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Travel for free with the power of the sun!

How to build a Solar Powered Trike

The purpose of this project is to build a vehicle that:

-Provides free, 'green' transportation for short distances (<10 miles), thus it must never
plug into a wall socket, or emit any pollutants.

-Charges while at work

-Is cheap, simple, and low maintenance.

-Draws attention to the practical application of green energies, and promotes Fossil Fuel alternatives.

-Reduces excess automobile wear and pollution from cold driving / short, in town trips.

-This is a is a project for Dr. Reza Toosi's 'Energy and the Environment, a global perspective' class at California State University, Long Beach. We look at the sources, technologies, and impacts of energy on our environment.

Link to other class projects, some of Dr. Toosi's ENG-302i lectures, and other interesting videos.

Short video:

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Step 1: Acquire a vehicle

Picture of Acquire a vehicle
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Find a lightweight vehicle with low rolling resistance. A two, three or four wheeler will do, depending on how much work you want to do, but the concept is the same. Four wheeled vehicles may be regulated under different laws. Of course the best vehicle is one that you already have, if you happen to have a three or four wheeled pedal powered vehicle. In the interest of simplicity, a three wheeler was chosen for my project. This Schwinn Meridian Trike was $250 new, readily available locally, and the basket provides a convenient location for batteries and solar panels with minimal fabrication.

The first thing to be done was completely disassemble the trike and paint it a bright 'fern' green. This step may not be necessary, but I felt that it was in my case since this is a school project that is supposed to grab your attention, and let you know that it is a true green vehicle. It is a vehicle that does not use gas, and does not plug in to a wall socket, which would defeat the purpose since electricity from the grid likely comes from a non-renewable energy source. It runs on pure solar energy.

Before painting the frame, I used this stage as an opportunity to reinforce the frame where the Batteries were going to mount. Lead acid Batteries are heavy, but they are relatively cheap.
One tube was welded in to distribute the load over 4 points on the axle carrier instead of two.
It also ties the rear sub-frame together, which makes the tube the load bearer rather than the weld beads, which may eventually fatigue and fail.

High pressure (65psi) tubes were equipped and the Trike was meticulously assembled in order to minimize rolling resistance.

While the welder was out a battery mount was fabricated, and bolts welded to the basket to be used as battery mount studs making removal easier. 12 volt LED's were put in the reflectors and wired as brake lights through the brake levers that cut the motor when you brake. They are wired through only one of the three 12 volt batteries.
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gorustal1 month ago

Nice but I think I will learn more about it on

NRG4UandMe3 months ago

it would be a very valuable addition to have plug in capability for 'extra range' - not too much cost and or battery would thank you on cloudy days, extra heavy loads and unplanned extra distances and speeds ....

MbConcertina5 months ago

I know some adults with disabilities and some seniors who are capable of building and peddling, and would be appreciative of having solar power as an alternative so they could take longer jaunts

adsandy4 years ago
Wouldn't it be easier to just pedal?
Unless you're disabled, which adds a whole new dimension, doesn't it? Thanks again people for thinking outside your own tiny box.
Well then, how does the disabled person get on and off? What if it malfunctions during the ride? How is a disabled person to construct one?
Would you like to know the range of disabilities a person can have or are you asking me personally...perhaps you're offering to help. A one-handed person could do all those auto-immune disease...Chronic Fatigue Syndrome...Fibromyalgia....Lyme disease. Perhaps a 20 second period of thinking before you ask.
Most of the people with those diseases could peddle. Those with severe pain are most likely already medicated. Someone with that severe of pain would be smart to choose something professionally made rather than this homemade thing. They would need something reliable. I honestly believe that this is an impractical vehicle for disabled people. I'd appreciate it if you could offer criticism without insulting me.
You're seriously asking what use a disabled person has for an electric bi/tricycle?

Please, think for a minute. If you can't come up with anything I'll do my best to hide my frustration as a physically disabled person and explain.

but there are studies that are showing. the use of pedal bike can an do reduce the pain.

Dr.Bill adsandy3 years ago
Hey this would be good for me as I have arthritis ! I am not "Medicated" as I do not like the side effects. I can peddle for some distance and would not mind having something like this. A Motorized Chair to me just makes me more sedentary and prone to worse diseases, like diabetes.
Being a couch potato is not my idea of having a life and this trike would make my life worth living. Thank You dpearce1 for posting this I'ble.
And I'd appreciate it if you'd try to give disabled people the credibility they deserve. Sarcasm toward your questions was well deserved, given the lack of critical thinking necessary to make them possible.
Where are you getting your information about what people with the diseases I mentioned are capable of? Are you inventing it? I am on Trazadone and Morphine and it doesn't manage my pain....if I push too hard, I end up setting myself back weeks or months or going into a full relapse, so pedaling is not always possible .
My history is one of being an Olympic caliber athlete with a range of skills from building computers to being a certified arborist. There's little I cannot do, given the tools and time and I can assure you, I make things better than you can buy (if you have the money to buy off the shelf).
You can't fit all disabled people into the same box, so just decide if it's practical for yourself and let others decide for themselves.
All you people need to realize that those solar panels could take as much as a week or longer to recharge the batteries. A good example is a cordless rechargeable lawn mower. They use an almost identical setup - 24v motor and two 12v batteries. One mower manufacturer sells a solar panel as an option and tell you up front that it will take at least 3 days if in full sun. But you can't keep the panels always pointed at the sun without a tracker. Most of the cheaper solar panels are nothing but trickle chargers that just keep batteries topped off like on RVs or other vehicles that have a lot of accessories that drain a battery even if not being used. And no, you can't ride down the road perpetually with sun power and no batteries. It's just common sense. There are experimental solar cars that have competitions, but they have huge arrays of solar cells and use flat terrain and hug the ground and are streamlined.

So the system isn't perfect. I'm not either but I get by.

I think this is one of the BEST instructables I've ever seen.

And it raises a LOT of questions in my mind. How would it do with higher efficiency panels? Or high tech batteries? Is there a way to get regenerative energy BACK into the panels when you are going downhill? This Instructable is 6 years old now. I'd LOVE to see someone that is smart about electronics & bikes tackle an update to this.

You have such negative comments. Where is your Instructables at?? This Instructable is AWESOME!!
I have a Black & Decker cordless electric lawn mower also. There are numerous nay sayers that can say how things cannot/or should not be done. Make a constructive criticizim solution part of your suggestion. This is a well done Instructable that hopefully challenges others to see how they may improve it. It sparks interest and challenges others to come up with a better way- Stay positive. No matter what country you live in, stockpile "stuff" for inventing. :)
We don't need to "realize" any such thing. He presented the math and the limitations of the system, and his numbers add up. He's not deep charging the battery, but rather topping it off.
I thought the spokes and wheel of the bikes were made out of sturdy aluminum. Are they?

noo its either steel or stainless steel. aluminum wouldnt handle the stress at all.

Johenix5 years ago
Thanks for alerting me to the Schwinn Meridian. Cool even without solar power.
As an alternative I might look at the old 80cc 0.01Hp "Chicken Power" two cycle motor from the 1970-80's.
What really bugs me is the power wheel uses 36V (rather than 12V) and you must use multiple 12V panels and batteries (adding excessive weight).
Does anyone make lower voltage wheel motors or higher voltage solar panels?

check out or 4 the parts u need?

the only problem is that to get the same amount of watts (energy) at a lower voltage, current (amps) increases, so you need 3 12v batteries in parallel instead of series. You also need wire that is 3 times thicker.
Kris T.1 year ago
I have no knowledge on anything solar or batteries, therefore please forgive my question if it sounds really "stoopid."

Would it be possible to combine some sort of crank/wind up power (similar to those camping/emergency flashlights) via the pedals and chain in addition to the solar, for a little extra power on cloudy days or evenings?
Also meant to say: "Really love your idea!" I guess typing late at night doesn't benefit one very well.
mbucy1 year ago
This is a great project with the ability to be modified for rear wheel drive with spare parts. Tread mill motors and the like. Great imagination. I have often been called Gadget Man for all the tinkering I do and I love to see young people from all over the world with their instructables. I am 60 y/o Mechanical Engineer, have spinal stenosis, arthritis, neuropathy but I am never opposed to constructive criticism. The fun of this tinkering is the tinkering to me. Have fun you guys - keep on tinkering (Inventing).
fahadshihab2 years ago
add a generator(as in the diagram)to the wheels of the trike.let the no.of turns in the coil be >300 so it can produce enough energy while driving the bike.
spryor716 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
Lamnas spryor716 years ago
Yeah, well, not every single person out there that wants a greener environment is going to be a health nut, sorry, its a fact of life. Ridiculous? How is that?? The only thing ridiculous is your statement.. This would be much better than your average sedentary American jumping in his car to drive somewhere close by, besides, the project idea was to be GREEN not healthy.. Its amazing how people speak to others behind their mighty keyboards, but if it was in real life, it would be a whole other story.
spryor71 Lamnas6 years ago
Ok Mr.Lamnas, I added "healthy" to my statement. So you don't like my off-topic response... fine. Let me re-phrase that for you. Buy a trike and ride it "as-is". This will keep earth green. If you are that lazy, and don't want to pedal it for less than 10 miles... buy the one that already has a battery powered motor on it. They'll cost you was less money, time, and headache trying to re-build your own "wheel". Don't let me discourage the inventor of this trike. I like the job done here. The statement is just my opinion, and I need no keyboard to hide behind. I tell it like it is. It's my god given right, and opinion.
Thats funny I thought this was Instructables , you know for people that like to build things . Also there is and older generation out there that could use something like this and would want to build it themselves . Lets face most of the older generation like 60+ really can't handle biking a few miles , specially on a heavy trike . Also to me it would seem calling some ones project ridiculous is just not in the spirit of things . I applaud anyone trying to put more electric driven vehicles out there . Attitudes like this is what killed the EV1 .
You couldn't have said it better. Thank you. I will be very happy to what mister spryor71 have for us. I believe in this "It's better to be stupid and keep your mouth shut than to talk and prove it" Have a great day guys
spryor71 rhoula2 years ago
aaaaawe, you're so nice!.... :\
ac-dc Mario20076 years ago
So you think someone old enough that they can't pedal a bike is able to build this, and can deal with the situation they're stuck in when it inevitably breaks some day on the road? Nothing lasts forever even if it's built well. Do you think someone in poor physical shape and elderly should be out in the summer heat or winter cold? No. A little common sense would be nice, if someone elderly needs to travel they should have an automobile as that IS why the roads exist. You are wrong that a "heavy trike" is much of a problem, because it need not be especially heavy if you don't have soloar panels, a battery and a motor. Just as you are free to think something is a good idea, it is fair to have others imparting their wisdom about why they feel it isn't a good idea. It would be senseless to just pretend every idea someone throws out is worthy of undertaking without consideration of the negative as well as positive aspects of it, and everyone should fully weigh all aspects before making up their mind. You act as though this is people against electric vehicles but it is not, it is about only one specific vehicle, the practicality and whether it is meeting a specific need, is safe in all aspects, is road legal, worthy of the cost to build and maintain it, etc. Your comments about the EV1 show you just don't get it, that those opposed to this may not be opposed to other vehicles.
dpearce1 (author)  spryor716 years ago
spryor71 -- "Don't let me discourage the inventor of this trike" spryor71 -- "I think this project is rediculous"... Definition: ridiculous -(adj.) 'causing or worthy of ridicule or derision; absurd; preposterous; laughable'... spryor71 -- "Stop trying to re-invent the wheel". Why? What if there is a better wheel that we have not yet imagined? What if this wheel could help better our environment? Of course wheel here is a trope for any new technology, since by definition a wheel is already ideal. Re-Inventing the wheel, (figuratively), is what this website is all about. Instructables promotes innovation, sharing of knowledge, and advancing technology, all of which this project attempts to achieve, hence the placement of it's documentation on this website. I am open and thankful to criticism and advice, and you are entitled to your and your god's opinion, but purely negative comments are against Instructables comment policy so please keep this in mind when posting comments in the future.
ac-dc dpearce16 years ago
You are essentially trying to censor someone's point of view. He's right, only people who are physically disabled should think about a transportation device like this, anyone else should just pedal the 8 miles which is nothing on a bike once one has done it a few times so they are in better shape. It is not green to take a green device like a bicycle and make it less green than it started out!
spryor71 ac-dc6 years ago
Thank you for supporting my views/thoughts. I think some people here, think they can just throw anything on the site, and "expect" a pat on the head. Well, I come from a graphics design college. If you thought my criticism was tough... think again. My thoughts on the trike is exactly what you confirmed. I'm glad you cleared it up with everyone.
SirJoey ac-dc6 years ago
I have to agree. Unfortunately, I AM one of those people with disabilities, which is why I was asking Mr. Pearce about how to go about building something along these lines with a 50 mile range, cuz I'm a senior citizen who lives alone in a rural area, 20 some miles from the grocery store. All I have for transportation is a 15 year old gas hog van that's presently broke down & in need of $1,000 in repairs. Seems to me that it would make much more sense to invest the money in something like this, if it could be built with enough range to at least make trips to town for groceries, doctor visits, church, etc. Can anyone help? Thanx!
ac-dc SirJoey6 years ago
SirJoey, this is not suitable as a primary form of transportation. If you deem the van not worth $1000 to fix, the better investment is a small newer to median age car. However, for a van (except those junky GM spaceship looking vans based around a chevy lumina chassis) 15 years isn't necessarily retirement age, if it's in reasonable condition it might have some resale value even being in need of repair, money that could go towards the small car. The sun is not a reliable enough source of energy to depend upon for longer travels nor recharging on demand. TO reach 50 miles your best bet is several more batteries, actually not even this bike at all as you would want one with a frame better accomodating the extra weight of more batteries and build in a shape so it can place them on a rack near the bottom to retain a low center of gravity. Something that elaborate is even less likely to be legal to drive on public roads as it's no longer just a "bicycle". Even the bike built here may not be street legal in all 50 states.
SirJoey ac-dc6 years ago
ac-dc, thanx for the response. You make some good points, which are much appreciated. Having debated the van issue for quite awhile now, I don't think I want to spend that kind of money on it, considering that all I'd have would be a well-worn gas hog, at 13mpg! At current gas prices, it's a $16 round trip to town! OUCH!!! Sadly, buying another vehicle is beyond my modest means, at present anyway, so as I see it, I only have 2 choices. I can build an electric HPV, or sink more money into the old van. I'm still able to do SOME things, & though progress is very slow, I've already been in the process of building a sturdy trike for quite some time now. I had already planned on putting a roof on it, so it seems the perfect candidate for solar panels. I agree, the sun is not reliable enough to count on for transportation, thus the reason for wanting 50 mile range, enough to get me there & back WITHOUT the sun, AND I'd be doing some peddling too, as much as possible. As for this being primary transportation, I admit it'd be tough, & a bit of a stretch, but maybe I could get by with it until I eventually save up enough to buy another fossil burner. I'm kinda desperate, & with laws here governing HPVs being comparatively generous, I think it would be acceptable. At the very least, I'd have something with some good range for cruising these country back roads for fun & exercise, right? Thanx again for your comments & support! :)
that last part about "keeping earth green" doesn't make sense because he was using solar energy to power electric motors which produce absolutly zero emissions or harmful matter
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