FAQ's about solar cars
Why build a solar car?
The idea behind building a solar car is simple, to make a vehicle that costs very little to run and to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. In reality a solar car itself is not practical, they only carry one or two people in quite cramped conditions, they have large turning circles and are extremely fragile. So the question still remains, building solar cars means pushing current technologies to there limits where improvements can be made, this translates into more efficient electronics and solar cells, lighter construction and improvements in aerodynamics and rolling resistance. These developments can be directly seen in the marketplace today in the electric and hybrid vehicles now available, these are a step in the right direction and were made possible by developments made in solarcars.
How do solar cells work?
Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells are made from semi conductive materials, such as silicon and work on te principle of the photovoltaic effect. This effect is caused by light hitting the material and releasing electrons. When these electrons flow we have a potential difference or a voltage, this can then be used as electrical energy to drive our car. The main reason behind why solar cars can't be made in a more practical form lays mainly with solar cell technology, with the cells being extremely fragile. They are also quite inefficient with commercial grade cells operating at less than 20% efficiency. The third factor is due to their cost which starts at around $20 for one cell. (most cars have at least 600 cells).
What type of motor does it use?
Our car uses an in wheel motor, this was developed jointly by the Northern territory university and the CSIRO especially for solar cars, our motor was manufactured by NGM in America. The reason we use a specially designed motor is because conventional electric motors are only maybe 50% efficient our motor is over 90% efficient. This is achieved by using special rare earth magnets and controlling the motor with an 'intelligent' controller which helps transfer the energy as efficiently as possible.
What is it made of?
Solar cars are made to be as light as possible, this is done by using some of the latest manufacturing processes and materials. Our car has a body and a chassis made from a composite of carbon fibre with a nomex core. this gives the car its strength and rigidity, the suspension is all machined from aluminium and has an extremely small weight. The wheels are made from carbon fibre and the solar cells are encapsulated in fibreglass allowing us to conform them to the shape of the body.