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Students build solar-powered race car

Posted: 08 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar race car? vehicle electric? solar energy?

Cambridge University students have unveiled plans for a solar-powered racing car that will cruise at 60MPH in the forthcoming World Solar Challenge, a grueling 3,000 km journey from Darwin to Adelaide across the Australian outback.

Dubbed the 'Bethany', the car's power will come from solar energy captured by a 6m? covering of silicon cells.

Underneath this solar "skin", however, the car will essentially be an efficient electric vehicle, which designers say could provide a model for other forms of green transportation.

"At a time when the automotive industry is being forced to look at a low-carbon future, our vehicle demonstrates the enormous potential of energy-efficient electric vehicle technologies," Anthony Law, manager of the student group Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER), which is building the car.

Using computer simulation software, the car's aerodynamics, rolling resistance, weight and electrical efficiency have all been optimized to minimize its energy requirements. It will also be fitted with an energy-efficient hub motor, a control system to provide battery management and an electric braking system that generates energy.

The researchers estimate that the 170kg vehicle would require up to 50x less power than a normal petrol-fuelled car.

CUER has already designed U.K.'s first road-legal solar-powered car, code-named 'Affinity', which was driven from Land's End to John O'Groats last year.

The new vehicle should be finished in June. It will then be road-tested extensively before being shipped to Australia for the race, which is scheduled to take place between October 25 and 31.

The car's creators hope that the innovations in Bethany's design will enable it to put in the best ever performance by a U.K.-manufactured vehicle, even though the team will be up against university and corporate teams that boast seven-figure budgets, rather than the Cambridge group's own of about ?200,000 . Some seventy-five students from across the University have been involved in designing or building the vehicle, supported by a network of corporate sponsors, academics and specialist advisors.

The initiative is one of more than forty supported by the 2009 Fund, which was set up to support a wide range of University projects to commemorate Cambridge's 800th anniversary this year.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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