New solar car ready to defend title

Pertunia Thulo -- Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:45

New solar car ready to defend title

It may not have been the most elegant vehicle on the road but the ‘Batmobile’, as it was affectionately known, certainly was effective. It powered a group of Potchefstroom Campus Engineering students to joint first place and four records in their first attempt at the Sasol Solar Challenge, an international event in which university students design and drive solar-powered cars.

Not a drop of petrol was used along the way. Contestants are allowed to charge their car’s batteries with DC power before the race starts but once on the road, the sun is strictly the only source of energy.

Now the Batmobile has gone into retirement, making way for a completely new car for the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge. Meet the Sirius X25.

“The competition rules change to take technology advances into account so you need to build a new car every time. The Sirius X25 is being built entirely by students, has a total weight of only 140kg and will be able to reach speeds in the excess of 100km/h,” says Prof Albert Helberg, team leader.

Like the first car, the new one will be a one-seater vehicle with the “bare basics” inside, consisting of a steering wheel, brake pedal, gas pedal and various compulsory light switches.

“There are no luxuries like a radio or air conditioner,” says electrical engineering master’s student Raynard du Preez, who is in charge of the electrical design and battery management system, explaining that these would just weigh down the car. “The challenge is to build a car with the most power within the weight limit – and within budget.”

Mechanically, the new car will be similar to its predecessor, the Batmobile, but will be lighter and more aerodynamic. The entire electrical system has been redesigned, including the solar panels, battery system and the electric motor, Du Preez says. “We’ve done a lot of research to find the right battery chemistry and have decided on lithium polymer, one of the newer and best battery chemistries.”

He is one of four postgraduate students who will be taking turns to drive the car in the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge, taking place from 27 September until 4 October. The race is from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth via Bloemfontein, ending in Cape Town. The NWU team is aiming to travel a total distance of 5 000 km by driving extra “loops”- these are optional routes of between 58 km and 132 km at small towns along the way. The greater the distance a car goes in the Challenge, the more points its team can score. 

In any event, the NWU team want to spend as much time behind the wheel as they can. The reason? “It’s quite fun to drive a solar car,” says Du Preez, “but it’s a great feeling knowing that you are driving a car that could potentially change the future of the automobile industry.”

View the video about this year’s solar car: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jRpiyPpMi48

Go to the NWU solar car's webpage (http://www.nwu.ac.za/solarcar) for more information.