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World Solar Challenge 2015: Tougher competition, stronger SOPHIE V
  • <p>“We want to promote green energy and pass along the knowledge about new solar cars to future engineers. We hope that the engineering industry will continue to develop solar vehicle technologies.”</p>
  • <p>“We want to promote green energy and pass along the knowledge about new solar cars to future engineers. We hope that the engineering industry will continue to develop solar vehicle technologies.”</p>
  • <p>“We want to promote green energy and pass along the knowledge about new solar cars to future engineers. We hope that the engineering industry will continue to develop solar vehicle technologies.”</p>

“We want to promote green energy and pass along the knowledge about new solar cars to future engineers. We hope that the engineering industry will continue to develop solar vehicle technologies.”

Mar 2015

World Solar Challenge, an international race of solar cars designed and manufactured by institutes across the globe, lives up to its name. Taking place in Australia, the biennial competition is a taxing test of solar car’s energy efficiency, durability and versatility; and participants’ strength and determination. IVE Engineering has entered the competition since 2013, and this year ambitious students are ready to take their solar car SOPHIE to the next level by participating in a more demanding group. 

It is already a formidable challenge to design a solar vehicle for World Solar Challenge. In 2013, the SOPHIE team took part in the Adventure Class. The vehicle was a one-seater only with three wheels, hence having a lower level of energy use. But this year for the very first time, IVE Engineering students will be entering the tougher Cruiser Class, which demands participants to create an operational and marketable solar vehicle. The vehicle pays attention to five factors, including solar distance, number of passengers, speed, practicality and energy efficiency. SOPHIE V has been upgraded to a two-seater car with a roomier trunk that can accommodate 670 litres of luggage. To give a general idea, an average Hong Kong taxi has room for 550 litres of luggage. 

SOPHIE team made strenuous efforts to enter the Cruiser Class not just because of the competition. For sure, all participants want to win but there are higher goals to achieve. “We want to promote green energy and pass along the knowledge about new solar cars to future engineers. We hope that the engineering industry will continue to develop solar vehicle technologies,” said Anna Cheung Ki-ki, a member of the team. 

To create a solar car that can rise to the challenge, the SOPHIE team resorted to using carbon fibre reinforced plastic to produce the parts. Drawing from past experience, the SOPHIE team selected a better mix of composite and improved the drying process of the production of this new material. “Carbon fibre panels are hard and light. Everyone knows that aluminium is a hard metal, but carbon fibre is eight times harder,” said Kenneth Hui Ka-chun. The honeycomb structure, the carbon fibre panels are heat-resistant and can better withstand external pressure.

World Solar Challenge is a 3,000-kilometre car race that covers a variety of terrains from Darwin to Adelaide, including urban areas and the deserts. During the design process, the team also needed to take geographical factors and weather conditions into account. Since wind speed is high in Australia, the IVE team created a design that can lower wind resistance as much as possible. “In the bottom of SOPHIE V, there is a tunnel-like structure which can channel air current and push the vehicle to run faster, just like a yacht,” Mr. Hui said. Students and teachers spent much effort to perfect the design of the latest generation of SOPHIE, which is expected to be assembled by May.

The team has high expectations for the coming contest, and to better prepare for the race, 15 members were given an opportunity to go to Japan for exchange. They visited three top institutes, but the team was most excited about visiting Tokai University, the champion institute of the World Solar Challenger Class in 2009 and 2011. “We have been communicating with Tokai University via emails but we find it insufficient, so we need to visit them to deepen the academic exchange. We want to learn more about production procedures of carbon fibre, aerodynamic simulations and the performance analysis of solar panels,” said student Alex Lok Wai-Kuen. It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn the Japanese spirit, which epitomises devotion and attention to details.

SOPHIE team members are racing against time to prepare for the World Solar Challenge, which will take place in October 2015. As the sole Hong Kong representative, a lot of hope is placed in the IVE team but it is important not to just eye the prizes and honours. The creation of a commercially viable and environmentally friendly car which only relies on solar energy is an admirable achievement.

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