University of Michigan Solar Car Team unveils Electrum, gets ready for Australian competition

Team of U-M Ann Arbor students to take Electrum to Australia

By Sarah M. Parlette - Associated Producer

Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering, Communications & Marketing. Courtesy of the University of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - As the University of Michigan Solar Car Team unveils its latest car at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, the team is also getting ready for an Australian adventure. 

In the fall, 20 students from the U-M Solar Car Team will venture down under to compete in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. 

The team will take Electrum, its newest solar car, to the Australian Outback in August to prepare it for the 1,800-mile race happening in October. 

Then Electrum design is based on Novum, a car that zoomed into second place at the 2017 World Solar Challenge and delivered the team’s best time for a world race. But Electrum is an improvement on Novum: The car is more pointed, its back end is longer but wider and its cockpit is 4 inches closer to its nose. 

Along with the body modifications, Electrum will also have trapezoid-shaped multijunction gallium arsenide solar cells. The shape allows the cells to be packed together tighter and will increase the amount of cells that Electrum will carry. 

According to team business director Abigail Siegal, the improvements should help to better Electrum’s aerodynamics.

On top of these changes, Electrum also differs from Novum in another big way -- the team chose to switch from lithium-ion battery cells to an efficiency-boosting secret the team has yet to divulge. 

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Following its second-place finish in the American Solar Challenge last year -- the first time the team hasn’t won gold in over a decade -- the team has also made changes to the way it communicates and operates internally.

"One of the biggest things the team learned was that we aren't just making systems. We're making a car," Siegal said. "Everything we do has to work together if we're going to win. We need to do everything we can to peel off seconds or minutes."

Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering, Communications & Marketing. Courtesy of the University of Michigan.

Electrum is the 15th car made by the U-M Michigan Solar Car team since its founding in 1989. The team has over 70 student members from different schools and universities, as well as a 30-year history of success. At the 2015 Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge, the team won an international championship. It has won the American Solar Challenge nine times and has placed third at the World Solar Challenge six times. 

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge will take place from Oct. 13 to Oct. 17 and will include 40 international solar car teams. 

Learn more about the race crew and Electrum as they get ready for their Australian adventure at the Michigan Solar Car Team website

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