Cambridge University Eco Racing team has officially launched its bid for victory in this year's World Solar Challenge in Australia
1 August 2013

Cambridge University Eco Racing, Britain's sole entrant into the World Solar Challenge, has officially unveiled its radical challenger for this year's competition.

Members of the CUER team launched the car at the Science Museum in London yesterday in preparation for October's 3000-kilometre (1860-mile) sun-fuelled race across the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide.

The design of the team's electric vehicle – named Resolution after the HMS Resolution, in which Captain Cook made his second voyage of exploration to the South Pacific – marks a major departure from previous WSC vehicles produced by the student team.

A rule change for this year's race stipulates that competing machines must have four wheels, whereas three-wheelers had been more popular and successful in the past. Other changes relate to driver positioning and visibility out of the vehicle.

Faced with these new challenges CUER devised the teardrop-shaped vehicle in preference to the flat, rectangular designs that have been more common in the past. Those shapes are designed to optimise the solar panels' ability to soak up the sun, but Resolution puts the emphasis on aerodynamics.

Its rear-mounted solar array, which is mounted under a clear canopy, pivots to track the movement of the sun through the sky. This means the panels remain at the optimum angle to the sun, allowing them to gather 20 per cent more power.

Resolution's tiny dimensions are also influenced by CUER's decision to use high-efficiency solar cells. The regulations place a restriction on the size of the solar array depending on the type of cells used. CUER is using spacecraft-specification gallium arsenide cells and is thus restricted to three square meters of panels. Gallium arsenide cells are both lighter and more efficient than silicon-based variants.

Propulsion comes from a rear-wheel-mounted motor. The rules permit some of the excess energy produced by the solar cells to be stored in 5kWh lithium-ion battery cells, to power the vehicle when the sun isn't out or when an incline or headwind is encountered.

The 4.5m-long car produces about 1.5kW of power – about the same as a hair dryer – but is capable of a top speed of about 85mph, although during the race it is more likely to cruise at between 50-60mph. It weighs 120kg and uses low rolling resistance tyres that are designed specifically for solar powered cars.

CUER has the support of several key automotive and engineering companies, including Jaguar Land Rover, Cambridge Precision, Lenovo and SKF. It is testing the vehicle at Millbrook proving ground and has also had access to JLR's environment testing chamber, which has enabled the team to replicate the sort of conditions that it might face in Australia.

Resolution will have advanced on-board telemetry, which will take into account traffic, weather and driving style, to help advise the team on how to reach their optimum efficiency during the race.

Four drivers will take turns behind the wheel of Resolution. Each day has a 'racing curfew' of 5pm, so the emphasis is on completing as many miles as possible each day. After the curfew, teams can continue to use solar energy to replenish their cars' batteries.

CUER's entire team numbers 60, and all of the work on the project has been carried out in the students' spare time. About 20 members of the squad will travel to Australia for the race, which begins on 6 October.

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Comments
9

1 August 2013

Is it not feasible for car makers in general and electric car makers in particular to install solar cells on the vehicles' roof.

Even if the energy thus harnessed only runs the AC on sunny days or other electronics on less sunlit days, it may still boost the EVs range usefully.

Sunny days like today always make me wonder why don't we make use of this freely available energy worldwide? Are we addicted to fossil fuel?

2 August 2013

fadyady wrote:

Is it not feasible for car makers in general and electric car makers in particular to install solar cells on the vehicles' roof.

Even if the energy thus harnessed only runs the AC on sunny days or other electronics on less sunlit days, it may still boost the EVs range usefully.

Sunny days like today always make me wonder why don't we make use of this freely available energy worldwide? Are we addicted to fossil fuel?

I seem to remember that the Toyota hybrid had an optional solar power roof on offer somewhere in the world. 

Anyhow, hope isn’t totally lost regarding our dependance on fossil fuels as wind power and solar power contribution grows by the year. Renewable power is almost on target to hit 20% of our average yearly needs by 2020, other countries also well on the way.  

20% is a pretty good figure when you think it was probably less than 5% in 2000

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 August 2013

The problem with solar powered cars is indeed the amount power available from solar photovolatics. CUER's car could probably supply the electric motors with an average of around 1.2-1.3kW (in the Australian desert). If everything works out how they envisage they may well be able to average around 90-100kph in the race. The route is flat with pretty much zero need stop, apart from to change drivers, not to mention the ridiculously lightweight and aerodynamic design. 

Modern day cars need to carry more than one person, meet safety regulations, accelerate in a respectable time and be manoeuvrable. All this causes a need for much more power. For example, the Volkswagen UP's least powerful engine has 59.2bhp, or around 44kW. That's around 35x the power available to CUER's car. And then there's the price of photovoltaics...

The work Cambridge have done is astonishing, especially when considering this is all designed and manufactured by the students in their spare time (which is probably hard to come by when studying Engineering at Cambridge).  Cambridge and other universities from around the globe have proved that Solar Power is a viable fuel option when every aspect of the cars and race is designed around the lack of power available to the cars. However, solar power is not a feasible fuel option for modern day car design.  

 

For me, the most interesting aspect of this car is its hugely efficient design. It IS possible for modern day cars to try and take a leaf out of Cambridge’s design. The aerodynamic theory is known throughout the automotive industry, all it requires is for car companies to take a gamble and allow efficiency to take priority over practicality, styling and manoeuvrability. 

2 August 2013

xxxx wrote:

...Renewable power is almost on target to hit 20% of our average yearly needs by 2020, other countries also well on the way. 

20% of our energy coming from renewable power is a very healthy figure.

LP in Brighton wrote:

So far as I can see there are two reasons why solar panels are not used on car roofs.

I don't know what it powers but Nissan offers as an optional extra a solar panel on the Leaf's spoiler.

Adam123456 wrote:

...The work Cambridge have done is astonishing... 

Astonishing and praiseworthy. Indeed.

2 August 2013

So far as I can see there are two reasons why solar panels are not used on car roofs.

1) You'd just about get enough energy from them to power say the windscreen wipers or headlights. A few watts wouldn't be enough to do anything very useful - and that's only when the sun is shining.

2) The payback time when the useful energy offsets the initial installation cost is likely to be about the same as the life as the average car, so the purchaser wouldn't gain anything.

The problem really is that energy from other sources, be they petrol, diesel or mains electricity is still very cheap.

I think for Britain what's needed is a wind, or rain powered car... 

3 August 2013

Sorry, I just used the headlights as an example of something which requires around 100 - 150 watts, which is the kind of power a roof solar panel might generate.

In practice, I'm sure that the solar panel would be connected so as to provide additional battery charging, relieving the alternator of some work. In reality then, the solar panel would provide a percentage of power for everything electrical on the vehicle (including the headlights). This would fractionally improve the car's overall efficiency. But the fact that only one manufacturer is doing it suggests that the benefits are not really worthwhile.

I suspect Nissan is only doing it so as to be "seen to be green" rather than for any other reason.

 

2 August 2013

Or a snow powered car, in winter. I seem to remember a SAAB prototype which had a roof solar panel, to power a ventilation fan, when the car was parked up, on a hot day. So when you came back from your shopping, the car wasn't an oven, inside. 

www.KOOOLcr.com

 

2 August 2013

This is not essentially something new, but the students should get congratulations, nonetheless.

However, rather than try to use awkward and limited solar energy directly, it might be best to use either solar or wind* to hydrolyze sea water to form H2, which can then be converted to CH4 for easy combustion in existing ICE engines.  See the Audi links below:

http://jalopnik.com/audis-carbon-neutral-e-gas-is-real-and-theyre-actuall-587518379

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/auto-blog/audis-new-e-gas-plant-will-make-carbon-neutral-fuel-15627667

http://blog.caranddriver.com/audi-opens-first-e-gas-synthetic-fuel-production-facility/

 

* Wind can be used next to sea areas where wind is strong (North Sea in Denmark, Holland, or Germany); Solar can be used where the sun is strong and constant (North and West Africa). 

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