Solar car challenge 2013: Achieving max effeciency in energy conversion

Date: 05/10/2013
In a car race you are not given any fuel but got to drive your vehicle anything around 90 KM/hour and even more to cover a distance of 3000 KMs on stretch of land cutting through Australia. This is the World Solar Challenge 2013, which started on October 6. The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2013 participated by 45 teams from 26 countries.

This 2013 event is 12th running of the event since 1987. The week-long sun powered journey from Darwin to Adelaide, is a challenge to prove they have what it takes to deliver the world’s most efficient electric solar car. Its more about technology rather than driving, driving matters but not so much as in other races. The technology is all about converting light into electricity, and finally mechanical force at highest efficiency. Its combination of high efficiency solar cells, power electronics design and the mechanical design. Solar cell need to be efficient up to 40% and even more and power electronics need to convert DC to DC at an efficiency at nothing less than 95%, and finally the mechanical design need to be light and strong so that it should not break at high speed and should run at less power including the motor. So its all about solar conversion efficiency, dc/dc converter efficiency and electrical motor and vehicle-mechanics efficiency. There is also little bit of battery storage also. Engineers have to squeeze solar energy to max mechanical force.

Mark Warren, CEO of the South Australian Motor Sports Board said “Last year’s winners from Tokai University in Japan are looking for their third straight victory and former champions, Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, who had to be satisfied with second in 2011, are working furiously on Nuna 7, vowing to fight until the finish to get the gold back to Delft University. Of course, there is also the US Solar Champion Michigan team still trying to best their third place result”.

Event Director Chris Selwood said the so-called top three were not a foregone conclusion with all eyes on new countries such as China and return entrants Saudi Arabia.

Panasonic is providing technical support to Tokai University's solar car team. Panasonic is providing its HIT solar cells which boast the industry's top-class electricity output as well as its high-capacity lithium-ion batteries.
The rechargeable batteries Panasonic is providing are the cylindrical 18650 type (18 mm in diameter x 65 mm in height) high-capacity lithium-ion battery cells which use the company's proprietary nickel-based positive electrode.

The Stanford Solar Car Project, a non-profit group comprised entirely of students at Stanford University, selected the STM32 F4 series of microcontrollers from ST Microelectronics for use on the 2013 Luminos solar car. The solar car uses dozens of ST microcontrollers to monitor battery life and solar-panel efficiency and to control the electric motor and driver-control functions – key factors to completing the race across the harsh Australian Outback.

Italian-based team Onda Solare, comprised of technicians, students and professionals working in the alternative mobility and clean-energy fields, are using STMicroelectronics’ components in their 2013 solar-car entry. Their solar car – the Emilia 3 – utilizes ST’s SPV1020 interleaved DC-DC boost converter with an embedded Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) algorithm that maximizes the power generated by photovoltaic panels on the car, independent of temperature and the amount of solar radiation captured as the car changes directions with respect to the sun. The Emilia 3 also uses the SPV1001 cool bypass switch to reduce power loss and improve efficiency of the energy coming from the solar panels.

The solar powered car is getting closer to reality, thanks to event such as this. In today's situation, where global warming is an alarming concern, the research effort of top talents in this race is as valuable as mission to Mars, because we are safeguarding our mother earth first rather exploring the benefits from deep space exploration.

Author: Srinivasa Reddy N
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