The World Solar Challenge: A Showcase of Innovation and Sustainable Technology
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, an annual solar vehicle endurance test, has once again crowned a winner in its latest edition. The Belgian Innoptus team emerged victorious for the second consecutive year, demonstrating their superior design and technological advancements. With their incorporation of a top-of-the-line battery storage unit from Silicon Valley, a cleverly designed silicon PV solar array, and a novel aerodynamic profile, the team successfully fended off challenges from their cross-border rivals in the grueling 3,020km race from Darwin to Adelaide.
However, innovation was not limited to just the winning team. Top Dutch Solar Racing debuted a perovskite solar cell array in collaboration with Oxford PV, showcasing the continuous development of solar technology. Additionally, the University of Minnesota (USA) and Team Sonnewagen Aachen (Germany) constructed their own motors in-house, demonstrating their technical expertise and dedication. It was also refreshing to see the new team from Deakin University in Geelong, who built their car using basalt fiber instead of the conventional carbon material, opting for a more environmentally friendly option.
Teams participating in the challenge were allowed to choose between three or four-wheel designs, and each team met varying degrees of success with their choices. Some found that the extra point of contact provided by the conventional four-wheel design was detrimental, while others embraced the opportunity to innovate with three-wheel configurations.
The World Solar Challenge faced a crucial question in the post-pandemic era: the relevance of building conceptual solar cars when electric vehicles are already accessible. However, Chris Selwood, the event’s long-serving director, highlighted the importance of the collective memory and operational structure of the event. The challenge lies in balancing the event’s ties to non-renewable energy with its goal of showcasing and promoting sustainable technology.
Selwood acknowledged the carbon-intensive nature of international travel for the event but emphasized the value of bringing public attention to sustainable transport imperatives. As the environmental motivation of participants remains high, addressing sustainability becomes paramount for the future of the World Solar Challenge. Selwood envisioned the use of more electric vehicles and support vehicles for officials in future competitions, aligning with the event’s core principles.
In the latest edition, four teams stood out from the competition, thanks to their use of the new Amprius battery pack. These batteries had significantly higher energy density, giving these teams a competitive advantage. While the use of such batteries within the regulations created a “two-speed” competition, Selwood expects the energy storage balance to be restored in the 2025 event through regulation adjustments or teams adopting the new technology.
Interestingly, the dominance of European teams in international solar races highlights the stark contrast between the European and Australian solar car scene. Australian teams have rarely been contenders for the top positions, with only one out of seven teams crossing the finish line in the 2023 edition. Selwood believes that changing this narrative requires a major shift in attitude from Australian universities towards solar racing. Taking a holistic approach, similar to European institutions, could provide the necessary platform for success. Such an approach would involve engaging students from various disciplines, allowing them to contribute their expertise to the project.
Selwood also proposed the idea of a domestic solar event held in Australia between the biennial World Solar Challenge competitions. This local event would enable Australian teams to develop cohesive team structures and trial their technology, similar to the European Solar Challenge. Additionally, opening the event to school teams and running it on a track could increase participation and provide a lower-risk entry point to solar racing.
Overall, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge continues to serve as a hub for innovation and sustainable technology. Despite its association with non-renewable energy ties and the challenges posed by the post-pandemic world, the event remains a vital platform for showcasing advancements in solar-powered transportation. As the event evolves, the focus on sustainability and environmental impact will undoubtedly become a key priority. With continued support and a change in approach from universities and institutions, Australian teams could rise to the occasion and become strong contenders in future editions of the challenge.
As the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge comes to a close, the competition’s best solar car teams have been recognized for their exceptional skills and dedication. Innoptus claimed victory in the overall event and the Challenger Class, showcasing their innovative design and technological prowess. The judging for the Cruiser Class, a points-based category that evaluates solar passenger vehicles based on their person kilometers, energy efficiency, and practicality, will take place in Adelaide on Saturday.
Cosmos is proud to be the Scientific Media Partner of the 2023 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Follow our comprehensive coverage of this exciting event as it highlights the innovation and progress emerging from the world of solar-powered transportation.