University’s solar car ready to roll

On a very sunny day, the solar car, the Borealis III, can last all day.

Jerret Raffety

The battle for solar supremacy will be decided on the open road this summer.

The University’s Solar Vehicle Project Team is days away from the 2005 North American Solar Challenge, a 2,500-mile race from Austin, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta. The race, which begins Sunday, will take 10 days.

“It’s like the Tour de France of solar car races,” said Trevre Andrews, the solar car project manager.

Andrews, a first-year master’s candidate in the College of Education and Human Development, said the project has involved up to 46 undergraduate students using interdisciplinary technologies. Planning for the car began in January 2004, he said.

Al Majkrzak, a University graduate in mechanical engineering and the mechanical team leader, said safety and maintenance checks, which are mandated by race officials on the University’s solar racing vehicle, the Borealis III, are complete.

“We feel we have a good team and great car and we feel pretty confident to place high in the race,” Majkrzak said.

Further tests on the motor and crew training must be completed before the University students involved will let the Borealis III race, he said.

Driving the car requires special care and training to use energy as efficiently as possible, Majkrzak said. Drivers must avoid accelerating and braking too hard, as well as erratic movements on the road, to make the most of all energy used, he said.

Safety is another priority, and drivers must work hard to make sure they are seen and can see everyone else on the road, Majkrzak said. Drivers must also obey all traffic laws to the best of their ability.

Andrews said design for the solar vehicles was limited by size and number of wheels by race officials. Also, the vehicle must have several features such as turn signals, license plates, a windshield, windshield wipers and several other safety features to be considered legal for street driving, he said.

The Borealis III, weighing only 370 pounds, is the lightest and most powerful solar vehicle University teams have ever produced, Andrews said.

On a very overcast day, the Borealis III could last for 250 miles at a cruising speed of 50 mph, fueled entirely by its battery. On a very sunny day, the Borealis III is capable of cruising at 60 mph from sunrise to sunset, he said.

Andrews said he estimates the Borealis III could be capable of reaching up to 90 mph.

Each solar vehicle will travel in a caravan, with its university’s crew traveling in vans in front and behind it, in case of emergency or a breakdown, Andrews said.

The race will have checkpoints where participants can fuel their vans, eat and sleep, he said.

The project was funded by donations from several companies and the public as well as departments within the University, Andrews said.

Patrick Starr, project adviser for the Solar Vehicle Project and professor in the mechanical engineering department, said the benefit of the project was the hands-on and organizational experience it gives the students.

“It’s not about cars – it’s about the product development process,” he said.