University of Michigan solar car “Aurum” wins 2016 American Solar Challenge
Other than charging a battery-electric car using electricity harvested by photovoltaic panels, solar power isn’t exactly practical for current production cars.
But every year, dozens of solar-powered race cars compete in events around the world held for college students.
In the U.S., a team of students from the University of Michigan beat 23 others to win one such event.
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The students’ bright yellow solar car—named Aurum—won the 2016 American Solar Challenge and its qualifying race, the Formula Sun Grand Prix.
The car is powered by a 1.5-kilowatt solar array, with a 5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack onboard to store electricity when sufficient sunlight is not available.
It features a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis that helps keep weight down to 500 pounds, and is powered by a 1.8-kW (2.4-horsepower) electric motor.
The team is made up of 16 students working in four engineering divisions—mechanical, electrical, aerodynamics, and strategy—as well as operations and business divisions.
Over the past few weeks, it performed well in two different types of solar-racing events.
The Formula Sun Grand Prix is an on-track event that more or less follows the format of a traditional road race.
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Solar cars lap a closed course, which for this year’s event was the Pittsburgh International Race Complex—also known as Pitt Race—in Wampum, Pennsylvania.
The University of Michigan car not only won the race, but also posted the fastest lap time at 1:41.
The American Solar Challenge that followed the Formula Sun Grand Prix emphasized endurance over outright speed.
Held on public roads, it required teams to traverse 1,900 miles across seven states in eight days.
For 2016, the event was run in concert with the National Park Service to celebrate the national park system’s 100th anniversary.
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Racers stopped at nine national parks and historic sites, starting at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park July 30, and ending at Wind Cave National Park in North Dakota August 6.
The University of Michigan team has won the biennial American Solar Challenge eight other times since the team was started in 1990.
It also won the inaugural Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in 2015, and has five World Solar Challenge podium finishes to its credit.
The World Solar Challenge is held every two years in Australia, and last year attracted 40 teams from 20 countries.
While it’s questionable whether solar-powered cars will ever become viable for mass production, solar racing is likely to continue as long as students remain enthusiastic about building and racing these zero-emission cars.
[hat tip: Brian Henderson]
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