The narrow, aerodynamic shape and lightweight carbon fiber exterior of this solar-powered car helped it take the top prize at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2023:
Every two years, engineering teams from around the world bring their solar-powered EV creations together to go head-to-head to push the boundaries of technology and help discover the optimal design for a solar-powered vehicle .
This year the race was held in the Australian Outback. Competing solar vehicles were allowed 5kW hours of stored energy, which is about 10% of what is needed for the distance of approximately 1,860 miles. The other 90% had to come only from the sun or from the kinetic energy of the vehicle itself: like some cars use the energy from the brakes to recharge the battery.
Vehicles in the World Solar Challenge are divided into three classes: Challenger, Cruiser and Adventure.
The Challenger class vehicles travel the full 3,000 kilometers, stopping every day at 5:00 PM and making camp wherever they are. Cruiser-class vehicles cover the same distance in 1,000-kilometer (or about 620-mile) stages. They must meet specific time targets and accommodate at least two people, and are ultimately given a “practicality” rating based on things like design, environmental impact, ease of use, passenger comfort, controls, features, style and other. The adventure class is where cars made in previous races can return for another round.
This year, 31 solar-powered cars left the starting line: 23 in the Challenger class and eight in the Cruiser class. Only 12 made it to the final. First place in the Challenger class was Belgium’s Innoptus Infinite with an average overall speed of around 55 mph. The addition of a retractable fin at the top allows the car to sail with the wind instead of fighting it, and may have helped give the Innoptus Solar Team an advantage during strong gusts, according to reports. Team Twente from the Netherlands came second with the Red X, its first monohull car, and Brunel Solar Team, also from the Netherlands, came third with the Nuna 12, featuring an asymmetrical two-hull design and designed with AI exterior graphics.
The Sunswift 7, which weighs about a quarter of the Tesla’s weight, took the top prize in the Cruiser category and broke the Guinness World Record for “Fastest EV over 1,000 km on a single charge.” Followed by UMN’s Gaia vehicle in second place and Estonia’s Solaride 2 in third.
Pitting these vehicles against each other in competition helps test and develop new types of batteries, solar cells and aerodynamic designs, some of which are provided by large companies and others made by student engineers. It also provides a training facility for engineering students to test and refine their products and develop their skills.
As for whether solar cars will become mainstream, that’s a much bigger question. And we’ll have to see how charge-leading solar cars like the Lightyear 0, Sono Sion and Aptera deliver on the promised efficiency and convenience, and how they’re received by drivers.
To see footage of the World Solar Challenge vehicles in action, see the video in this article.