A Very Green Race

The parking lot at Naperville North had very different looking cars parked in it on June 26. It was for the finish of the 2010 American Solar Challenge. The 1,200 mile solar car race that started in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and finished in Naperville. Mayor George Pradel was on hand to wave the checkered flag at the finish line

“Just to see a car powered by solar is awesome,” Pradel remarked, “We’ve come a long way baby!”

The solar cars were designed and built by college students from around the world. Two of the seventeen teams were from Canada with Taiwan and Germany each having a car in the field. The University of Michigan won the race overall for the third straight year beating two Illinois teams which included Illinois State and Northwestern. The cars raced on the open road going 65 miles per hour with escorts in front and behind. Teams were just happy to finish the difficult journey.

“It’s a big engineering challenge trying to get a car to run on solar panels alone,” said Benson Greene who drove the final leg for the University of Texas, “Your running the car off of the same amount of energy it takes to run your hairdryer.”

The car is designed as efficient as possible which puts a lot of discomfort on the driver who has to endure tough conditions for up to 6 hours at a time.

Fundraising director for the Iowa State team, Eric Weflen, said, “The drivers are sitting directly on a sheet of carbon fiber which isn’t very soft and the temperature inside the car can reach a temperature of 110 degrees.”

The purpose of the race is to educate. A majority of team members major in electrical engineering and will be the ones to design energy efficient cars not only of the future but of the present day.

“Much of the technology in these cars can be used for consumer vehicles right now,” explains Weflen, “I could see in the next five years many people driving an electric vehicle if not a hybrid.”

Whenever the full conversion takes place may be a bit cloudy. But the enthusiasm and passion the students displayed for trying to understand all they can about renewable energy is quite clear.

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