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April 23, 2017

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Teams set off on global 'zero emissions' race

GENEVA -- Two drivers, three wheels, US$350 and zero carbon emissions.

That's how Australian father-and-son team Nick and Jason Jones hope to circle the globe in their custom built electric vehicle.

The duo joined teams from Germany and Switzerland on Monday for the start of a round-the-world race aimed at showcasing green technologies.

The aim is to complete the 18,642-mile (30,000-kilometer) trip without pumping carbon into the atmosphere, a goal that Louis Palmer, the race organizer, believes can be done.

Palmer should know. Two years ago the Swiss inventor and former schoolteacher completed his own round-the-world trip in a solar-powered taxi without using a single drop of gas.

"Technology has developed a lot since then," Palmer told reporters as the vehicles lined up at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. "These are capable of doing 500 kilometers (311 miles) a day."

The race — which will be measured in points for style, technology and popularity rather than speed — will pass through 150 cities, including Berlin, Moscow, Shanghai, Los Angeles and Cancun, the Mexican resort where governments are going to hold a global climate change meeting at the end of November.

Participants will charge their vehicles from regular power outlets along the way, offsetting their consumption by pumping electricity into the grid from solar and wind plants back at home.

Swiss competitor Toby Wuelser claims his futuristic design can do 218 miles (350 kilometers) on a single charge and reach speeds up to 155 miles (250 kilometers) an hour.

"It's like flying half a meter (20 inches) above the ground," he said before boarding the bullet-shaped vehicle and zipping silently up the hill to the starting line.

Sandra Lust from Berlin is competing on a souped up electric scooter.

"There are some fancy electrics and a bigger battery inside, but otherwise it's the same" as the production model that can already be bought for about 8,500 euros (US$11,000), she said.

The Joneses, who have already taken part in races across Australia and enjoy sponsorship from search engine company Google Inc., said they have no plans to mass produce their car. But all the plans to do so are available on the team website for others to follow, said Jason Jones.

The team says its vehicle is so efficient it will pay just US$350 for the electricity needed to circle the globe.

Palmer said the race, which is expected to last 80 days and pass through 16 countries, is no simple challenge. An American team that was supposed to compete lost their vehicle to a fire, while a South Korean team is expected to join later after running into battery trouble.

Outlandish as the vehicles may be compared to regular models on the road today, Palmer said he hopes manufacturers will soon embrace some of the green technologies and incorporate them in their cars.

Eventually he hopes that a two-seater electric vehicle with a range of 155 miles (250 kilometers) will be sold for as little as 10,000 euros (US$12,820).

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