Solar Concentrator Green Race Car

For the first time University of Michigan students have managed to implement mirror technology in a solar car. The vehicle, named Continuum, arrived at the 7th place at the Panasonic World Solar Challenge, a 1,800-mile race across Australia. In the project, participated more than 100 members all of them university students.

The University of Michigan students used mirrors to intensify the Sun’s rays, using a “solar concentrator system” so that more energy is produced. The system was designed and built solely by the students. Moreover, extra caution was taken by the designers to obey the new rules, set only recently by the Panasonic World Challenge administrators. Officials have decided to slow down the event by limiting the size of the solar array. This means that cars that previously had an average speed of between 50 and 60 mph (80 to 96 km per hour) during the race, but they are capable of closing in on 90 mph.

Most of Continuum is covered with regular solar cells that look like rows of photograph negatives, but the section behind the driver’s seat is lined with ½-inch-wide solar panel strips that hover over scalloping mirrors. Although their design was risky seeing as the solar panels could have fallen off and broken the students seemed fearless and were willing to push the limits in order to win Panasonic’s Challenge. Before the race, Brian Ignaut, Panasonic Challenge Race Manager and a Senior Engineering Major, said: “We came out for 2007 to improve performance; we knew that we had to really push the envelope to be able to compete at the highest level.” It is worth mentioning that the team has given the University of Michigan many reasons to be proud – they won the North American Solar Challenge four times, and came in at the 3rd place in three World Solar Challenge.

“This is the first time this technology has been applied to a vehicle and it’s truly a breakthrough. It has the potential to revolutionize solar car technology,” said Robert Culver, Faculty Advisor and Industry Co-Director of the U-M Tauber Institute for Global Operations. Before the race, the car’s technology seemed superior to that of the other participants, but due to an accident that delayed the car it came in only at the seventh place. However, the results do not diminish the pride of the team After the race, they said: “To us, the first half of the race demonstrates that we are the best team in the world, while the second half demonstrates that we have the best car in the world.”

The Solar Car team’s superb commitment is shown in the words of Steve Hechtman, a junior electrical engineering major and solar car driver: “Solar Car is something that encompasses your whole life. It’s a student project, but it’s a whole lot more. The hours, the time, the dedication required are so much greater than anything else I’ve ever experienced.”

TFOT has recently covered the Zephyr, a small aircraft propelled by solar energy. To read more about developments in the solar cells area, see our story about the new Organic Solar Cells.

More information can be found on the University of Michigan website.