Audi is developing an electric car that uses solar panels in the roof to help power the vehicle systems. The German car maker is working with Chinese solar-cell experts, Hanergy, to develop ultra thin-film solar cells that will integrate with the panoramic glass roofs of its vehicles.

The energy generated by the cells will supplement the electricity from the battery and help power features such as heated seats or air-conditioning, ultimately increasing the range of the vehicle.

The technology is already quite far advanced; Audi are expecting to reveal a first prototype by the end of 2017. An intensive testing programme will then commence, analysing safety, quality, robustness and environmental protection.

“The range of electric cars plays a decisive role for our customers,” commented Audi’s board member Dr Bernd Martens. “Together with Hanergy, we plan to install innovative solar technology in our electric cars that will extend their range and is also sustainable.”

Audi also announced that developments could see the entire roof eventually covered in panels, ultimately charging the battery used for traction of the vehicle.

“That would be a milestone along the way to achieving sustainable, emission-free mobility,” continued Martens.

Thin and flexible, the solar cells are produced by Alta Devices in California from gallium arsenide and have an efficiency of more than 25 per cent. According to Audi, they also perform very well in conditions of low light and high temperature.

“Gallium arsenide crystals are widely used in the semiconductor industry because they have unique physical and chemical properties, which make them particularly efficient to convert natural sunlight into clean electricity and hence ideal for use in solar cells,” a spokesperson from Audi told Dezeen. “The solar cells from Hanergy are very efficient, so we anticipate an output of approximately 250 watts per square metre.”

“Take as an example an electric car with a solar panorama roof with a size of one square metre. If this car stands on a parking lot in good weather during an eight-hour working day, the owner could use solar energy to drive up to 13 kilometres on the way home.”

Audi’s conventional electric car development is already considerably advanced, the first Audi e-tron hybrids were released in 2009. The brand intends to release three further electric vehicles by 2020.

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