Students built a solar charging station that powers up electric vehicles with 300 watts

The solar panels adjust for maximum efficiency each month.
Ameya Paleja
The EV with its solar chargerUniversity of Illinois Chicago

A team of students at the University of Illinois Chicago has built a solar-powered charging station to ensure that a food truck on the campus makes emission-free deliveries, a university press release said

Students getting involved in projects inside the university is not something new. However, the students at UIC haven't just built a prototype or a technology demonstrator. Their solar-powered charging station energizes a commercially built electric vehicle. It may not look like a Tesla or a Ford EV, but the vehicle is very much street legal and has a top speed of 25 mph (40 kph).

More importantly, the vehicle is a critical part of the university's Food Recovery Network (FRN), an initiative that collects leftover food from the campus dining halls and delivers it to the homeless shelters and kitchens in Chicago. Clean Technica reported that in 2020, the FRN delivered over 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg) of food to shelters in the city. This helped the needy and saved the food from ending up in landfills. Now, with a food delivery vehicle that also charges in a sustainable manner, the whole operation has gone greener.

How was it done? 

The plan to set up a solar-powered charging station for the FRN vehicle came from the University's Office of Planning, Sustainability and Project Management, the press release said. The Office proposed the project to the students and three students from the department of mechanical engineering, and one from biomedical engineering took up the challenge. With the university funding the project, the team focused on designing and procuring components for setting up the charging station.  

This was in the fall of 2020 and when COVID-19 struck, all the work on the project came to a grinding halt. The original design featured the charging station to be set up on a trailer so that it could be more mobile. However, supply chain issues that affected the automotive sector at large during the pandemic impacted this project as well. Even after waiting for three months, the trailer was not delivered.  

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The solar charging station

The team then switched to a stationary system and when facilities at the university reopened, they put together the charging station in the machine shop. 

With a 300-watt solar panel, the team aims to charge the EV completely off the grid. The panels work to charge a battery during the day, and then the EV is charged using the battery at night.

To ensure that the performance of the panel is maximized during the day, the panels are aligned to the movement of the sun. But they did not stop there. The team also incorporated 12 settings on the panels so that they are angled to remain the most efficient every month.

As the EV makes emission-free deliveries, the team is looking at bringing back the trailer from its original design. 

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