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IVE’s solar car on international Formula One race tracksThe first Hong Kong team challenging the Shell Eco Marathon
Jun 2012

As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.” The Earth provides mankind with numerous alternative energy sources and the quest for environmentally sustainable ones is, like the process of invention, never ending. Innovative eco-friendly vehicle designs are now emerging from IVE and being put to the test on international Formula One racetracks.

Global energy challenges

To help foster energy innovation Shell has established the Shell Eco-Marathon–an inspirational event held in Europe and the Americas since 1985 and 2007 respectively. 2010 saw the event being held in Asia for the first time with Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia playing host. The event has now become one of truly global proportions. Mr Daniel NG, Director of Shell Hong Kong Limited said, “This competition is a fantastic opportunity for high school and college students to apply their engineering knowledge and creativity to more energy-efficient vehicular fuels, as fossil fuels are in restricted supply.”

On your marks

There are two key categories in the competition: Prototype which covers concept-style vehicles and Urban Concept which covers more conventional four-wheeled vehicles.

Unlike in general car racing, the winning vehicles are not those which travel at the fastest speed. Competitors are allowed to use an amount of energy which is equivalent to one litre of fuel at most. This energy can be sourced from any means including: petrol, diesel, LPG, hydrogen, solar or battery cells, among others. Only the team which go the furthest using the least amount of energy would win the competition.

Mr NG who was present at the Kuala Lumpur competition pointed out, “Although this annual event is held in different locations, all the participants have something in common–they are young talents who are confident, have a passion for technology and believe in our mantra: future energy and smarter mobility. They work on all aspects of the vehicles, right from the design concept, fabrication of the vehicles themselves and trial to test stability and endurance. It is great to witness their enthusiasm.”

IVE’s footprints on Formula One tracks

In July 2012, 135 student teams from 18 countries all over Asia and the Middle East will head for the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia–one of the most technical circuits in Formula One. A team of eight members from the Department of Engineering at IVE (Tsing Yi), will be the first team ever to represent Hong Kong. This team is entering the Prototype category with a fully solar-powered vehicle that the members have designed, built and tested.

Ka-ming TSE, a final year student studying for a Higher Diploma in Electrical Engineering said, “Although it is our first time to participate in this competition, half of our team members are from the research and development team of SOPHIE [their prototype solar powered vehicle], including myself. Our experience working on SOPHIE has been extremely helpful in designing the new solar race car. We can also keep stock of similar components as back up for the new vehicle in case of late component deliveries.” Their vehicle is a spin-off design from SOPHIE which has been transformed to a strong chassis with six large solar panels. It weighs only 60 kilograms and has a 98% power converter efficiency from the solar panels to the battery module.

Be a green driver

Although this competition is targeted at students only, it still has very strict regulations. Safety is the most important concern, therefore, drivers have to be able to exit their cockpits within ten seconds in the case of an emergency. Furthermore, it is well-known that lightweight drivers always have the advantage on race tracks. Tin-ching SO, a final year student studying for a Higher Diploma in Intelligent Building Technology and Automation Engineering explained, “Drivers of Prototype should weigh at least 50 kg in full driving gear and ballast will be added if the minimum weight requirement is not met. My weight is 49 kg so I do not need to lose any weight.”

Learning from the race track

TSE added, “Apart from applying our mechanical and electrical knowledge, we have learnt other skills during the race preparation, such as formal letter writing and presenting when pitching for sponsorship, all of which has been an unforgettable experience. Our whole team is grateful to those organisations that generously sponsored our chassis materials and several logistic services. We also appreciate everything our project supervisors have done for us.”

Another team member, Wing-tai YEUNG, a year 2 student studying for a Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering agreed, “I was not a member of SOPHIE and am a newcomer to solar vehicles, but I have been able to quickly pick things up under the instruction of our lecturers and teammates. As some teammates are about to graduate we hope more students will come forward to join our team and continue our spirit of innovation.”

Next green track

All team members are rolling up their sleeves now, meaning they are ready for this challenge. TSE pointed out, “We are all excited to have this extraordinary opportunity to apply our knowledge and are eager to share it with other Asian competitors as well. We are not just in this competition to win but hope to learn from it so that we can better prepare for our next project–the biennial World Solar Challenge Race in Australia next year!”

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