“No pollution. No foreign wars. No smog. No noise.” This, no less, is the ambition of two unlikely Canadian inventors who have developed the first ever practical and affordable solar-powered vehicle. Three years of trials, errors and many more trials have culminated in a fully working three-wheeled bike and an upright scooter that are completely fuel-less – and now they want you to build one. They are not entrepreneurs, not even trained engineers; they just want to change the world’s relationship with oil-fuelled transportation. And all the plans are laid out on the internet. “We want people to build their own solar transportation,” Will Scully tells me. “And we’ve shown them how.”
Blu-tacked on a wall in a disused warehouse in East Montreal, Canada, is a photograph of a woman cycling through the Chinese countryside, struggling to carry her goods to market. This picture is their inspiration. “We believe that the peasants of China and India will be the first to adopt solar transportation,” Scully continues. “They do not have a “car culture” – which we regard as a global sickness. But the devastation the motor-car has caused to the environment is the real stimulation for the venture.”
The founder of the project and Scully’s partner is Jeff Dekzsty. He is an avant-garde artist and might easily have walked out of Easy Rider. Although his life-long pursuit for a car-free world has been far from a clear, straight road, his passion is insatiable. The part of welfare that doesn’t go on rent he spends on the “BioMod” initiative. For food he scrapes around Montreal’s garbage cans. In these “dumpster-diving” expeditions he can also find prohibitively expensive plastics and parts.
The duo met while Dekzsty was looking for a welding machine three years ago. Fortunately, Scully - the president of his great great grandfather’s firm William Scully Ltd, which make uniform headwear for the world famous Canadian Mounted Police and military insignia - owned one.
The partnership forged, they worked long into the dark winter nights in an empty floor below the hat and badge factory developing their ideas. The workshop is covered in bike parts, all manner of tools and early models of their “Vee”. In the corner, a six-seater they are working on charges under strip lights. It looks like a museum of the future.
However, while they work alone, ideas and encouragement flood in through the MSN discussion forum on a daily basis. “This is an open-source project, everybody is a developer so the technology advances faster,” Scully says.
Casting an eye over the machinery and plans sprawled across a table I suggest it looks complicated for the layman. “I’m not an engineer and I have done this,” Scully replies. “It does represent work and effort but with basic tools and materials it can be done.”
The “Ambient Light Vehicles” or “Vees” are powered directly from light. On the roof of the one-seater Vee are solar cells that trickle charge lithium-ion virtual capacitors, basically packs of normal mobile phone batteries bought on the surplus market. These then directly power a magnetic hub fixed to the front wheel. Unlike many previous solar-powered vehicles it does not fuel a motor and there are no moving parts. Dekzsty likens it to photosynthesis in plants; it causes the process rather than fuels it.
“We believe that the peasants of China and India will be the first to adopt solar transportation,” Scully continues. “They do not have a “car culture” – which we regard as a global sickness."
Aptly, it was through the flowers and fauna of the Laurentian Mountains that they completed a successful 280km journey this August - with upward speeds of 34km/h. “We proved you can travel by the sun’s power in real conditions. Real roads, hills, real temperate-woodland climate, rain, bumps and rush hour traffic. Basically we took practical solar transportation to the people on that trip,” Scully says.
Several weeks later Dekzsty and Scully were to be seen zooming around the city again in two of the Vees, this time, though, amongst much less traffic on a car-free day. Their strange looking vehicles were keenly followed by bemused gazes, a local CBC camera crew and the Mayor of Montreal, who congratulated them on their unique achievement. After the meeting, the Mayor’s Office spokesman Darren Becker said, “The city is committed to alternative modes of transport the city with the goal to reduce gas emissions especially when you consider the skyrocketing costs of fuel. Clearly the 280km trip in the Laurentians can only serve as a positive example of an initiative that is environmentally-friendly.”
In September, with fully working vehicles and proof of their durability, they finally published their plans on-line for a Vee to make at home. In total the magnetic-drives (wheel hubs), solar modules and cell phone batteries will cost you about £740. For the frame you use “whatever you have available”. And if that sounds a little complicated, the upright scooter Scully has developed is available in a complete kit form.
As people begin to replace their gas-guzzling MPGs with light-powered vehicles, Dekzsty and Scully believe this could signal the beginning of a completely new way of life in societies across the planet. They envisage cities with non-motor routes that would gain priority over cars and a geo-political atmosphere where the deadly hunt for scarce oil is vanquished.
“Toxic fumes aside, the day we burn the last drop of oil is the same day we say goodbye to plastics, synthetic rubber and computers. Our vehicles are the first real threat to the motor car, in all of its deadly permutations.”
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