Solar Team Eindhoven: Creating the cars of the future
In October 2015 a small team of students from Eindhoven University of Technology won first place in the World Solar Challenge, a race between cars powered entirely by the sun. Lex Hoefsloot, the manager and founder of Solar Team Eindhoven, spoke to us about the experience of creating Stella Lux, the award-winning car.
How did the idea come about to create a solar car?
We saw an opportunity to combine the extreme efficiency of solar cars with the comfort and practicality of electric car to overcome the biggest problem of electric cars today: range. By combining an aerodynamic shape and lightweight construction with all you could wish for in an electric car we achieved that goal. The car can drive up to 550 miles on a single charge.
How did you form a team to create the car?
A lot of brilliant students were willing to put their studies on hold for a year in order to build the car. There are 20 students in the team from various disciplines, including electrical engineering, industrial design and mechanical engineering.
How does the solar car work?
You can think of the car as an electric car but with a solar panel to act as a range extender and charger. The solar panel is attached to the electrical system in the car and can either charge the battery or directly power the motors. The solar panel supplies enough energy to keep the battery charged before you make a trip because our car uses about 4 times less energy per kilometre compared to other cars.
The biggest difference between Stella and ordinary electric cars is actually not the solar panel, it’s the aerodynamic shape and the extremely low weight of the car (800 pounds). The aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance that the car has to overcome needs to be reduced to keep the energy consumption low.
Bart van Overbeeke Photography - Eindhoven University of Technology
What have you found challenging about building the solar car?
The biggest challenge has been making the car aerodynamic, whilst leaving enough room for solar cells and comfortable space. You have to optimize the car as a whole, not only optimize the aerodynamic shape or the area of the solar panel. We were continuously making tradeoffs between performance and practicality which is extremely hard, mainly because practicality is difficult to express in numbers.
Congratulations on winning the cruiser class at the Solar World Challenge! Tell us about your experience of the event.
The team enters a whole new phase when preparing for the world solar challenge. You stop developing and start making sure that everything works perfectly and reliable. Every potential loose contact or breakable bolt can cause the car to break down on its 1800-mile journey throughout the outback. Losing 5 minutes during the challenge due to repairs could have cost us the victory. The event was great because we got to meet so many people who share the same passion for technology, solar cars and doing good in this world. The competing cars all have their unique ways of solving problems and can be very inspiring. Competitions like the World Solar Challenge really bring together ideas that can later be applied in real cars. Eventually, the planet’s climate will benefit from that.
How was the race itself?
We did quite well, we won! We had some issues though during the trip but we were able to fix them within 15 minutes. Those repairs feel very much like a pitstop in formula 1. The whole team swings into action to ensure that the repairs are done as quickly as possible.
What do you have planned for the future for Stella?
Stella was built to show that is possible to build a 4 seater solar car. It was a concept many people didn’t believe possible. Stella’s main role now is travelling throughout Europe and the US to inspire people. We hope it will eventually lead to millions of solar cars on the road.
Do you think solar cars will ever be available to consumers?
We think solar cars solve a lot of problems like charging, buffering and distribution of energy. Since the technology in solar cars is rapidly decreasing in price, eventually they will be just as affordable as normal electric cars but way cheaper to use. They would also make the perfect shared car since those cars need a large range and low usage costs.
To find out more about Solar Team Eindhoven, click here to visit their website.
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