After prepping for some presentations I am giving, I thought it would be a good time to write about the North American Solar Challenge and building a solar-powered car.
I spent a good chunk of my time in University helping build a solar-powered car to race across North America from Austin, TX to Calgary, AB and eventually got to drive the car in the race! The design concept is an airfoil shaped car that uses only energy from the sun to power a motor and propel the car. The cars contain batteries in order to store charge and continue racing on days with poor weather and conditions.
The University of Calgary’s inaugural car used Galium-Arsenide solar cells to power a rear-wheel motor, with a carbon fiber shell and aluminum chassis. Charge could be stored in Lithium-Ion batteries, located at the front of the car. This vehicle had only 3 wheels; we traded off less weight for a slight decrease in road handling (i.e. 3 versus 4 wheels). The car took the shape of an airfoil in order to reduce drag and maximize aerodynamics.
We raced for 10 days and drivers were only allowed in the vehicle for 6-hour periods during an 8-hour race day. So changing out a driver had to be strategic with any other stops that could occur in a given day. Almost 10 years ago, drivers were lying nearly horizontal in the vehicles. Today changes to race-rules aim to make solar-power technology more feasible for real customers using the vehicles on a day to day basis. This means that solar car design needs to consider real factors like passengers, sitting up-right, and trunk space for groceries rather than just minimizing aerodynamics. Having seen the evolution of solar cars over the last decade, I am excited for the future of solar technology.
Check out more info on the North American Solar Challenge.