Solar Powered Car Creator Tests Technology in Record-Breaking Arctic Journey

Photo: GMâ??s new solar car

It started as a young man's dream: watching spaceships on wheels, powered by nothing but rays of sunshine zipping across the Australian outback from his home in Brazil. For 19-year-old Marcelo da Luz, the solar car was a glimpse of a Jetsons-like future -- beautiful, simple and clean.

"I was watching the 1987 World Solar Challenge in Australia on the news. I thought, 'That's the future, a race of cars followed by light,'" said da Luz, now 41, whose last name means "of the light."

At that moment, da Luz -- self described as "not a car guy," but more of an environmentalist -- decided one day he would like to construct a solar powered car, for the challenge and to perhaps inspire a more eco-friendly future.

Despite his passion, da Luz never imagined he would one day break the world record, driving his silver, sun-powered saucer to the Arctic Circle.

Solar Car: Becoming a Reality

As da Luz moved, settled in Toronto, working as an Air Canada flight attendant for 12 years, the dream of building a solar car was always in the back of his mind -- until he gave in to his dream, and explored how to make it happen.

"The pain of not following the dream became unbearable. I had to do something about it," he said.

Without an engineering background, self-doubt began creeping back in when da Luz realized it was a true challenge to learn how to construct the shell of a solar car.

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"I thought, 'You don't have any money, you don't have any resources, forget it, you're a nobody.' I felt alone and powerless to do anything," da Luz said.

But doubt was trumped by the fear of not realizing his dream, so da Luz began slowly, relying on all he did know. The World Solar Challenge rules provided the proper schematics for the shape and build of the car. Over two years, da Luz planned, then hit the Internet, soliciting help from volunteers online to construct his vision.

"By word of mouth, little by little, the project started taking shape. I had people from 23 countries volunteering to help me build the car -- flight attendants, homemakers, nurses, students, and teachers. People from all walks of life," he said.

Donations, Generosity Fuel Solar Adventure

With little money of his own, da Luz contacted companies from all over the world to donate supplies; the tires came from Japan, batteries from Korea, and solar cells finally came by way of Switzerland. After 50,000 hours of work over three years in his tiny Toronto garage, the car, which he named XOF1, was built.

As if he needed another challenge, da Luz sought to put the solar car to the test, attempting to break the world record for miles driven by a solar car.

Courtesy of Marcelo da Luz.

"I didn't want to build a solar car for the sake of building it," da Luz said. "I wanted to do something special."

And for da Luz, that meant not hugging the sun-kissed coasts and deserts of North America, but by going north -- way north -- to prove how well the solar car technology works.

"The Arctic Circle for me was the greatest challenge on the planet for a solar car," he said. "If you think of a solar car, you think of a tropical place, flat roads. But in the Arctic Circle, the sun is low in the horizon. It's the worst light for a solar car because you want sun heating cells, and at an angle, you don't get as much energy."

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