University of Kansas students develop solar car for 2020 race

            The University of Kansas Solar Car Organization is progressing at high speed with full funding and a complete design says the organization’s program director.

            KUSC is in the process of buying all the materials needed to build a single-manned solar powered racing vehicle.

            KUSC is a student-run engineering organization that consists of over 40 students. The organization is an interdisciplinary group working together to achieve one goal: designing, building, and supporting a solar car to race next summer.

            According to the University Daily Kansan, the team was started in 2017 as a side project by a few electrical and mechanical engineering students who read about the races online. Since then the team has grown and raised around $50,000 to build a completely solar panel and battery powered vehicle.

            “Solar Cars benefit students through providing engineering design, hands on, and business experience,” said Michael Srimongkolkul, the KU Solar Car Program Director. “They also benefit people who are trying to raise awareness about sustainable technology.”

            While solar car teams may raise awareness about sustainable energy they only appear to exist among universities.

            “Solar-powered vehicles only exist as less than 1% of the market share world-wide,” said Srimongkolkul.

            There are a few reasons for the lack of solar cars on the roads today. According to Quartz, solar powered are not as popular cars because the efficiency in pulling solar energy from the sun to solar cells does not yet exist. The most exotic and expensive materials can only bring in a maximum of 44% efficiency, which is still below desirable rates to recharge a car while driving.

            University solar vehicle teams like KU Solar Car are trying to change the way people think about solar cars by indirectly influencing the automotive industry.

            “Technologies developed in solar cars have been used in many different markets and applications,” said Srimongkolkul. “More specifically, battery pack and power distribution systems have had a huge developmental impact in electric vehicles.”

            The recent rise in electric vehicle popularity can attest to that but according to USA Today, electric vehicles still have a long way to go. Electric vehicles, despite having a 63% year-over-year growth, only accounted for a little over 2% of the global auto market in 2018.

            The momentum for electric vehicles will continue to grow as more options become available and vehicle’s ranges extended. Many electric vehicles have ranges now of over 250 miles on a single charge. Over 20,000 charging locations and 57,000 charging plugs exist in the US and electric vehicles can also be charged at home.

            Over the past few years, a few other sustainable vehicle options are changing how people move around, one of the bigger ones being hydrogen fuel cell powered cars. According to CNBC, London is already home to a few hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses and hydrogen fuel cells cars have been described as great potential energy carriers for clean and efficient power.

            “The future of technology (not just cars) revolves around making everything we do more sustainable,” said Thomas DeAgostino, the engineering professor overseeing the KU Solar Car organization.

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