Photo of XOF1 solar-powered car driving on a frozen Lake Simcoe. It is the first solar vehicle in the world to operate in sub-zero temperatures.
This isn’t the Queen’s University Faculty of Engineering building a solar vehicle. This isn’t a multinational corporation like Honda investing the millions it can afford into alternative transportation technology. This is the power of one, in the form of Torontonian Marcelo da Luz; an individual who is building a solar-powered car with a team of volunteers.
da Luz wanted to build a solar car since he watched the 1987 World Solar Challenge. He sold his house, secured loans, got sponsors, and without a background in engineering or mechanics, began the XOF1 (read as “power of one”) solar car project in 1999. Over the last eight years, da Luz has invested about half a million dollars of his personal funds in XOF1—fortunately he has about 63 sponsors donating parts, products, and services. In April 2007, da Luz stopped going to his day job and devoted himself to the project full-time with what is currently a handful of part-time volunteers. He felt that building the solar car deserved to be his first priority.
da Luz hopes that, 1) showing that ordinary people can build a solar vehicle, and 2), breaking the solar car distance world record of 15,500 km will encourage people to consider the power and simplicity of sustainable energy.
“We’re waiting for the government or someone to save the planet for us. It’s not going to happen unless someone does something about it,” he says. da Luz realized he needed to take action.
The XOF1 solar car works similarly to an electric car. The vehicle is topped with an array of solar cells, which absorb sunlight then converts it into electricity. The electricity is stored in batteries, and the batteries power the motor. Instead of plugging the car into an electrical outlet to charge its batteries, da Luz says that it plugs into the sun.
His idea was to set the new world record by driving the solar car across Canada, but those plans were canceled when a solar car driver was killed in an accident on an Ontario road in 2004. Following the tragedy, the Ministry of Transportation panicked and enforced a moratorium on solar cars in the province. The suspension was lifted recently, but a number of strict rules and regulations were put in place, some which da Luz does not agree with, such as placing signs along roads that indicate that an experimental vehicle will be driving on them. He would rather not compromise his standards, so he got the solar car licensed in Barbados without problems instead. Now the XOF1 tour will travel across the U.S., where transportation laws permit.
The team is not yet sure whether they will start driving the solar car from the Seneca College Jane Campus or transport the car to the Canadian-U.S. border and start the tour there. The aim is to leave August 1 and drive 60,000 km through 300 cities, arriving at the final destination of Los Angeles by September 12. All the vehicles in the solar car’s convoy—even the volunteer crew’s RV—are installed with hydrogen fuel injection systems for the purpose of the XOF1 tour. Unfortunately, the HFIs will be taken out once it is completed.
da Luz’s personal message on the XOF1 website reads, “The most sensitive part of the human body is the pocket. It is time for us to desensitize our pockets and invest in our future, [to] look for ways to achieve a clean and sustainable future.” This solar car project is proof that it can be done with the power of one.
UPDATE (August 1): The XOF1 solar car tour is delayed until further notice. In the meantime, they are recruiting a few more people to volunteer to drive the convoy vehicles. Accommodation, food, and gas are covered. Can you say free road trip?! E-mail XOF1 for more information.