Sun Raycing with the PrISUm Solar Car Team

How soon will solar powered cars become a reality? This past July, the Iowa State University PrISUm solar car team raced their way to a second place finish in the North American Solar Challenge. Project Director Evan Stumpges took some time with us to explain a little bit about the PrISUm Solar Car team.

The North American Solar Challenge is an all volunteer project with each student team preparing for 2 years for the biennial NASC competition. Students design vehicles that run entirely off of solar power, which will clearly be a major automotive game changer should they ever go into production. The race spans thousands of miles over U.S roads, and consists of several timed stages between preset locations. This year the race started in Rochester, NY and finished in St. Paul, MN. To ensure a fair competition, each solar car is followed by an observer, and penalties are issued if the legal speed limit is not maintained. Speed is tracked by a GPS placed into each car.

As project director, Evan was personally in charge of designing the suspension system as well as acting in a leadership role to all of the other volunteers involved. Iowa State designed Hyperion to compete at the highest level of reliability in this years competition. Because many of the teams (16-18 teams typically compete) cars fail during the competition due to mechanical and electrical reliability issues, Evan says they placed a strong focus on building a reliable solar car that they could count on to make it to the finish line.

The end result was the Hyperion Solar Powered Car, which ended with a second place finish at the NASC, and best lap time at the Formula Sun Grand Prix (takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.) Hyperion was able to maintain highway level speeds throughout the entire 1650 mile competition and ended with an average speed of 65mph. Out of curiosity, we asked Evan if the car was equipped with any sort of A/C or heating system in case of harsh weather. It is not, although it does have a forced-air intake fan, which allows air to pass into the cockpit. The battery system is also equipped with cooling fans and is used in case of a storm or other solar panel failure, and will allow for travel up to 125 miles at 45mph. Hyperion had a total of 4 drivers, Evan being one of them, who traded off driving tasks through the competition.

Coastal Enterprises has donated Precision Board Plus HDU to Iowa State University for mold tooling for the past 5 years. Evan stated that the variety of densities available and the minimal dust level were some of the reasons PrISUm and the company who assisted with the CNC machining, Harlow Aerostructures, enjoyed working with it. PBLT-18 and PBLT-20 were the typical densities used for these molds. Evan estimated the cost of this car to be around $330,000, and believes it would probably cost around $80,000 – $100,000 if in full production and depending upon which type of composites were used to produce it.

A recent Iowa State University graduate now, Evan is currently employed at a major machinery manufacturer as an associate engineer designing advanced electrical drivetrains. He attributes much of that to being a part of the all volunteer solar car team and specifically, the high level of discipline and leadership skills he attained while a part of the program.

Many more pictures can be seen here.

Also check out the  Team PrISUm facebook page.

Pictures from the mold making process:

Solar Powered Car: Tomorrow’s Transportation?

The University of Michigan Solar Car Program is leading the nation in the advancement of solar car technology. With help from major companies, including General Motors, the team is moving steadily forward to make solar cars a reality. They recently won their fourth consecutive North American Solar Challenge with the Quantum Solar Powered Car, and placed 3rd in the World Solar Challenge. All molds for Quantum were made using donated Precision Board Plus HDU.

The North American Solar Challenge is an intense 8-day competition spanning over 1500 miles, with the solar cars navigating America’s highways amid traffic. As an all volunteer program, over 100 students helped in the 2 year build process of Quantum. The very first solar car competition was held in 1990, and the first solar car winner (also University of Michigan) had a top speed of 24.7 mph. In comparison, the 2011 Quantum solar car can reach up to 105 mph!  With allotted race hours from 9-6PM, Quantum finished 10 hours ahead of all the other cars under solar power alone in the 8-day competition.

We had the opportunity to speak with students Cole Witte, Engineering Director and Eric Hausman, Operations Team Member, about some of the details of Quantum. First off, the car does have a battery in case of a breakdown or inclement weather, and can go from 2-300 miles on the battery alone. There are no pedals and all acceleration controls are located on the steering wheel. Quantum was sponsored by General Motors this year, who provided an entire caravan of support vehicles.

When asked why this years car was able to perform so well, Eric stated that this year had the best aerodynamic design ever. They took full advantage of a free design consultation from Exa, a simulation-driven design company. For the most part however, the work is done entirely by students. Most of the students are mechanical, aerospace, electrical engineering or computer science majors.

There are 4 subdivisions within the engineering division on the team, and each are assigned to various systems of the car:

  • Mechanical – Responsible for the design and manufacture of the structural components of the car (composites, suspension, brakes, steering etc.). Pretty much every point of the car will be touched by a mechanical engineer at some point in the construction phase.
  • Aerodynamic – Responsible for designing and analyzing the outside aerobody of the car, making the most aerodynamic car possible.
  • Power and Electrical – Work with all high voltage systems on the car, including the battery, solar array and motor.
  • Micro Electrical – Design all of the low voltage control systems on the car, and write most of the software used across the car.

Here is an interesting interview with Cole Witte, Engineering Director for the 2013 project:

1. What is your role in the Michigan Solar Car team?

Cole: My role on the team is the engineering director for the 2013 project. As the engineering director I am responsible for coordinating the design, development and manufacture of the 2013 solar car. This involves working directly with over 50 engineers to ensure integration of all the vehicle systems.

2. How long have you been a part of the team?

Cole: I’m starting my 4th year with the team. I joined the team my freshman year in the fall of 2009 as a mechanical engineer, raced with the team in 2010 in the North American Solar Challenge, worked on the development and manufacture of Quantum, and traveled to Australia in the fall of 2011 to race Quantum in the 2011 World Solar Challenge.

3.  Precision Board Plus was used to make molds for the Quantum Solar Car, how did the mold making process work?

Cole: For all of our large scale molds (vehicle, body, chassis, etc.) they used a 2 step mold making process. A positive pattern of the car is CNC machined from Low Temp Precision Board Plus, sealed and finish sanded. From there they use the pattern to create a fiberglass mold of the car. The mold is then removed from the pattern and used to create the final composite parts. For the small scale molds (wheel covers, ducting, electrical enclosures, etc.) we have the mold directly machined from High Temp Precision Board Plus, which we then seal and polish to the final mold surface. We use the High Temp Precision Board Plus for this process since the composite pieces are made using pre-preg materials and cured in an autoclave or oven.

4. What benefits did you notice by using Precision Board Plus?

Cole: Precision Board Plus allows us to get a very precise mold surface for our direct machined molds. Often times they come off the mill with a very finished surface that only requires final polish sanding. The dimensions and geometry are very critical with all of our parts, and with using the high temperature material we’ve never had issues with expansion or deformation even at high pressures in the autoclave. When it comes to the large patterns that we manufacture, being able to maintain a constant surface finish across the whole part is critical, with little to no change due to material variation.

5. This is Michigan’s 4th consecutive national win, and you are currently in the process of building the 2013 car. Will we be seeing any drastic changes?

Cole: There are definitely   big changes in store for 2013. The World Solar Challenge has changed the regulations this year and now require 4 wheels (instead of 3), so it is a major game changer for all teams.

Additional information can be found on the University of Michigan Solar Powered Car Facebook page.

Many, many more pictures can also be seen on the UM Solar flickr page.