Best in solar cars tested in Australian outback

Engineering and design students are collaborating to prepare for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge using modelling techniques in RMIT’s industrial wind tunnel.

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a 3,000-kilometre race which will take place in October and see participants from around the world vying for a podium spot by racing solar electric cars through the Australian outback from Adelaide to Darwin.

Two Australian teams have paired up for the challenge – First time participants the Australian Technology Network (ATN) Solar Car Team and solar electric racing team, Clenergy Team Arrow.

Preparations for the endurance adventure have been ramping up with both teams testing their solar cars’ performance over the past month at the facility on RMIT’s Bundoora campus.

Master of Design student Matt Millar is the lead driver for the ATN Solar Car Team and team lead for the exterior design and build.

He said the wide-ranging aerodynamic testing capabilities of the tunnel could make all the difference when it comes to designing a solar car that can withstand punishing outback conditions, including strong winds and dust storms.

“The RMIT industrial wind tunnel can reproduce wind effects up to 150km/h, allowing us to simulate race speeds, wind drag and validate projections and estimations with real data,” he said.

“Instead of having to rely on simulations alone, we can experience real-world testing, which puts us on a more level playing field with our international opposition. We can then fine-tune our design for optimal performance in the desert.”

The ATN Solar Car Team is taking part in the RACV Cruiser class, which challenges participants to create a vehicle that is designed for practicality and acceptability in the consumer market.

Millar said the project has personal importance to him because he would like to see solar cars become desirable for the general public.

“At the moment solar cars seem to be a science experiment, whereas as we need something that’s more sustainable and desirable and something kids can look up to and say, ‘I want that.’”

Both teams bring a range of experience to the collaboration: this is the first year the ATN has competed in the Solar Race, while Clenergy Team Arrow is taking part for the sixth time.

It’s a partnership that combines a mixture of professional experience, youthful enthusiasm and academic rigour, setting the stage for success.

Speaking at the testing, Clenergy Team Arrow founder Cameron Tuesley said they were keen to see both teams do as well as possible.

“It’s a great opportunity to test both of the vehicles side by side to see how they perform at this early stage of development.”