While the first driveable solar car came to fruition in 1962, solar-powered vehicles for mass consumption have long been out of reach due to technological and economic limitations. But Dutch startup Lightyear has revealed it’s new Lightyear One prototype and it could change the game in electric vehicles. That’s because it has the longest range of any EV; it’s also solar powered.

Lightyear unveiled the car on June 24 and claims that it has a range of 450 miles on a single charge. If Lightyear’s claims pan out, that would mean the Lightyear One would outlast Tesla’s Model S (widely considered the market leader) by 80 miles.

What’s more, Lightyear One’s five solar panels can also convert the Sun’s rays to energy at about the rate of 7.5 miles an hour. While this doesn’t seem like much, consider this: someone could drive their Lightyear One almost 20 miles to work, let it charge for eight hours in the sun, and return home without having to charge, as Electrek pointed out.

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But what if it’s cloudy? Luckily, Lightyear One can pull power from regular EV chargers, and it can also receive a charge from a normal outlet. Therefore, if the Sun isn’t shining, the EV still has two charging options. Basically, if you can charge your phone, you can charge your car.

Being able to offer viable solar/electric cars to the public is something Lightyear is proud of. “This moment represents a new era of driving,” Lex Hoefsloot, CEO of Lightyear said during the prototype reveal. “Two years of dreaming, thinking and working hard have led to this milestone, which is a giant leap towards achieving our mission of making clean mobility available to everyone.”

From Stella Lux to Lightyear

Lightyear got its start as an intrepid group of engineering students from the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The students created Solar Team Eindhoven to compete in the World Solar Challenge.

Team Eindhoven developed the Stella Lux in 2015. The Stella Lux is an energy positive solar car, which means that it can produce more energy than the car consumes. Team Eindhoven’s work was innovative because past solar/electric vehicles had a Catch 22 to deal with.

It’s difficult to add any substantial energy to a solar vehicle because there’s generally not enough surface area on a car to put the required number of solar cells. Without this group of cells, there wouldn’t be any meaningful energy boost. Plus, the more solar cells added, the heavier the car. This means the car would need more energy, and so on.

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Team Eindhoven solved this problem by building the Stella Lux with an extremely aerodynamic design. They also used super lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber.

Team Eindhoven would go on to win the World Solar Challenge more than once and the design for the Stella Lux would inspire five members of the team to create Lightyear in order to develop a street-legal model. While the Lightyear One is pretty pricey at about $170,000, that price is expected to drop. This means that an affordable, positive energy solar car could be just a few years away.

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