NUST develops a solar electric taxi

30 Nov. 2016
by Lucas Conwell

Without the ubiquitous shared taxi fleet, life in Windhoek would, for many residents, grind to a halt.  Buses do currently do not serve all parts of the city; taxis allow non-car owners to access the farthest-flung corners of the city while providing employment for 6,000+ Windhoek residents, many of them new arrivals from the rural regions.  Unfortunately, taxis, as gasoline-powered vehicles, also cause local air pollution and increase carbon emissions, and that’s why the Innovation Design Lab at the Namibia University of Science and Technology has set out to create a viable solar-powered electric taxi.

The Innovation Design Lab team consists of 20 students, a lecturer, a project manager, and a professor.   In the NSEUV project, “we are cross-fertilising at least fifteen different disciplinary areas, from mechanical engineering to security, GPS, smart sensors systems, just to mention a few,” says Professor Pio Barone Lumaga, the Lab’s director.  The Lab’s research areas include solar PV panels and lithium-ion batteries, electrical and electronics, car intelligence, as well as mechanical and composites, and team members are required to work across fields.

The team’s first prototype, dubbed the Namibian Solar Electric Utility Vehicle (NSEUV) 1, stores solar energy captured through photovoltaic cells in lithium ion swap batteries, taking advantage of the ever-present Namibian sun.  The next prototype, NSEUV2, is due by February 2017; subsequently, the team will develop four additional prototypes.  Each model will reach new levels of functional complexity while improving “communicative simplicity” – according to Prof. Lumaga, the solar taxi should be easier to drive than a regular car.

Even a state-of-the-art solar taxi will be of little use unless it actually meets taxi drivers’ daily needs.  Thus, the team has conducted qualitative interviews with taxi drivers to determine how many kilometres they drive each day and over the course of a year as well as their daily hours worked, income, and maintenance costs.

Two pre-production prototypes will be ready by 2018. By then, the NSEUV project aims to create a light weight vehicle with 4 PV panels, two electric hub wheels, electric engines of 3KW each, and swap batteries. Thanks to its innovative design, the vehicle achieves a 50km/h maximum speed and 100km of range on one battery’s charge, all the while costing only N$50,000 to the end user.   Most importantly, the solar taxi is to be produced in Namibia if at all feasible, thereby generating new jobs while reducing our nation’s small but growing carbon footprint.

Thanks to NUST for the included photo.