Solar car

Solar car storms off

The world’s fastest electric vehicle will undertake a gruelling race to stay at the top of the field.

By Heather Catchpole

Forged by ingenuity, carbon fibre and blood, sweat and tears, UNSW Australia’s world-record holding solar car, sUNSWift, wasn’t going to let a little rain hold it back.

The world’s fastest electric car – which set a land-speed record in July 2014 by travelling an average 107 km/hr over 500 km on a single charge – set off this week to compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

UNSW Engineering students, who form the car’s drivers, design and support team, farewelled the futuristic car at an event on Friday, where pouring rain couldn’t hold back the car or the enthusiasm of its drivers, many of whom had pulled an all-nighter to get the vehicle race ready.

Driver Davina King, who will push herself and the car to the limits while crossing the desert in a 3021 km race from Darwin to Adelaide, described the launch as “exhilarating”.

“It’s the moment you’ve looked forward to,” says Davina, a final year engineering student at UNSW Australia.

Davina will face 50 degree+ heat while driving and will have to manage fatigue and thirst through the race. She reveals that the team’s strategy this year will be based on regular monitoring of the car, predicting its performance and keeping a close eye on weather conditions.

“My personal technique is to have the support team in constant contact and to sip water every 10 minutes. It’s going to be a challenge to manage fatigue. It’s a long straight road,” she adds.

The car is powered by an array of solar panels with an impressive 23.7% efficiency, something Daniel Chen’s worked on in his role in the team. “I think we can win it,” he says.

The 35-strong team, who designed and built the $500,000 car in 18 months while studying, faces tough competition from better funded teams from Germany, The U.S., Netherlands, UK, Japan and more.

Although the focus is currently on the race, the team are also determined to undertake the major challenge of getting the car road ready, to become the first road legal solar sports car in Australia.

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AT A GLANCE:
> Costs 80c to fuel the car for 100 km

> Can travel 500km on a single charge

> Weighs 360kg

> Designed and built by students

> Top speed 120 km/h

> Can take 2 passengers

> Powered by 242 monocyrstalline solar cells

> Uses same power as a 4-slice toaster

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs

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