The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - June 3, 2015
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Across Australia in a Solar Car
   
Students from Łódź in central Poland are planning to brave the heat of an Australian desert and cross the continent from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean in a solar vehicle of their own design.

The Polish students will be taking part in the World Solar Challenge, a prestigious, international competition for solar vehicles, held to promote research on economical means of transportation. The competition is open to teams from around the world and divided into four classes: Challenger, Adventure, Evolution and Cruiser.

The Polish team is competing in the Cruiser Class. The students will travel 3,021 kilometers from Darwin to Adelaide in a week, Oct. 18-25, braving scorching heat of up to 45 degrees Celsius. They are the first team from Central and Eastern Europe in the competition’s 28-year history.

The technical requirements for the World Solar Challenge are identical for all entrants. Each vehicle has to be fitted with solar panels with an area of 6 square meters and a maximum power output of 1,000 watts. The batteries in the competing vehicles can be charged up to 5 KWh when the race begins. While on the road, the vehicles are powered with solar energy and recovered kinetic energy.

The competition judges rate the ergonomics and design of the vehicles as well as their handling properties and passenger safety. Cruiser Class vehicles are also evaluated in terms of their appearance, as they should be suitable for use in cities. The final and most important criteria are practicality and solar energy intake, which means the team that reaches the finish line first is not necessarily the winner.

The Polish team consists of 20 students, 14 men and six women, from several universities in Łódź, mainly the Łódź University of Technology. The team was assembled as a result of a recruitment process that involved interviews on technical matters, assessments by psychologists, and tests of analytical thinking.

The students have been building their vehicle for several months and say that their primary objective is to promote solar power in Poland as a widely accessible and free source of electricity. By taking part in the World Solar Challenge, they want to put in a plug for the new technology.

ŁukaszGładysz, manager of the team, says the bottom line is to guarantee maximum performance of the vehicle. “This is the key to success,” says Gładysz.

The vehicle’s key component is its solar power supply, which must be mounted in the right way. The Polish students have used a set of 3-4-millimeter monocrystalline photovoltaic cells, mounting these in the front and rear of the vehicle across an area of 6 square meters. The cells are efficient and so flexible that they can be easily bent. The 4.5-meter-long solar vehicle has the shape of a teardrop and is built of carbon fiber, thanks to which it weighs in at only 300 kilograms. It boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.11, less than a Lamborghini sports car.

The vehicle is equipped with two electric motors and has two seats for passengers. The car will start the race with its batteries charged, and while the team will be allowed to use both sources of power, solar power will have priority. Achieving a top speed of 100 kph, the car will have to cover a distance of at least 1,500 km on one charge. The batteries can be recharged once along the way, in Alice Springs, which is halfway from Adelaide.

The team plans to travel with an average speed of 70 kph and take turns at the wheel every four hours since the temperature inside the car is expected to reach 55 degrees Celsius. The remaining team members will escort the vehicle in other cars, from which they will remotely monitor the condition of the solar vehicle and keep track of solar exposure data to make sure the photovoltaic cells capture as much solar power as possible. “Our car is a compromise between the laws of physics, aerodynamics and esthetics,” says Gładysz.

The project is expected to cost under 200,000 euros, and the Polish students have received several grants to help finance it. These included grants awarded under the Future Generation and University of Young Inventors programs. However, the students say they are still short of funds. Rival teams from Western Europe frequently spend more than 1 million euros on their projects, according to the Polish students, who are trying to raise extra funds for their Australian trip through an online crowdfunding campaign at PolakPotrafi.pl/projekt/lodz-solar-team.

Danuta K. Gruszczyńska