U-M solar car powers through Manistee

The University of Michigan solar car silently rolled through Manistee on U.S. 31 Tuesday, on its way around Michigan in a test run before it competes in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October. (Eric Sagonowsky/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — There was little fanfare when the University of Michigan solar car rolled through Manistee late Tuesday morning, but anyone lucky enough to see the spaceship-like vehicle was impressed with the engineering marvel.

The car, covered in solar panels and custom made of carbon fiber, is in the middle of a five-day tour that started in Ann Arbor and went through northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana before traveling up U.S. 31 from Indiana toward Tuesday night’s stop in Petoskey. From there it will head to the eastern part of Michigan and down U.S. 23 back to Ann Arbor — a total of about 1,200 miles.

This is the 12th car built in the 23 years the University of Michigan has had the solar car program, and the current run is in preparation for the World Solar Challenge that will be held in Australia in October.

Among the 21 students on the University of Michigan team headed to Australia is Pavan Naik. He said the group ran into some problems two days ago in Grand Haven.

“We noticed some bugs in the electrical system, so we decided to take the day to fix those issues,” he said. “The reason we do this race is because we expect problems to occur, and it’s a lot easier to fix problems here in Michigan than it is across the world in Australia.

“We found the issues, and by the end of the day we actually fixed the problems to the point that we now have a better car,” he said.

Naik said that this is the first long trip for this new solar car.

“We build a new car every two years,” he said. “We designed this one last year and finished it this year.”

The 21 students on the current road trip will be leaving in August to spend a month preparing the car in Australia before the World Solar Challenge starts Oct. 6. It will cover 3,000 kilometers, or about 1,800 miles.

The car’s solar cells produce electricity to charge a battery that powers a small electric motor. Previous U-M solar cars had three wheels, but new requirements call for four wheels. This car weighs about 400 pounds and according to Naik can be lifted off the ground by four people.

Naik said weight isn’t the only consideration in building a good solar car.

“There are a lot of aerodynamics involved,” he said. “You have to limit drag, you have to limit weight and you have to limit the power out and maximize the power in.”

Bright sunlight isn’t a requirement for operation.

“We can run when it’s cloudy and we can run in the rain,” he said. “Last year in the American Solar Challenge it was raining on one of the days and a lot of the cars decided to pause or slow down. We decided to speed up because we had enough charge in the battery, and we knew the rain was going to stop. We ended up winning the race by 10 hours.”

The car’s top speed is expected to be 105 miles per hour.

“We haven’t tested that for this car yet, but our previous car went over 100 miles per hour,” Naik said.

Fellow team member Duane Achterhof was quick to point out that top speed is tested on a track, not the road.

Ryder Liu is one of the three main drivers who are alternating every four to six hours on the current trip.

Three of the 21 members of the team escorting the University of Michigan’s solar car are (from left to right) Pavan Naik, Duane Achterhof and Ryder Liu. Naik is a University of Michigan sophomore while Achterhof and Liu are seniors. The solar car is on a 1,200 mile trip around Michigan to prepare for the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

“It’s a fun car to drive; it handles excellently,” he said. “It’s very hot, because we don’t have the energy to power an air conditioner, so it gets about 30 degrees above the ambient temperature. In Australia it will be really hot. We don’t believe in comfort very much, so it’s very bumpy, but still, it’s a blast to drive.”

Further information is available at solarcar.engin.umich.edu. To support the program by sponsoring a solar cell, visit www.umsolar.com/cell.

——————————————————————————————————

The University of Michigan Solar Car

Weight — 500-600 pounds (including driver)

Battery — Lithium Ion Solar Cells Silicon Cells

Tires Michelin, low rolling resistance tires

Anticipated Top Speed — 105 MPH

Nominal Power Output — <2 hp

Maximum Power Output — 12.3 hp

Fuel Type — Solar

Chassis & Body — Carbon Fiber Monocoque

Motor — In-hub, brushless electric DC motor

(approximately 98% efficient)

Dimensions — 16’ long x 5’ wide x 3.5’ tall

Source: solarcar.engin.umich.edu

avatar

Posted by Dave Yarnell

Dave was formerly the News Advocate features writer and retired in November 2013.

Leave a Reply