It’s the Grand Prix of solar-powered car races, and unlike any other conventional race powered by fossil fuels, the 2013 World Solar Challenge (WSC) will use the pure, clean and nearly limitless power of the sun.
But the best part is that, for the third time around, a Philippine team will compete.
Admittedly, the solar-powered race cars in this competition would never match the adrenaline-inducing speeds of Formula 1 cars (well, not yet anyway). The 391 solar cells of the Philippine entry, for example, will only be able to muster enough power to push the vehicle to a top speed of 110 kilometers per hour. But then, what other race in the world can boast of a fuel mileage of 3,000 kilometers per no liter of fossil fuel?
That’s what the 42 other entries from 22 countries will likewise prove out to be once again. And yes, winning the competition would be a great bonus, too.
This time around, the Philippine team will field in an “improved” solar car named Sikat II, designed and assembled in the Philippines by 50 electrical and mechanical engineering students and faculty members of the De La Salle University.
The three-wheel Sikat II was formally unveiled on Aug. 15 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. It will soon be shipped to Australia where it will race from Oct. 6 to 13, from Darwin in the Northern Territory on the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta, then finish in Adelaide in South Australia for a total distance of 3,000 km.
Now on its 26th year, the WSC—which has attracted young engineers and scientists from around the world—has evolved into a biennial race to showcase the development of advanced automotive technology through solar energy.
The Philippines sent its first entry, Sinag, in the 2007 WSC where it finished in 12th place. Sikat II finished 19th in the 2011 WSC.
Better than the previous
The latest version of Sikat II, compared to the one used in the 2011 race, has been described by its project proponents to have better aerodynamics (lower drag coefficient), mechanical, tire and electrical systems. The development and modifications took seven months to complete, with the car undergoing a series of test runs at Basa Air Base and at SCTEx from April to June 2013. The team claims that the improved version has been able to run at higher speeds on lower power consumption.
Sikat II, which weighs 175 kilograms, has a lower ride height and smaller canopy. Mechanical improvements include a new brake design and suspension system. High-performance Schwalbe tires offer low coefficient of rolling resistance. The battery management system is also new; the telemetry, wiring and cruise controls have also been improved.
Jose Antonio Catalan, one of the lead developers of the Sikat cars, revealed that compared to Sinag and Sikat I, Sikat II is smaller, but packed with a host of improvements.
He pointed to the hub motor, which serves as the engine, located at the rear of Sikat II. The steering column, which he explained was a rack-and-pinion mechanism, results in an instant, direct link, despite it not being power steering.
Catalan also revealed the car’s two brakes: one mechanical and one regenerative.
Buttons could be pressed if the driver wants regenerative braking only, although regenerative brakes are not as powerful as mechanical brakes, and the competition requires mechanical brakes, he explained.
On a cloudless noontime on a highway in Australia, the intensity of the sun could generate up to 1,200 watts on the car’s solar array. This would be the equivalent of what Catalan calls a “one sun unit.”
Sikat II’s solar array was made by Sunpower Silicon and has an efficiency of 22 percent and maximum power output of 1,300 W. In the cockpit (which can only accommodate one person), there is the basic dashboard, a simple LCD display of speed, odometer, revolutions per minute, energy and battery consumption, and a few switches and knobs. The car does not have a gearing mechanism, only an accelerator and brake pedals.
The De La Salle students who designed Sikat II were guided by teachers and supported by the Sikat Solar Challenge Foundation Inc. (SSCFI), a nongovernment organization that aims to raise awareness on alternative sources of energy such as solar power.
Sikat II, like its predecessors, brings with it the message that solar energy is a powerful solution to the increasing concerns about global warming and the need to find alternative sources of energy, said SSCFI chair Federico R. Lopez.
Inspiration for solar power
Lopez, chair of First Philippine Holdings Corp. and subsidiaries First Gen Corp. and Energy Development Corp., added: “The car’s mission, therefore, transcends just winning the WSC. If the car inspires Filipino students to get comfortable with solar power and to discover other practical uses for it, then we will have achieved our objective.”
SSCFI president Henry Co said that the benefits of joining a competition like this is increasing the awareness of every Filipino that “there’s a need to protect our environment and create a sustainable future by using sustainable energy.”
Co added that Sikat II “would show the rest of the world that the Philippines is capable, despite its meager resources, of participating in and supporting this kind of event.”
He said: “It’s about firing up the minds of our young engineers to become interested in developing mechanisms that use renewable sources of energy.”
Co stressed that much data could be gained from this race. “These are simple things like tire rolling resistance. Even in everyday motoring, rolling resistance of tires accumulate a huge impact on the performance of the vehicle. But here, when you’re talking about only consuming 1,300 watts and you’re trying to maximize every watt, then everything, including the rolling resistance of the tires, is taken into scrutiny.”
First Philippine Holdings, First Gen and Energy Development are major sponsors of Sikat II.
Also supporting the Philippine team are Sunpower Corp., U-Freight, Pilipinas Shell Petroleum, Motolite, Alterenergy, Ford Motors Philippines, Bases Conversion and Development Authority, Manila North Tollways Corp., Basa Air Base, Global-Link MP Events International Inc. and Philippine Solar Power Alliance.
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