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Next level sustainability: world solar challenge 2019

Sustainability is a big topic and reaches further than the fashion industry. Van Gils partnered with Solar Team Eindhoven in their quest to create the best solar family car. The team is an initiative of university TU Eindhoven. We spoke with Mick van der Spoel, project manager and Evan Quadvlieg, technical acquisition manager about the challenges they are facing.

Developing a solar family car with a team of 26 people: that sounds like two challenges in one?

It can be challenging indeed. Participating in the team is voluntarily and means putting the studies to hold for 1,5 year; no income but you do have to pay the tutorial fee. All in the name of learning and innovating. We’re all very driven and multi-disciplinary with backgrounds in electrical- and mechanical engineering, computer science, industrial design. In a short period of time, we need to become a team, create a working car and organise partnerships so we can actually show our work. We work day and night, start from scratch with everything: planning, pr, finances. And of course, different disciplines means different approaches, opinions and workarounds.

When you hear all this it almost sounds inhumane, though everybody is very passionate and driven. This is the opportunity for us as a team and as individuals to innovate, make an impact and hopefully change the automotive world with our concept.

You aren’t the first team participating, why do you still have to start from scratch?

That’s true, the previous three teams all created winning concept solar cars and out of those teams, sustainable startups and more concepts were created. Starting from scratch is the only way to truly innovate and make it ours. Of course, the previous designs were curated for usable features to copy: building a car in 9-10 months means there is no time to waste and we shouldn’t try to re-invent the wheel again.

What are the requirements the solar car has to meet for participation on the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October?

It should be able to drive 1200 km without any additional (battery) power, purely on solar energy. This sounds easy, but the family car suits 5 persons. Other participating teams are focusing on one-person cars. Last year the
The design for our car was created from the inside out, around the 5 people, battery space and trunk - the basic ingredients for a family car.
Our biggest innovations are three components:
Aerodynamic design: that’s why it’s shaped in the shape of a drop. This creates the least resistance which means less energy usage
The weight is one of the most important factors so all the materials used should be lightweight. Here as well counts: the less weight, the least resistance. Still, the battery is an important and heavy part and it has to carry for 1000 km at least.
The roof consists mostly of solar panels so it can serve the car to its maximum and you shouldn’t recharge constantly.
With these components in mind, the motors are not located on a shaft but in the wheels to save weight.

Do you aim to see your solar concept car in the streets in a few years?

The Stella Vie, last years’ car, has the same license plate as any regular car so you could even spot it in the streets of Eindhoven. Rarely though, because people don’t really recognise it like a normal car, start staring and this way it causes traffic jams or even worse. The solar family car in the basics still looks like the cars we see now and I think that’s also necessary for mass adoption. A car is a car and its function is to bring us from A to B, where our only change should be that we do it in a more environment-friendly, more sustainable way. A car that’s not relying on gasoline or electricity but on weather conditions that are already there all year round. Our concept contains everything you need in a family car: from speakers to air conditioning, running on solar power.

And how about the automotive industry - are they of any help?

The automotive industry is keeping a close eye on our solar power innovations, especially as many of the big car brands started to adopt electrical cars a little late and Tesla won a big market share. Although Tesla isn’t our competition: they focus purely on electrical cars, which requires totally different engineering. A Tesla with one solar panel can only run the air conditioning because of its weight. To give you an idea: last years’ car weighted 378 kilos, versus 1000.000 kilos for a Tesla.

The automotive industry is aware that big changes have to be made for traffic, environment and cities to continue working closely together. For your own idea: the 2017 solar car transporting 4 persons uses equally as much energy as two hairdryers. If cars use less energy than normal household products, the automotive can make such an impact. In the end, we also need the automotive to make it attractive to drive a solar car in the future. Who could have figured two years ago driving an electric car or caring about the environment would be sexy? And making an impact with

The reason the industry isn’t jumping on the solar car yet is easy. The solar power technology for cars is still early stage and that’s also what we face: it's hard to maximise all its options. Driving in the dark for example, and how does the car recharge when there’s little light intensity on a cloudy day? Right now it’s all about finding the right balance in function and the use of new technology. It’s easier for the industry to focus on improving electrical cars and more sustainable and fuel-efficient solutions. And once we’ve designed a solar car which functions in such a way it would be interesting for the mass to adopt… then they know where to find us!

What are the requirements the solar car has to meet for participation on the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October?

It should be able to drive 1200 km without any additional (battery) power, purely on solar energy. This sounds easy, but the family car suits 5 persons. Other participating teams are focusing on one-person cars. Last year the
The design for our car was created from the inside out, around the 5 people, battery space and trunk - the basic ingredients for a family car.
Our biggest innovations are three components:
Aerodynamic design: that’s why it’s shaped in the shape of a drop. This creates the least resistance which means less energy usage
The weight is one of the most important factors so all the materials used should be lightweight. Here as well counts: the less weight, the least resistance. Still, the battery is an important and heavy part and it has to carry for 1000 km at least.
The roof consists mostly of solar panels so it can serve the car to its maximum and you shouldn’t recharge constantly.
With these components in mind, the motors are not located on a shaft but in the wheels to save weight.

What does a partnership with Van Gils mean for you

As mentioned before, Solar Team Eindhoven is an innovation project for students, we don’t earn any income. A team of 26 developing a new car comes at a cost. Partnerships help us with components, finances and in our partnership with Van Gils, it means decent tailor-made clothing. For us it is important to find sponsors in our region, so they can actually see what we do, come visit etc. and they also have a vision about sustainability. With Van Gils launching the Green Stitch collection, those are both ticked-off and at the moment we’re also discussing how Van Gils could help us with our PR.

The release event of the 2019 solar car is free of charge and open for everyone.
For more updates and information

Photo's are made by Bart van Overbeeke (Photographer at the TU/e).

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