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UCL successfully completes solar challenge

27 October 2007

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A team of UCL staff and students overcame sand storms and extreme winds to successfully complete the Panasonic World Solar Challenge, a 3,021Km race from Darwin to Adelaide in solar-powered cars. The team finished 10th out of 21 cars in their class, taking just over 63 hours - including compulsory stops - at an average speed of 43kmh.

The gruelling event began on 21 October after a qualifying lap which placed the UCL car 17th on a grid of 39 cars. The UCL car – SolarFox - maintained this position through the first day’s racing clocking up an impressive 418km.

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Led by Dr Richard Bucknall and Dr Konrad Ciaramella from UCL Mechanical Engineering, the UCL team have been responsible for every aspect of the SolarFox’s design and manufacture. Much of the chassis and suspension components were fabricated and welded in the department’s workshop, with only items such as the wheels, tyres and seat bought off the peg.

The body was designed in-house using the latest computer software and was manufactured using fibreglass by a specialist firm, Fibreglass Applications. The UCL team then carried out the laborious task of attaching 402 solar cells to the car. The  solar array will produce approximately 1300 Watts in bright sunlight, which is sufficient power for the vehicle to obtain speeds of up to  120km per hour.

The race, which attracts competitors from top universities and research organisations from throughout the world, tests technologies which may help provide the solution to one of today’s most pressing issues, explains Dr Ciaramella: “Exploiting renewable energy sources is vital in the fight against pollution and automobiles are the source of 30 per cent of the nation’s smog-forming nitrogen. Solar-powered cars could reduce or even eliminate the automotive industry’s contribution towards air pollution and while practical solar cars remain a long way off, the continuing development of solar racing cars moves this technology one step closer to reality.”

SolarFox was partially funded by a grant from UCL Futures, UCL’s annual giving programme.

Professor Nicos Ladommatos, head of UCL Mechanical Engineering, spoke to UCL Communications about the SolarFox project, among other subjects, in a recent audio interview, which you can listen to here. to visit the SolarFox website, or to find out more about UCL Futures, use the links at the top of this article.


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