Bay solar car takes on world

Bobby Cheetham

IT is going to be very hot in the solar car built by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) engineering students. The solar car will be taking part in the South African Solar Car Challenge later this month, an event which will see a number of international teams also taking part.

NMMU project leader of the solar car initiative Clive Hands said the five-man team could expect temperatures of between 40°C and 50°C during the third South African Solar Challenge between September 18 and 29.

An air-conditioning system in the solar car, named Photon, was not a luxury the students could have in the R2-million vehicle they built. Hands said: “They are going to have to sweat it out.”

The team will therefore have five drivers because of the exhaustive nature of driving the solar car. Each driver had to weigh no more than 75kg, Hands said.

The idea for the solar car, built in conjunction with Volkswagen South Africa, was conceived two years ago.

Hands’s brief to his students was to use the internationally famous Tokai Challenger as a benchmark and improve on it.

The awardwinning Tokai Challenger was designed and tested in collaboration with students from Tokai University in Japan and several Japanese companies in the automotive industry.

It was the winner of the 2010 South African Solar Challenge recognised by the International Solarcar Federation (ISF) and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), a race for solar cars across South Africa. The car covered 4061.8km in 45 hours 5 minutes at an average speed of 90.1 km/h.

Hands said the Photon had an estimated top speed of between 80 and 90km/h depending on conditions.

The Photon has a 21kg Panasonic power pack consisting of 400 penlight (AA size) lithium-ion polymer batteries which will power the Mitsuba hub motor in the single rear wheel fitted with a scooter tyre. The cost of the brushless Mitsuba electric motor is about R200000.

Together with the photovoltaic solar panels, the motor is one of the most expensive items on the vehicle.

Some of the surprising items on the high-tech solar car are the low tech brakes and shock absorbers which come from a mountain bike.

The event starts in Pretoria and heads to Upington then down the West Coast to Cape Town then on to Port Elizabeth, East London, Bloemfontein, Harrismith, Pietermaritzburg and on to Johannesburg, a distance of about 5000km.

Dates and times when the solar car race will be in the above cities will be available at a later date.

But readers can follow the daily progress of the event on www.ujsolarcar.co.za or www.nmmusolarcar.co.za

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