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High Gas Prices? No Problem For Solar Car

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May 25, 2005
solar car

A solar car designed and built from scratch by undergraduate students at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science has qualified to race in the North American Solar Challenge (NASC), a 2,500-mile long race that begins July 17 in Austin, Texas, and ends July 27 in Calgary, Alberta.

After undergoing a rigorous series of mechanical, electrical and driver safety tests and driving qualifying laps in Topeka, Kan., last week, the Northwestern team was one of the first five teams out of a pool of 30 to qualify for the NASC. (The preliminary qualifiers concluded Friday. Teams that did not qualify will have a second opportunity right before the race in July.)

The Northwestern car, called nu’Nergy, is low, sleek and colorful, with solar cells covering the car body to tap the energy of the sun. The solar car will be unveiled to the media and the public at noon today (May 23) in front of the Technological Institute (Tech), 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston campus.

The unveiling is part of “Energy Day at Northwestern,” a daylong event organized by three undergraduate engineering student organizations to increase awareness of the significance and importance of renewable energy and sustainability.

The solar car weighs 530 pounds (without the driver) and can travel up to a top speed of 70 miles per hour. The car’s solar array produces more than 1.3 kilowatts of power.

The Northwestern University Solar Car Team, founded in 1997, is a student organization dedicated to designing, building and racing solar-electric vehicles. The 50 students currently on the team represent a broad range of disciplines, including electrical, computer, mechanical and industrial engineering and materials science. The team consists of four groups -- mechanical, electrical, aerodynamics and business -- each led by a team captain.

NASC cars must be powered solely by sunshine. The racers use photovoltaic (solar) cells to convert sunlight to electricity to power their cars. Weather and energy management play an important role in the race. The cars generally travel at highway speeds and are required to obey local speed limits, but in general, the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days also allow the cars to “fill up” their batteries for cloudy or rainy days.