The Array of Choice
Building a solar car isn't easy, but a team of engineering students at Drexel University in Philadelphia succeeded in designing a wedge-shaped carbon-fiber vehicle that won its category in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas last weekend.
(Read:"Drexel Students Take on the Solar Challenge")
The Green Dragon, as the car was called (after Drexel's mascot), cruised the six-mile track in downtown Houston at 90 miles (144 kilometers) per kilowatt-hour, to take home the first prize of $1,500 in the solar prototype vehicle category.
Using the standard that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted for electric vehicles, which equates 33.7 kilowatt-hours of energy to one gallon of gasoline, their result was the equivalent of 3,033 miles per gallon (1,290 kilometers per liter).
Only a handful of the 30 university and 18 high school teams from the United States and Canada who traveled to Houston for the Eco-marathon competition on April 16 and April 17 chose to power their high-efficiency vehicles with solar cells. A far more certain path is to go with a traditional internal combustion engine, and then drive down gasoline or diesel consumption by making the car as light and as aerodynamic as possible. But the Drexel students liked the inherent efficiency of the electric motor and the opportunity to try an alternative energy choice.
But that meant while most Drexel students were on spring break just three weeks before the competition, members of the solar car team were in the workshop, because the long-awaited solar cells they had ordered had just arrived. Mingming Liu (above), one of the electrical engineering students on the team, picks up one of the solar arrays to test them. The cells are resting on the Styrofoam mold the students hand-cut to form the shape of their car. Also atop the mold, in the rear, is the shatter-proof polycarbonate plastic bubble that will, in effect, be the driver's windshield.
(Related Photos: Cars of Tomorrow at the Shell Eco-marathon)
Pictures: Building the Perfect Solar Car
On their journey to designing a prize-winning solar car in a high-efficiency vehicle race, a team of Drexel University students explored the practical side of engineering, and also had fun.