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College student creates remarkable solar-powered car with nothing more than $500 and a pile of trash

He calls it the "Imagination Car."

Imagination Solar Car

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Alieu Mansaray

A university student in Sierra Leone showed the world how to build a solar-powered car out of nothing but trash in 2021.

Harmful pollution is a significant challenge for many countries, but especially Sierra Leone, which is ranked the 17th most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to air pollution. It's this exact problem that Emmanuel Alieu Mansaray, 24, hopes to ease with his clean-energy car design. 

"I decided to create the 'Imagination Solar Car,' which is powered by the sun, to reduce the risk of contracting incommunicable and respiratory diseases like lung cancer, asthma, etc., caused by inhaling hazardous fumes emitted by cars using other types of fuel," Mansaray told Interesting Engineering.

It took Mansaray three years to build the "Imagination" car, which began life as Sierra Leone's first locally made solar-powered tricycle in 2018. But he has been experimenting with electronics for much longer. 

When he was in primary school, Mansaray would collect aluminum cans from the trash and turn them into different varieties of cars. He also sourced old batteries and converted them into electricity for his home, which helped his family to study and charge their mobile phones at night.

Today, Mansaray can now be found driving his electric car, which cost him a total of $500 to make, at nine miles per hour, around his home in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The "Imagination" car is completely dirty energy-free. It features a solar panel on its top, which functions both as a roof and uses photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight and power the engine. 

Mansaray's design demonstrates how a car can make more use of sustainable materials. The car's body is made out of bamboo, and he has painted it the colors of Sierra Leone's flag — blue, green, and white. 

He's since been nominated for the 2022 Africa Genius Awards and the 2020 Social Good Summit's Innovation vs. Impact Award.

The IPCC says that electric vehicles should replace all new dirty energy-powered cars by 2035, and that all vehicles should be zero emission by 2050 in order to meet goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement.

To help the world reach that goal, the U.N. and Global Environment Facility (GEF) have committed funding to help 27 low and middle-income countries transition to EVs, including Sierra Leone. More than 90% of the EV market's future growth is expected to take place in low to middle-income countries, where EV adoption is currently held back by a lack of regulation and incentives.

This ongoing electrification will be helped along by inventors such as Mansaray, who wants to see his "Imagination" car one day go to the commercial market

"Having a solar car like my 'Imagination Car' using solar power for transportation will make for a cleaner atmosphere, thereby reducing the risk of dangerous gaseous emissions that have led to the death of thousands of people around the world," Mansaray told AFROTECH.

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