Tokai University Wins World Solar Challenge Race

Japan’s Tokai University took top honors in the 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge race this past week, averaging 91.54 km/hour, and traveling 2,998 km in 32 hours and 45 minutes in a vehicle powered entirely by solar energy.

The Tokai University solar car team crosses the finish line. Image credit: World Solar Challenge.

The Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands placed second, while a U.S. team from the University of Michigan came in third (with a time of 35 hours and 33 minutes). The same three teams placed first, second and third in the 2009 event as well.

The annual solar car race pits international teams against each other to see who can travel from Darwin, Australia, to Adelaide in the fastest time. The solar cars are allowed 5 kW hours of stored energy; all other energy for the journey must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle. Thirty-seven teams competed in this year’s event.

Since 2006 the University of Michigan has used SolidWorks software to become the No. 1 ranked collegiate solar car team in North America. They made the 1,800-mile drive across Australia thanks to the work of more than 100 students in various disciplines. Quantum, the single-seat race vehicle, traveled as far as it could until 5 p.m. each afternoon powered by the sun and 5kW hours of stored energy (the same amount of energy that it takes to power a hair-dryer) or on the recovered kinetic energy from the vehicle.

When designing the solar car, the University of Michigan team found systems integration to be the most difficult challenge. Mechanical parts need to be small and light, in order to fit into as small an automotive shell as possible. They relied upon SolidWorks 3D CAD software to model all of the car components, and determined the amount of space needed for each component. The result is a car that is 30% more aerodynamic and 200 lbs. lighter than the previous version.

Battery thermal modeling was also a key challenge. Specifically, the team needed to control the temperature of the battery pack to prevent overheating. To solve this issue, the team used SolidWorks Simulation to determine the best thermal management solution. Unlike past years, when off-the-shelf batteries were used, this year’s battery was designed and created from scratch by the Solar Car team.

The winning Tokai team’s car utilized a high-capacity lithium-ion battery and brushless DC direct-drive motor, and is capable of top speeds of 160 km/hour. You can see a video of the car below:

Click here to see a slideshow of the start of the race.

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