i am also interested to know your group.

The comments to this entry are closed.