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Dutch students on track to build world's fastest solar car

posted 8 Aug 2011, 03:28 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Aug 2011, 03:34 ]
Using carbon fibres and tailored drivers' suits to make their car even faster than in previous years, a team of Dutch students are preparing for Australia's solar race, hoping to win. They've already won the trans-continental event four times and now, they're determined to make it five.

  A team of Dutch students has been testing what they hope will prove to be the world's fastest solar car at this year's World Solar Challenge.

The 2011 World Solar Challenge takes place from October 16-23 when dozens of teams from the world's most prestigious technical universities and colleges compete to cross Australia from North to South in solar-powered cars. The race runs from Darwin to Adelaide, a total distance of 3,000 kilometres.

To try and win the challenge, thirteen Dutch students put their studies on hold for a year and a half to design Nuna 6, the latest version of solar car Nuna.

Nuna has already proven to be the fastest solar-powered car in the world, winning four out of five solar races in the past. "The car you can see next to me is Nuna 6 and we already made five Nunas and with these we participated in bi-annual solar race in Australia and we won four out of five," said team leader Pier van Zonneveld.

The students recently tested the resistance of their new solar car in the wind tunnel of the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory.

The car was designed to fit the students, although they in turn were chosen because their body shape suited the car, as van Zonneveld explained.

"It's actually a tailored suit designed for the measurements of selected drivers from our team, so in the beginning of the project we measured every team member and the best team members compared to each other, measurement-wise, were selected to be the drivers of the car and the car was designed around them. For instance, width of the hips are very important for design of the car and that's what we mainly selected on," Zonneveld said.

Dutch astronaut and physicist Wubbo Ockels came to inspect the new Nuna in the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory.

Nuna 6 is built with special carbon fibres and a brand new resin developed by Dutch company DSM. That resin is not yet available on the market and the team hopes it will give them a definitive competitive advantage in this year's race.

"With a unique combination of our terrain resin and special carbon fibres, we were able to increase rigidity for 25 percent and therefore this new Nuna 6 has ten percent less drag than its predecessors and as a consequence of that it has less vibrations and goes faster," DSM chief innovation officer Rob van Leen said.

The World Solar Challenge is conducted in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide.

Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon where they make camp in the desert or wherever they are, the rules of the race state.

There are seven mandatory check points, as well as undisclosed ones which may be imposed by event officials to ensure regulatory compliance.

All teams must be fully self-sufficient.

Solar panels on the cars' roofs capture the sun's energy and convert it into electricity. The technology isn't without problems. The cars can't store enough power to travel more than short distances when not in direct sunlight.

The entire race lasts for a week and some participants will never make it to Adelaide. But the technologies being used are likely to find their way into the production of tomorrow's cars.

Teams from Japan, Malaysia, China, India, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom or the United States are all hoping to qualify for the race.