While Elon Musk’s Tesla is looking for new ways to harness renewable energy in batteries, 46 solar-powered cars are making a 3,000km journey from Darwin to Adelaide through Australia’s outback, in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge this week.
The competition, which began in 1987, is as much a race about aerodynamics as energy management. The solar cars are allowed just 5 kilowatts of stored energy, using no more than six square metres of solar panels, fuelled by the sun or kinetic energy for the entire journey.
The race began this morning in Darwin and among the 46 entrants, from 25 countries there are five Australian teams, including the University of New South Wales, Western Sydney University and Adelaide University.
Here’s a breakdown of the solar challenge this year.
The self-sufficient teams will travel as far as they can until 5pm tonight and camp anywhere in the desert.
They’ll pass through Katherine, Barrow Creek and Alice Springs, travelling the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta and then Highway 1 to Adelaide.
The race is expected to end in Adelaide’s Victoria Square late Wednesday or early Thursday, October 21-22.
Here’s a look at some of the leading contenders in this year’s competition.
Delft University of Technology
The Netherlands team are hoping to defend their world title with Nuna8, and a renewed focus on “efficiency, safety and reliability”.
The defending champions consist of 15 students from Delft University of Technology across the disciplines of aerospace engineering, industrial design engineering, technology policy and management as well as applied mathematics.
Nuna8 has taken 18 months to build.
Clenergy’s Team Arrow is another favourite this year after being ranked the top Australian finisher in the last World Solar Challenge, as well as having recently completed the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge where it won a mechanical design award.
Their vehicle, Arrow1-GT, is worth around $200,000, not a huge number in comparison to the other international entries.
The team is led by a mechatronic engineering graduate from the Queensland University of Technology with the aim to be “recognised as a serious player and innovator in the solar racing world in years to come”.
University of New South Wales
The UNSW team, Sunswift’s car, eVe, has been described as a “400-kilogram carbon fibre beast with a refitted interior and improved aerodynamics”.
Last year, the team broke a 26-year-old world record for the fastest electric car over a distance of 500km, surpassing the previous record of 73 kilometres an hour.
Earlier versions of the Sunswift car have also knocked off world records for the the fastest solar powered road trip from Perth to Sydney, as well as setting a Guinness World Record for the fastest solar car.
The vehicle is currently powered by solar cells or by charging through a power outlet and has already raised enough through a crowd-funding campaign to be registered for use on Australia’s roads.
The UNSW team has entered the race for 20 years.
University of Michigan
North America’s most successful solar race team, the so-called US “golden” team, is one of the leading contenders with Aurum.
“In Aurum we’ve worked on improving what we had before – we think it’s better than the competition,”
“We’ve optimised mechanical systems, and our solar array has the best cells on the market with a unique coating to make them even more efficient. Our light weight aerodynamic design is also unorthodox.
“We simulated more than 100 different geometries to find the most streamlined shape and placement of the driver and switched the steering wheel from the left side to the right in order to hug the interior of the road.”