Students Build Solar Power Race Car

The Schulich Delta, a solar power race car, drove around the streets of Manhattan thanks to National Geographic's Breakthrough promotional event. The Delta is the creation of University of Calgary's student solar power team, who volunteered to create a larger solar power car, contrary to the tiny one seaters that are currently the norm. Made of carbon fiber composites and weighing a mere 360lbs (286kg), the car is still quite light, but has enough room for a passenger. This awesome solar cars shows the amazing things that can still be accomplished in the solar industry with even limited resources.  These students are an inspiration. Here is an excerpt: 

Composites and expanded polystyrene foam make up the chassis, with Kevlar used in places where electricity-conducting carbon fiber wouldn't be suitable. The roof-mounted solar panels feed a 14kWh lithium-ion battery, and there are a pair of 2hp (1.5kW) motors that drive the rear wheels. Showing us around the Schulich Delta, Lee pointed out the checkerboard finish on the solar panels.

The angle at which light hits a photovoltaic cell affects how much electricity gets produced; unlike a static solar panel, that angle constantly changes on a moving vehicle. The squares are a coating on top of the Schulich Delta's solar panels that reflects light from different angles down onto the photovoltaic cells below at the optimum angle. The result is panels that are 23.9 percent efficient (almost double that of the solar panels we put on our roofs).

Even on a cloudy day in Manhattan's anthropocene canyons there's enough light to power the Schulich Delta, but Lee told us that on a sunny day—somewhere like the Circuit of the Americas in Texas (where the team competed in the 2015 Formula Sun Grand Prix, coming ninth)—the car could harvest and store enough energy to drive around the clock.

It took a year to design and a year to build, and the students did it all. The body was designed with the help of computational fluid dynamics—although Lee maintained a healthy skepticism about the accuracy of computer modeling in the real world. With his help I strapped into the carbon fiber bucket seat, donned a helmet for safety reasons, and then set off around the block with Ryan Ma at the wheel.

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