Most vehicles run on petrol or diesel that pollute our cities while emptying our wallets. But this could be about to change. The EU-funded PLUS-MOBY project has developed an electric urban vehicle and mobile fast food van that can be partially solar powered. Soon drivers should be able to charge their vehicle like they charge their phone and use solar power to drive up to 20 km per day.

Most people living in cities drive less than 50 km per day, using their vehicle to commute from home and work. If the PLUS-MOBY vehicles are mass-produced as planned, this daily commute could be powered by the sun for many drivers in southern EU countries, says project coordinator Marco Ottella. This will help the EU meet its targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % by 2020 and by 80-95 % by 2050.

Drivers of the PLUS-MOBY vehicle will still need to charge it for longer trips, but they should not be deterred by this: “Unfortunately, a limited infrastructure of charging stations has been a barrier to the adoption of some electric vehicles in Europe,” explains Ottella. “But we have come up with a solution to this challenge in the PLUS-MOBY and FREE-MOBY projects.”

Introducing a new era of urban green vehicles

The PLUS-MOBY vehicle can be plugged into an electric socket at home. “Drivers will be able to charge the vehicle in the same way that they charge their mobile phones,” explains Ottella. In its standard configuration, the battery pack allows a range of 150 km at a constant speed of 80 km per hour. The solar panels extend the range by up to 20 km per day at a speed of 45 km per hour. Drivers may need to charge their vehicle en route when making longer trips, but if demand for the PLUS-MOBY vehicles is high, it is likely that petrol stations – particularly on motorways – will start to install electric charging posts.

The PLUS-MOBY project has built upon the concepts and innovations of several earlier EU-funded projects – P-MOB, WIDE-MOB and AVTR – to enhance the design, performance and safety of the light electric vehicle. Efficient solar panels on the roof, a battery and an electric motor – permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor (PMaSyR) – power the vehicle.

Researchers have also refined the chassis and the powertrain to achieve efficient acceleration, safety and affordability. “We selected the most suitable steel for lighter components and reduced the number of components and curved elements in the chassis to simplify production,” Ottella explains. The vehicle can reach speeds of more than 90 km/hour and is stable in all weather conditions.

Safety has been another strong concern for the project, to ensure that being green does not expose drivers to too high a risk in case of accidents.

The use of advanced high strength steels allows the PLUS-MOBY project to reconcile these requirements: the PLUS-MOBY vehicle also weighs just 450 kg, making it less energy-consuming and easier to assemble. And it can be customised for different needs; a mobile restaurant version will for example be presented at the Transport Research Arena conference in Warsaw, Poland, in April 2016.)

Enabling local assembly for a more affordable vehicle

Designing a vehicle that is easy and relatively inexpensive to build was one of the project team’s key objectives. Importing vehicles increases the carbon footprint of owning a vehicle, but also drives up the price of buying one in the first place. Local production is good for the environment but also for the economy. Local manufacturing is also one of the PLUS MOBY goals.

The production of PLUS-MOBY vehicles differs from the manufacture of larger, traditional vehicles. “The simple design of the PLUS-MOBY components means that it can be produced by small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” explains Ottella. SMEs can often only afford to make relatively small investments in equipment and need to achieve low-cost production so that their manufacturing lines are financially viable. “By August 2016, we’ll be able to demonstrate the feasibility of this production line,” reports Ottella.

Within the MOBY-platform projects, Torino e-district, a consortium in Turin (Italy), is working with organisations in the UK (Coventry, the Midlands), Poland (Warsaw) and Romania (Bucharest) to replicate this PLUS-MOBY production line and supply chain. The PLUS-MOBY consortium also plans to work with SMEs in Bulgaria, Russia, Spain and elsewhere to replicate local production concepts. The production network makes use of local materials and suppliers, employs local workers and can cater for the needs of local customers.

Project details

  • Project acronym: PLUS-MOBY
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom
  • Project Reference N° 605502
  • Total cost: € 3 506 686
  • EU contribution: € 2 347 648
  • Duration: September 2013 - August 2016