Local Man Develops Solar-Powered 'Ecotrike' 

Enviro-cruising: A small vehicle with big benefits.

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The solar-powered Ecotrike II travels at a maximum speed of 37 mph, will go 30 miles without a charge and can be licensed in Utah as a motorcycle, making it legal to drive on the roads. That limited capacity compared to passenger vehicles may not seem like competition for Honda or Ford, but hey—the Ecotrike never needs a fill-up at the gas station.

As many of them are parked along the road to Millcreek Canyon, you may have seen bioengineer Andy Schoenberg's unusual-looking vehicles. The former NASA employee spent more than a decade developing his solar-powered “zero-emissions” vehicles that he hopes to have for sale in the coming year.

The Ecotrike is like a scooter that has doors and a roof and runs entirely off of solar energy, but Schoenberg prefers to describe it as “a true zero-emissions vehicle for commuting.” Like other electric vehicles, the Ecotrike produces no exhaust. But unlike other electric vehicles, the Ecotrike doesn’t depend on the power grid and its associated pollution from coal-fired power plants. Instead, it uses solar power, which also frees the driver from the need of a plug-in at each stop.

“I've been concerned about the environment for over 20 years,” Schoenberg says, explaining why he started developing the Ecotrike vehicles. “If we're going to have 5 million people [in the Wasatch Front] driving SUVs, we won't be able to breathe.”

He began about 12 years ago. The Ecotrike 1 could travel at—maybe—20 mph, Schoenberg says, but “I've progressed slowly with the technology.”

For example, the first Ecotrike's solar panels produced only 60 watts of energy, but the Ecotrike II's panels are up to 270 watts and charge 16 lithium batteries stored under the seat. Those batteries power two 5-horsepower engines that carry the vehicle's 400-pound frame and up to a 200-pound load.

“For short trips, I just take this,” Schoenberg says. “We got rid of one of our cars.”

That's how he envisions consumers using the product, as well: as a supplementary vehicle used whenever the horsepower of a compact car—much less a Hummer—is unnecessary. “You don't need to hitch up 100 horses to the grocery store,” he says, pointing to the unused power most drivers take for granted in even the smallest of passenger vehicles. “The idea of this thing is you do not need to burn fossil fuels to get down the road.”

Schoenberg's cognizant of challenges in delivering the product to market. He says some Brigham Young University students helped him with market research and discovered that young people evaluate appearance and performance in vehicles they purchase; few, he says, seem to think about global climate change and carbon emissions.

“The market is those who are globally conscious of the threat of global warming,” he says. Schoenberg says Americans concerned enough about climate change to make lifestyle choices to address it represent maybe 1 or 2 percent of the population. But even that's a market of millions of Americans, many of whom might be willing to pay the $5,000 to $7,000 retail price he anticipates the Ecotrike will carry when it comes to market.

To help him push the business side of things, Schoenberg has partnered with general contractor Corey Day. He's hopeful that Ecotrike will be poised to steal market share from traditional vehicles when—not if—fossil fuel prices skyrocket.

“There is no stability in the fossil-fuels market,” he says. “We have a true green machine.”

And when not in use, the Ecotrike is also a solar-power substation that can power electronic devices. In a two-day power outrage, Schoenberg says, he used an Ecotrike to keep his refrigerator running.

Schoenberg says changes in environmental regulation would make it more clear why his vehicle is superior to fossil-fuel vehicles. The true cost of burning gasoline, he says, is “externalized” in the form of hospital visits, environmental cleanup and others. “Society pays that cost. What does that mean? … Well, Warren Buffet makes his millions, and we incur the costs.”

Schoenberg will be demonstrating the Ecotrike II on Oct. 9 at the High Road Cooler World Music Festival at Liberty Park.

Jesse Fruhwirth:

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