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UKZN’s solar-powered car shines bright

Written by Noluthando Mkhize

Youth matters

After setting a new South African record with their solar-powered car, a team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is now looking to conquer the world.

The students and lecturers from UKZN will take part in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in 2015, where cars powered by the sun travel a distance of 3 021km between Darwin and Adelaide.

On the local front, the eight students and two lecturers of the UKZN team put in a record breaking performance at the recent Sasol Solar Challenge, during which specially engineered solar-powered vehicles travelled across the country for two weeks.

“We achieved the furthest distance travelled in total by a South African team which was 2 136km,” said lecturer Kirsty Veale.

The team bettered the previous record, which stood at 1 096km by a significant margin.

Veale and Clinton Bemont, lecturers at the university’s mechanical engineering department, conceived the UKZN Apalis solar car as a final year design project in the School of Engineering under the Solar Energy Research Group.

Veale and her team spent six months designing and building the vehicle, with the help of sponsorships from the UKZN School of Engineering, The Technology and Innovation Agency, Unilever, Chemspec, Gochermann Solar Technology, Yamaha, Krank and Perry.

As the team put the car together, students learnt the importance of project and time management, coupled with industrial processes and manufacturing, Veale added.

Constructing the vehicle meant students were also exposed to electrical systems, control systems, vehicle design aerodynamics and structural design.

The car has a lightweight carbon fibre body and chassis supported by an aluminium and chromoly sub-chassis. It is powered by state of the art silicon solar cells, charging a bank of 464 lithium-ion batteries, which drive a high efficiency electric motor.

Veale was hopeful that the success of the project would create future opportunities for undergraduate and Master’s students to continue research into renewable energy methods and electric vehicles.

She added that renewable energy research was becoming an important part of UKZN research and that industries and communities were increasingly noticing the cost advantages of renewable energy resources.

“Although most have a large initial cost, the repayment over time is significant. It is important for communities to consider renewable energy methods as opposed to fossil fuels to reduce expense over time,” she added.