University of Calgary

Solar car

November 23, 2009

Solar car, the third generation

The Solar Car team unveils the Schulich Axiom.
/ Photo: Ken Bendiktsen
It’s lighter, faster and more energy efficient than its predecessors. Today, the University of Calgary Solar Team unveiled the prototype of its third-generation solar car, Schulich Axiom.

Like its predecessors Soleon and Schulich 1, the vehicle will use solar cells to absorb rays from the sun and batteries to store the energy. But the latest design is radically different, making the car lighter and faster. It even has a seat for the first time so the driver doesn’t have to sit directly on the frame of the car.

“Schulich Axiom shows what a collaboration of creative ideas and a lot of research can accomplish,” says Jeff Wickenheiser, engineering manager and project co-chair. “We’ve come up with a more efficient design that’s a real testament to the potential of solar technology. We’ve also made this car more ‘user-friendly’ by adding a seat and making the driver’s quarters more spacious. We’re gradually moving towards a solar car that is more practical.”

It took the team nine months to design the car with the same software used for Formula One racecars. Schulich Axiom will have 1,987 solar cells and batteries that can store enough power to drive the car for four hours at 90 kilometres per hour.

The chassis, or frame of the car, will be made of carbon fibre composite and will be half the weight of the chassis of Schulich 1, which was steel. A more efficient shape means a faster top speed of approximately 140 km/h because of better aerodynamics: the drag, or force resisting the car, is equivalent to the weight of a small laptop computer. In addition to these improvements, the team has managed to reduce their projected overall costs by about $100,000.

The U of C Solar Team consists of 50 students, the majority from the Schulich School of Engineering.

“Being part of the solar team teaches students much more than how to build a solar car,” explains Lynne Cowe Falls, director of students at the Schulich School of Engineering. “They learn the importance of teamwork, leadership and community involvement, skills that go beyond engineering and will serve them well in their future careers.”

The car will cost $650,000 to build and race. The team plans to compete in the 2010 American Solar Challenge from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Chicago, Illinois. With enough support from sponsors, they will also enter the Global Green Challenge in Australia in 2011. This event was formerly called the World Solar Challenge and the U of C was the first Canadian team to cross the finish line in Adelaide, Australia in 2007.

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