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SolarFox hits the halfway stage

A team of staff and students from UCL (University College London) are competing in one of the world’s toughest engineering tests – the Panasonic World Solar Challenge. The biennial event sees teams build their own solar-powered cars and then race them over a gruelling 3000km course from Darwin to Adelaide.

An initial qualifying lap saw UCL’s ‘SolarFox’ placed 17th on a grid of 39 cars. The team maintained its position through the first day’s racing, clocking up an impressive 418km, and arrived at Alice Springs – the halfway point – earlier today in 10th place.

Led by Dr Richard Bucknall and Dr Konrad Ciaramella from UCL’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, the UCL team has been responsible for every aspect of the SolarFox’s design and manufacture. Much of the chassis and suspension components were fabricated and welded in the department’s workshop, with only items such as the wheels, tyres and seat bought off the peg.

The body was designed in-house using the latest computer software and was manufactured using fibreglass by a specialist firm, Fibreglass Applications. The UCL team then carried out the laborious task of attaching 402 solar cells to the car. The solar array will produce approximately 1300 Watts in bright sunlight, which is sufficient power for the vehicle to obtain speeds of up to 120km per hour.

The race, which attracts competitors from top universities and research organisations from throughout the world, tests technologies which may help provide the solution to one of today’s most pressing issues, explains Dr Ciaramella: “Exploiting renewable energy sources is vital in the fight against pollution and automobiles are the source of 30 per cent of the nation’s smog-forming nitrogen. Solar-powered cars could reduce or even eliminate the automotive industry’s contribution towards air pollution and while practical solar cars remain a long way off, the continuing development of solar racing cars moves this technology one step closer to reality.”

The race is scheduled to finish on Sunday, by which time the teams will have traversed some of Australia’s most remote and hostile environments, including Glendambo – population 30; annual rainfall 185mm.

David Weston | alfa
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