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Australia’s World-Beating Solar Cars

Tracey James - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Australia’s World-Beating Solar Cars

In Australia, we're famous for celebrating sporting success - but is it only on a court or in a pool, or on a paddock or pitch? Isn't motor sport a sport? What about motor sport with record-breaking speed and ground-breaking technology? I proudly shine a light on some of our brightest, fastest engineering student achievements.   

Beating the world

That’s exactly what students from the Western Sydney University did in July 2018: they won the single occupant vehicle (SOV) class of the American Solar Challenge (ASC). Theirs was the first international solar car team to win the competition, and the first Australian team. So why has the Aussie media been more quiet on this than the car itself?

The 2,800 km race started in Nebraska and finished in Oregon. The WSU’s UNLIMITED solar racer 2.0 completed the distance in 37 hours and 55 minutes, just 16 minutes faster than the second place team from the University of Michigan. That team had won every race since 2001, and WSU team manager Saamiul Bashar said the team’s feelings ranged from disbelief to ecstasy when it won.

‘It seemed a bit out of reach,’ Bashar said, ‘given the factory support the team from Michigan receives from Ford and General Motors.’ He conceded that ‘there’s a little bit of pride in being able to stick it to the Americans.’

The WSU team also won the Teamwork Award. The 14 member team from down under received some support from Bridgestone, the major sponsor of Australia’s World Solar Challenge. Bridgestone’s ‘ECOPIA with ologic’ tyre reduces rolling resistance, air resistance and energy consumption.

The World Solar Challenge down under

The race from Darwin to Adelaide started it all in 1987, when GM’s SunRaycer won the event. Since then, it has been hotly contested by international teams from technical universities in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the USA, as well as car makers General Motors, Ford and Honda.

The 3,000 km race poses serious challenges for the fragile solar racers: extreme heat, tropical downpours, crosswinds, willy-willies, dust storms and 53-metre long road trains barreling along at over 100 kilometres an hour.

An Australian team came close to winning the prestigious event in 2014, when the Sunswift racer built by students at UNSW was the fastest car to complete the race. After the judges allocated points for 'practicality' and for passenger carrying capacity, the Sunswift was relegated to third place.

The UNSW students smashed a 26-year-old world speed record for the fastest electric vehicle, covering a distance of 500km on a single battery charge. The car reached an average speed of 107kmh, beating the previous world record of 73kmh. More here

Breaking Records for Christmas

Just before Christmas 2018, a UNSW solar car called Violet set a Guinness World Record for the lowest energy consumption while driving across Australia in an electric car. The team of 14 students completed the 4,100km journey in 6 days, two days ahead of schedule. Watch the Video.

Violet covered 600km a day on average, and consumed around 3.25kWh/100km a day. That’s about 17 times less than the average consumption of a fossil fuel-powered car. The Violet is the sixth-generation solar car built by Sunswift, a student-led initiative at UNSW that is now in its 22nd year.

UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman, who greeted the team at the finish line, told the media: ‘These students have pushed the boundaries of modern engineering and proven that solar powered cars are likely to be a big part of Australia’s motoring future … This is what a university degree should entail: actual, hands-on experience and overcoming real-world challenges. I am incredibly proud of the calibre of young adults we have studying here at UNSW.’

Universities join Forces for World Solar Challenge 2019

As happens in formula 1 and in sports car racing, the organisers tighten the rules every few years to force competitors to improve their technologies if they want to set new records.

Teams also regroup and, for the 2019 World Solar Challenge, 5 universities have joined forces and formed the Australian Technology Network (ATN).

The design and construction of the new solar racer will be distributed across Australia this way:

Curtin University (Perth) will handle driver controls, instrumentation & telemetry

UTS Sydney is in charge of the suspension & mechanical systems

RMIT University (Melbourne) is responsible for body design & component integration

University of South Australia (Adelaide) will handle project management

Queensland University of Technology was to focus on the solar collector, battery & motors, but dropped out late last year. A replacement has not yet been announced.

More details here.

Additional Reading

Solar cell technology: How it works

UNSW Researchers Break CZTS Solar Cell Efficiency Record

2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

Tracey James
Chief Executive

I used to be a Biotech researcher but got sick of acid holes in my clothing. After switching to selling the equipment I'd used in the lab, I discovered marketing and loved it. I've been marketing technologies ever since. I still love it.

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