Louis Palmer buckled his seatbelt as the solar car whizzed around the busy streets of Bucharest. He just finished his visit to the Romanian capital's mayor when the mayor's PA asked if she could drive the car for a while. Just minutes later he was thinking "She must be a professional driver" as his unique ?Solartaxi' was switching lanes, overtaking, making fast turns and speeding through the orange traffic-light signs. He never had such a wild ride in his life. They finally came to a stop and the young Romanian thanked him for the unforgettable ride. "Now I can tell all of my friends that my first ever driving experience was in a solar car!" she said.
This was but a single unexpected experience Palmer had on his 18-month tour around the world in his solar-electric car. It was his quest to raise awareness about electric cars and renewable solar energy. But having finished his tour last December Palmer is already planning a new campaign to promote what he believes to be the sustainable transport mode of the future: electric cars. He is organising the Zero Race in which six teams of engineers will design and race in electric sports cars across the planet in 80 days. The only student team, and the only UK team in the event is Imperial College's Racing Green Endurance.
"It sounded like an awesome project," says Andrew Hadland, an MSc student in Sustainable Energy Futures at Imperial College's Energy Futures Lab and a spokesperson for the Racing Green Endurance. "Louis Palmer is spreading the word that we don't have to travel in fossil fuel vehicles, that it is possible to do it in an environmentally friendly way," says Hadland, adding that the engineering students from Imperial have the expertise to design such electric vehicles, so it is seemed like a natural thing to do to join this race.
The Race is kicking off in December in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Summit. "It's a pretty big start, it couldn't get much bigger," Hadlan says. So the team has until then to transform the internal-combustion engine sports car they got from their main sponsor Radical Sportscars, into an all-electric vehicle. The car already looks great; Hadlan says: "It's a pretty good piece of kit." But it needs a lot of work to make it into an efficient electric car that will be able to race for miles on end without breaking down on the way. "If there are other mechanical engineers out there who would like to spend their summer building an electric car to race around the world they should get in touch ? we could use everyone's help."
"Climate change is quite a big thing," Hadland says, adding that transport is one of the main culprits for carbon dioxide emissions. "We are demonstrating that the electric car technology can work." Hadland is one of the young people that will engineer our future. He envisages a future where people drive around in zeroemission cars. But will this eco-friendly future ever arrive? Hadland thinks so. After all, he says: "Louis Palmer already uses the solar car as his everyday car, as if it was a normal car."