July 17, 2019 | 78° F

University solar car racing team obtains 1st vehicle, set to compete in July

Photo by Anthony Scalia |

The Rutgers solar race car team received a vehicle from a team at Stanford University. Three club members traveled to California to pick up the solar-powered car to bring to New Jersey. They brought it back in a U-Haul, which saved costs. 

The Rutgers Solar Car Team has obtained its first solar-powered vehicle from Stanford University, which it will work on to ultimately use in the Formula Sun Grand Prix race in July. 

Anthony Scalia, a School of Engineering junior, said the car is 65 percent complete, with missing parts such as the motor and wheels. The solar-powered race car needs to be repaired after it was used by Stanford University in the Australian World Solar Challenge in 2015. 

To get the vehicle, three team members flew out to California and brought it back in a U-Haul, he said.

“(The solar car) is a student-college project,” Scalia said. “They are very similar to the cars you race around a track, but the solar cars take it a step forward from that.”

The solar cars have improved since they were built in the 1980s. At the time, they could travel 15 to 20 miles per hour and could seat one person at a time. Today, solar cars ride on roads and highways as fast as 55 miles per hour and seat up to five passengers. 

“It has been exciting to see these competitions go from just one person in one car, treating (solar-powered cars) like race cars, to making them more practical," Scalia said.

The new car provides physical proof of the work the team is doing, he said. In past years, when the team did not have a car, members would pitch to potential sponsors with pictures of other solar cars or sketches. The team was able to raise $3,000 from sponsorships from the Alumni Association, Conti Solar, football concessions and Governors Ball concessions. 

“We are hoping that we can sort of use this to leapfrog into an established team," Scalia said.

The team also works out of a packaging building on Busch campus, which is slated for demolition in four months. A new garage is planned to be built and completed in two years, Scalia said. 

Most teams have a fully-functioning garage. With space at a premium at Rutgers, it took the team almost 18 months to find the space they are in now, he said.

“There is a lot of driving around,” Scalia said. “A lot of bringing parts in bags, adjusting it and going back again because it is not necessarily next to a shop. We are using all the Rutgers resources that we can without physically having to build a building on our own at the moment.”

But the team is optimistic for their race, citing the solar car team from Appalachian State. Their team received a similar vehicle in 2013, which they got ready for a race within 30 days. In 2018, this same team raced coast to coast in Australia, Scalia said.

Solar cars can potentially be used by average consumers in the future. The major drawback has been the use of carbon fibers for the car’s body, which was seen as expensive in the past. This may be changing because BMW produced the i3 car model from carbon fibers instead of the usual steel. 

“We look at that and say, if the i3 can be built with carbon fibers, why not put solar cells on them," Scalia said.

Brendan Brightman

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