A carbon fibre solar powered car, to be raced by a team of Western Sydney University’s science and engineering students in the 3021 km Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, from Darwin to Adelaide, is set to steal the show.
The car is much lighter and far more efficient, says, team manager Saamiul Bashar.
“We have learnt so much from the previous two cars, without them, we certainly wouldn’t have the car we have now,” he said, via email.
“Every minute detail has been thoroughly examined and iterated upon, to produce a car that is lighter and far more efficient. Some specific improvements include the extended nose, combined trailing edge, new bearing design, an improved battery design, better solar cells and updated electronics,” Mr Bashar said.
‘Unlimited 2.0’ the 2017 model entered by WSU. Image: Facebook
This year’s entry in the race is ‘Unlimited 2.0’, using solar energy to power the vehicle.“We use a solar panel to capture some of the energy from the sunlight that falls on the car, which is stored in a battery, very similar to those found in road-going electric vehicles. We use this battery to store energy and provide power to our direct-drive electric motor, which is then able to move the car along the road at up to 130km/h,” he said.
So, what is solar energy and how exactly does it work? The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), is an Australian government led body that expedites the country’s usage of renewable energy sources. It states that solar energy is created by the heat and light of the sun, and then converted into electricity.
There are two main types of solar energy technology; Solar Photovoltaic which takes the sunlight and converts it into electricity via photovoltaic (PV) cells, (like the panels used in the solar car challenge) and the second is Solar Thermal, which converts sunlight to heat, used for space heating or heating up water, (like a solar hot water system), found in many homes.
Nathan S. Lewis, a professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology, told Science Magazine last year, that while solar energy has garnered support from governments and environmentalists, more research needs to be done to develop energy conversion materials, which will work with existing PV technologies, at a reduced cost.
The composition of a solar cell. Image: Science Magazine
“The costs of Si-based solar panels have declined so rapidly that panel costs now make up less than 30% of the costs of a fully installed solar-electricity system. Opportunities also exist to improve the capabilities of concentrated solar power systems that convert sunlight into heat. Improved thermal storage fluids would provide longer-term storage to compensate for cloudy days in areas of high direct insolation,” he claimed.
Professor Lewis suggested that thermoelectrics, could in the future, replace engines to provide efficient conversion systems that would therefore have no moving parts.
“Learning by doing and R&D will both be needed to produce an innovation ecosystem that can sustain the historical rate of cost reductions in PVs and concentrated solar thermal technology,” he said.
Dr Ali Hellany, supervisor of the Western Sydney University team, explains the solar challenge as an industrial-like, project based learning, giving engineering students the opportunity to put solar research and technology into practice.
“A final year project for 4 student engineers in 2011 then became a team of 50 students from all over the university, competing against the best in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge,” he said.
One of those students and instigator of the project is Jay Manley, who famously featured on a Western Sydney University ad, and now works for Tesla, leading the way in electric and solar energies.
“Climate change is real and we are the cause,” Jay Manley said. “Since I like civilization and progress, I am going to work on something that will prevent or mitigate the economic and social catastrophes that can endanger them,” he said.
The World Solar Challenge will celebrate its 30-year anniversary this year, seeing high school and university students from around the world, design and build a solar driven car, able to withstand the harshness of the Australian Outback.
The race begins October 8 in Darwin, and finishes October 15 in Adelaide.
Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, Western Sydney University. Video: You Tube
Article By: Helen Megalokonomos