Chinese thin-film manufacturer Hanergy and iconic British sports car maker Aston Martin are working on a joint R&D initiative looking at the use of solar in performance vehicles.

Announced at the Le Mans race in France last week, the initiative will explore technologies that could shave vital fractions of seconds off lap times.

The collaboration will initially examine how air conditioning units in race cars could be powered by a thin layer of solar cells in a car’s roof or windows.

Ben Sayer, a spokesman at Aston Martin racing said: “We’re looking to see how we can use their [Hanergy’s] solar film, initially on a racing car.”

Sayer went on to explain that in many endurance racing classes, to stay in line with FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship) regulations, GT (Grand Tourer) cars must be air conditioned to remain below 32 degrees centigrade inside the cockpit or to within 12 degrees of ambient temperature. Sayer said this problem is particularly acute as many endurance races take place in unforgiving, hot conditions.

“In racing terms when you’re talking about fractions of a second per lap and it’s a question of winning and losing, if you can not draw the energy from the engine. Traditionally in a road car, air conditioning is belt-driven, which drives the air conditioning pump directly off the engine. So when that is running it takes some energy off the engine which means you’re not driving the car. If we can find a way of applying the solar film that could take fractions of a second off the lap, it’s only going to be fractions of a second clearly, it won’t be massive, clearly then that has a benefit. The cars typically race in hot places; we’re off to Texas and the Middle East, the air conditioning works pretty hard and the races can last six hours.”

According to Sayer, both companies are looking at the collaboration initially in terms of how it could improve racing performance, but both are also open to expanding the scope and concept of the partnership further should the initial stages prove successful.

Speaking on Aston Martin Racing’s behalf, Sayer said, “If we can find a way to use solar film to power that aspect [air conditioning] then that means we can get faster lap times. We’re looking at that initially, then beyond that, how solar film may be used more extensively in the automotive industry.”

He also said that as he understood it, for Hanergy, the freshly inked partnership represents a new step forward, however tentative.

“Hanergy Solar are looking at the automotive industry as a growth area. The partnership with Aston Martin Racing will look initially at how that might work on the racing cars before we look at how it might apply on the road cars in the longer term.”

Sayer said that as the announcement was made on Friday, as yet there are no further details to reveal.

The move is the latest in a series of high profile partnerships for Hanergy after the company revealed late last year that it would be stocking IKEA in the UK with its residential rooftop solar products. Hanergy recently also began supplying electric supercar company Tesla with solar carports in China.