Solar-powered taxi seeks to go around world

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Louis Palmer’s taxi cost as much as two Ferraris, has a top speed of 90 kms (55 miles) per hour yet could make history as the first solar-powered car to drive around the world.

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Palmer, a Swiss teacher who set off from Lucerne in July, is having a stop-off in Bali, Indonesia, to help environment ministers and others among 10,000 delegates get around at a December 3-14 U.N. climate conference in a luxury beach resort.

“This is the first time in history that a car is driving around the world without using a single drop of petrol,” he told Reuters by the blue and white three-wheeled car, which tows a flat-topped trailer with 6 sq meters (65 sq ft) of solar panels.

“This car is driving entirely with solar energy,” he said. So far he has driven 14,400 km (8,950 miles) through 17 nations including Romania, Turkey, Syria and India.

That is about a third of the way through a trip meant to take him across Australia, parts of Latin America, the United States, north Africa and back home in about a year’s time.

The distance covered on land will be more than around the equator. Palmer is relying, however, on oil-powered ships for some stretches, such as from India to Indonesia. And he also has a petrol-fuelled vehicle for support, including repairs.

Palmer, 35, has a “taxi” sign on the roof -- he is willing to pick up passengers for free in the low-slung two-seater car.

“I had a drunk hitch-hiker in Hungary but also had Prince Hassan of Jordan inside,” he said. In Bali, one job will be to pick up the head of the U.N. Environment Program, Achim Steiner, from the airport.

“I want to make people aware that there is global warming but you also have solutions,” Palmer said. His car is an example of new ways to curb use of fossil fuels at the U.N. talks, which is trying to widen a fight against global warming.

He reckons the car would cost around 6,000 euros ($8,900) if mass produced. But factoring in work by sponsors and friends the car would be the cost of two Ferraris. “The top speed is 90, but in city traffic the Ferraris go 50. So do I.”

The car is nine meters (30 feet) long including the trailer and weighs 700 kg (1,500 lb). Palmer admits he cheats if daily trips exceed 100 kms -- he then needs to use a back-up battery, charged by electricity from solar panels.

After a car crashed into his trailer in Syria “the transport minister decided to give us a police export. Wherever I went...I had a police escort with motorcycles and flashing lights.”

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Editing by David Fogarty