University of Michigan's Solar Car team headed Down Under for world competition

From Ann Arbor to Australian Outback for 1,800-mile race

Credit: Michigan Engineering
Credit: Michigan Engineering

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Solar Car team will race in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in the Australian Outback starting Sunday.

The 1,800-mile, five- to six-day race begins at 8:30 a.m. in Darwin, in northern Australia. That's 7 p.m. Saturday in Eastern Time. The race will finish in Adelaide in the country's south.

The team is hoping its new battery system and solar cells will be the edge it needs to beat 40 cars from 21 countries.

"This close to the race there really isn't an emotion you don't feel," Juliette Shaheen, a computer science undergrad and the team's weather strategist, said in a statement. "We built this car. And we're about to race it through the Australian Outback, so it really doesn't get much better than that."

This isn't the first time the team has raced at the world challenge. In 2017, it finished in second place at the competition -- the team's best result.

Credit: Michigan Engineering
Credit: Michigan Engineering

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Although it looks similar to past vehicles, this year's solar car, Electrum, features an electrical system overhaul and lithium polymer cells -- as opposed to the lithium ion batteries that most solar cars use -- and is lighter than previous models.

"When I ran the numbers during research, the new batteries came up with double-digit efficiency improvements over what we had been using," computer science senior Daniel Kohler said in a statement. "When I told the team originally, they couldn't believe it."

The team turned to lithium battery specialist and assistant research scientist at the School of Engineering, Jason Siegel, for mentorship. 

"The team has done a good job of characterizing the cells and usage pattern over the race to design a pack with minimum weight that will safely operate over the race parameters," Siegel said in a statement. "It was fun to work with such an energetic and committed team of students."

The team is confident that with its car's newest updates, it can beat its 2017 record. 

Follow the team's journey at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge on Twitter and on Instagram.

Michigan Solar was founded in 1989, and Electrum is the program's 15th car. With nine victories in the American Solar Challenge, six podium finishes in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge and a win at the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in 2015, the team is hopeful it has a shot at winning next week.

"Given the long hours we've been pulling to make a competitive, top-tier solar car, and considering the fact that -- unlike many other top teams -- we're all undergraduates that were taking classes through the start of the summer, I'm impressed that our character and strong work ethic can bring us all together when this should be, by all rights, an extremely tenuous relationship," electrical engineering sophomore and Solar Car team race microsystems engineer Ian Stewart said in a statement.

"All of us feel the stress of competing on the world stage, but we're using it to band together," said Stewart.

For more information about the team, visit www.solarcar.engin.umich.edu.

To learn more about the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, visit www.bridgestone.com/bwsc.

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