The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is nearing, but Team Sonnenwagen Aachen has achieved so much already. Before they even take their starting position to embark on a 3000-kilometer coast-to-coast race across Australia, this 40-strong team of students have a lot to be proud of.
The core team of three entrepreneurial twenty-somethings began with absolutely no experience of building a solar-powered car. They rallied additional team members, pooling engineering expertise from talented individuals with vision and enthusiasm to match their own. It took them just two years to go from planning to the completion of their solar-powered car, despite the fact that the entire project was undertaken in the team’s spare time.
Studying full-time while working on a project such as this wasn’t easy for them. As team chairman and masters student of mechanical engineering Hendrik Löbberding explains: “For the first year or so, during the concepting and design phase, it wasn’t difficult balancing studies and the project. But when we started to build the car, lots of people needed lots of information, and companies don’t work during the evenings. We constantly had to interrupt classes with calls and emails to ensure things were running smoothly.”
“We had a good concept relatively early on,” he continues. “But in the summer of 2016 when the race regulations came out, we had to make some amends and that took more time than expected.” The rules of the race dictate many things, including the size and weight of the competing vehicles. The final design we see today was adjusted according to those regulations, with a reduced size and a significant cut to the solar panel area.
Shaping the future of the sports car
A project with this much ambition takes more than vision, skill, and a pioneering spirit to make it to completion, so when the question of funding was raised, Porsche stepped up. “As a company, we want to shape the future of the sports car,” explains Porsche director of marketing communications Robert Ader. “This requires young entrepreneurs like the team from Aachen who are not afraid to go to uncharted territories. When we heard about the project, the decision to support felt natural to us.”
As one of the first sports car brands to really embrace renewable and alternative fuel technology, backing Team Sonnenwagen Aachen is part of the millions Porsche has invested in electric and hybrid-electric cars. Earlier this year the company also confirmed that it will begin competing in Formula E races in 2019. As Andreas Haffner, Member of the Executive Board for Human Resources and Social Affairs at Porsche says: “[we] want to play an active role in shaping the future of the sports car. To do so, we need exactly this kind of young people, full of courage and pioneering spirit, and who are willing to break the mould.”
Although extreme, it is events such as this that push the design and engineering of solar-powered electric vehicles forward. In creating this car, issues of lightweight construction, efficiency, cooling, power and aerodynamics have all been addressed, and these are issues just as relevant on city streets as they are in the Australian outback.
The 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge will see the team drive their car across difficult terrain, as the route takes them coast-to-coast from Darwin to Adelaide.
The race takes place between 8th and 15th October, and you can follow Team Sonnenwagen Aachen’s journey on their website. They are competing with 90+ teams to win.
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