Team unveils 2010 solar car

The car is entered in a 1,100-mile race, to take place in June.

Taryn Wobbema

Beneath cloud-covered skies Thursday, the University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project teamâÄôs newest solar car drove into the plaza outside McNamara Alumni Center, making its first public appearance. A team of 30 students have spent the last two years designing and constructing a 400-pound solar car. ItâÄôs the ninth car the University team has built and it will compete with 17 other teams on a 1,100-mile race in JuneâÄôs 2010 American Solar Challenge. Jeff Hammer, the teamâÄôs faculty advisor, said the car has improved aerodynamics over previous models. First-year biomedical engineering student Jillian Berge worked with the solar cells, mounting them on the car and encapsulating them with a process developed by 3M. The process includes covering the solar array with a liquid-like substance, made of polymers, that make the cells more powerful and efficient, Berge said. The solar cells are âÄúpretty fragile,âÄù and they sometimes cracked during the encapsulation process, which makes them less efficient, Berge said. This summerâÄôs cross-country race will last nine days. The team has four drivers that will alternate every three hours. The team can only drive for six hours each day. The team will have to be up each day before dawn so the car can sit out as the sun rises. Racing runs between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and then tracks the sun until it sets. Hammer said the team will have to calculate the optimum speed each day, depending on the brightness of the sun. If the driver goes too fast, the car loses battery faster than the energy from the sun can rejuvenate it. âÄúIf you drive too fast, you run out of power âĦ then youâÄôre stuck on the road, dead,âÄù Hammer said. âÄúIf you go to slow, youâÄôll have plenty of power in the battery, but youâÄôll lose the race.âÄù The team estimated it spent more than 50,000 hours on the project, which cost about $300,000 after materials and race participation costs. Hammer said about $200,000 of material was donated. Hammer said the students, all of whom are in the Institute of Technology, gain substantial practical experience through their participation with the solar car. âÄúThey get a lot of engineering theory. This is engineering practice. The difference is enormous,âÄù he said. Any miscalculations or mistakes have real consequences, he added. Alan Jacobs, a junior materials science student and this yearâÄôs project manager, said the solar car gives students the opportunity to apply the knowledge theyâÄôve acquired at the University. âÄúItâÄôs through the solar car that IâÄôve had pretty much all my experiences that make my time here at the U most valuable,âÄù Jacobs said. – Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter