Japanese Team Tokai wins the 3,021 km 2011 Veolia World Solar Challenge

Oct 21, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
Image credit: World Solar Challenge

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Japanese Tokai University Solar Car Team has won the Veolia World Solar Challenge, a 3,021 kilometer race between tiny cars relying on mostly solar power. Running between Darwin, a remote town in one of the most northern parts of Australia, and the city of Adelaide in the very south, the race bisects the continent and takes the drivers and their teams through some very hostile territory.

Coming in second, just 30 minutes behind the winners, was Nuon Solar, the Team from the Netherlands. The team from the University of Michigan came in third.

The race, which was started in 1987 as a means of promoting solar-powered technology had 37 entrants this year, and put drivers through a variety of challenges including wild animals, , road trains (trucks with multiple trailers), and a bushfire that put a stop to the race at one point. Team Philippines ran into a very serious problem on Wednesday when its battery exploded after overheating. The battery was replaced and the team forged ahead, showing just how much fortitude the contestants must possess.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Interview with driver/pilot of Tokai Challenger 2 of Tokai University of Japan at Victoria Square in Adelaide, Australia on Oct. 20, 2011.

And while the race has been running since last Sunday (October 16), the contestants were obviously only able to run at night. The actual driving time for the winning car was 32 hours and 45 minutes. Over the course of the race, the cars were stopped at seven checkpoints to allow the teams to see how things were going with the driver and the car, to check weather, etc. Each team was only allowed to perform very routine maintenance such as clearing debris that had accumulated and inflating tires.

Image credit: World Solar Challenge

Team Tokai’s car, sponsored by Panasonic, is basically a tricycle with a high-end carbon frame which is covered with HIT solar panels supplied by Panasonic. Inside, in addition to the driver, is an electric motor and 8650-type high-capacity lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. At its fastest, the car can travel 160 km/h, though for the race it averaged 91.54 kilometers per hour.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Through a smoldering brush fire, past wind-shearing road trains, across the Australian continent, the University of Michigan's Quantum was the first American car to finish the World Solar Challenge. The Solar Car team placed third overall in the international competition.

This is the second victory in a row for Team Tokai; they took home the prize the last time the race was run two years ago. Initially the race was held every three years, but in 1999, it was decided that two years would be better. Over the history of the race, fourteen races have been conducted and Japanese teams have won six, including this year. Teams from the Netherlands have also had some success, wining four. A team from the United States won the first race, but has not been able to repeat that success since.

This year the race was particularly emotional for the Japanese team as they dedicated their race to the reconstruction efforts still going on in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the country last March.

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More information: www.worldsolarchallenge.org/

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User comments : 32

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Pirouette
2.1 / 5 (8) Oct 21, 2011
I've always preferred the idea of a Solar-powered car with batteries recharged by the Sun. It would have been better if Obama had subsidized this technology with our tax money rather than going for hybrid cars whose batteries have to be recharged by connecting to a power outlet. How can you recharge your dead battery if you're in the middle of nowhere, far away from the nearest outlet in spite of the Sun shining brightly?? I think that the best hybrid that doesn't use any fossil fuels except for lubrication, should be one that can be recharged on an outlet for sunless days, and also recharged by the Sun on sunny days. That would work.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
Congrats to team Tokai. A solar powered success story will be great news after the Fukushima desaster.

and also recharged by the Sun on sunny days.

Useful cars have less area than these solar racers (which are limited to 8 square meters, I think). Additionally production cars are a lot heavier. So don't expect to go far on juice captured by photovoltaics on a regular car (I think a car manufacturer just showed off such a car where the PV on the roof is just about enough to run the AC)

But every bit helps, I guess.
FrankHerbert
2.8 / 5 (96) Oct 21, 2011
Yes, it's Obama's fault solar panels aren't efficient enough to charge a car battery as you go...

How can you people be so stupid? I know all conservatives aren't so dumb, but the few vocal ones on this site are just, wow. Do you have to wear a cup on your chin to catch the drool?
Noumenon
4 / 5 (62) Oct 21, 2011
It doesn't appear that Pirouette said, the reason the mentioned technology doesn't exist is because of Obama. Please clean up your disrespectful attitude toward others. You're just like the person you claim Steve Jobs was, rude.
eachus
not rated yet Oct 21, 2011
And while the race has been running since last Sunday (October 16), the contestants were obviously only able to run at night.

Really? I would think that the contestants were only able to run in daylight. I certainly don't see any headlights on the winning car. ;-)
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
"were obviously only able to run at night."
Maybe "not able"

"relying on mostly solar power"

100% solar, as the batteries can only be charged by the PV panels. The battery is there mainly to allow the cars to maintain speed through the occasional cloud/smoke cover.

As AP points out, about all we can hope for with PV on production cars is enough power to run the A/C when you are parked or in heavy traffic. Consider a typical car has a 160 horsepower engine, that's 120 kw. At 50% efficiency an 8 sq. meter PV panel would pull in THREE Kw max. and much less under most conditions.
Pirouette
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2011
FrankHerbert says:
Yes, it's Obama's fault solar panels aren't efficient enough to charge a car battery as you go...

How can you people be so stupid? I know all conservatives aren't so dumb, but the few vocal ones on this site are just, wow. Do you have to wear a cup on your chin to catch the drool?


I originally said: ""It would have been better if Obama had subsidized this technology with our tax money rather than going for hybrid cars whose batteries have to be recharged by connecting to a power outlet.""
It looks like FrankHerbert doesn't comprehend very well. Obama was never accused for the inefficiency of the solar panels since he is not the designer nor the engineer of hybrids. If FH had bothered to read carefully, he MIGHT have understood that it is Obama's allocation of taxpayers' money and subsidizing of the inefficient technology of these hybrid cars that is wrong.
Pirouette
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 21, 2011
Maybe if Obama had consulted with the University of Michigan or the Japanese firm, he would've had the common sense to allocate the monies to the companies whose products make absolute sense.
FrankHerbert is apparently filled with vitriol for anybody with any modicum of good ideas. He should also learn basic comprehension instead of going off on a tangent.
FrankHerbert
2.7 / 5 (92) Oct 21, 2011
He should also learn basic comprehension instead of going off on a tangent.

Going off tangent? You brought up Obama in a topic about solar powered vehicles. Should I bother citing your religious nonsense?
Pirouette
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
LOL. . .you are an apparent fool, FrankHerbert. . .I never mentioned religion in this thread at all. You are hallucinating. . . .better get off that chit you're smoking before you start seeing the walls pulsating.
Pirouette
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
FrankHerbert STILL doesn't understand the obvious connection between the Obama regime and the subsidization with our tax money on failing products like short-run battery powered vehicles that have to recharged on electricity that is produced by fossil fuels. How sad
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
As to my religious nonsense as he so quaintly observes. . . .I HAVE NO RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, but I reserve the right to champion the human rights of those who do.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2011
@dschlink
I would still love to have a solar powered battery for daytime use. . .the mileage is virtually unlimited as long as you don't park in the shade or attempt to drive at night.
At night, possibly the headlights can be used, but only for a short time. It would be similar to one of those portable solar lights that you can buy for $4.99 to stick into the ground in the garden and the light stays on all night but the battery is recharged at sunup.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
by the way, I recommend using those lights in the event of a hurricane, tornado or whatever bad event when the electric is cut off. As long as you put them out in daylight to recharge, they can light up your area at night without electricity.
Au-Pu
2 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
Presently solar panels that are available and can be made light enough are only 15% to 20% efficient.
Researchers are working on far more efficient types, in excess of 50% but have not as yet developed efficient manufacturing processes to bring them in at reasonable prices.
There is also the problem of battery weight. Manufacturers are gradually reducing the weight of batteries.
Hopefully when these two problems have been solved we will have cars that can, like your garden lights, charge during daytime and run all night, so that we would be able to drive our solar cars 24/7.
Another factor is the ability to reduce the overall weight of the car.
Be patient we will get there.
Remember it is less than 100 years since the Wright bros flew their plane a few yards. Pause to think how flight has developed in that short period of time.
We will make it and quite soon.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
I'm sure we will make it. But I'm also wondering if a vehicle designed for a family of 4, let's say, may be enabled to cope with all that weight if the vehicle is also equipped with helium chambers all around the body that will uplift the vehicle, if even slightly, so that the engine works less hard? The solar panels, at present, will only absorb so much energy from the sun to recharge the batteries. But maybe giving the vehicle a boost, almost similar to a hovercraft but without the petrol engine. . .might be helpful.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
Another silly idea of mine is that something like a car alternator and "special battery" could be placed in the engine compartment. A series of lights come up at night from the vehicle's body and surround the solar panels, then move downwards to cover the panels. When the series of lights are turned on, the lights may be bright enough to simulate sunlight, the vehicle battery gets charged and the "special battery" is recharged by the alternator and you're able to drive at night. I'm not an automotive mechanic, but I thought I'd give this a shot.
RealScience
5 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2011
Pirouette - helium provides very little lift per unit volume, only the weight of the air it displaces. Using helium to lighten the car would cost several order of magnitude more in air resistance than it would save in rolling resistance.

And as for the lights, even if the lights and solar panels were both 100% efficient, you'd just break even.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2011
Consider a typical car has a 160 horsepower engine, that's 120 kw.
To be fair: a car only very seldom uses it's full horespower. maintaining speed takes only a fraction of the available power. Still: much more than the sun can provide.

helium provides very little lift per unit volume

That, and helium is expensive, and in very short supply on this planet.
KWZ
5 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2011
Another silly idea of mine is that something like a car alternator and "special battery" could be placed in the engine compartment. A series of lights come up at night from the vehicle's body and surround the solar panels, then move downwards to cover the panels. When the series of lights are turned on, the lights may be bright enough to simulate sunlight, the vehicle battery gets charged and the "special battery" is recharged by the alternator and you're able to drive at night. I'm not an automotive mechanic, but I thought I'd give this a shot.


There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
Oh I see. . . .well, in the words of every successful scientist:
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD!!
OK. . .helium in a car is too expensive. . .but what then. . .what other compound could be effective for lift?
Pirouette
1 / 5 (1) Oct 21, 2011
well now, I was just about to suggest using a mag-lev, but that requires plugging into the grid and that defeats the purpose of solar panels.
Grizzled
5 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2011
Oh I see. . . .well, in the words of every successful scientist:
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD!!
OK. . .helium in a car is too expensive. . .but what then. . .what other compound could be effective for lift?


Ever heard of vacuum? Can't get any lighter than that but... as others pointed out already it's totally irrelevant. The max that you can get in that way is simply the weight of the air you replace.
kaasinees
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011
The only reason they won is because of the new rules. Japan has the favor because the factories and research facilities.

What we had in favor were space-grade solar panels which we couldn't use because of the new rules. Nuna is still nr2 which is very impressive. Our other university had some bad luck and got delayed well 30 minutes.

This competition seems very unfair.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2011
What we had in favor were space-grade solar panels which we couldn't use because of the new rules.

And the reason you haven't won in the past years (without the 'new rules') is... ?

Every team is free to buy/use any type of solar cell (or other part) from other countries. There's no rule saying the car must be a wholly domestic product.

And 'bad luck' seems unfair to you? How so? Other teams take their chances as well. This is about using solar cars in real life. You don't go around in real life complaining about bad luck and life being unfair whenever anything happens - or do you?

Oh I see. . . .well, in the words of every successful scientist:
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD!!

The difference is that successful scientists occasionally do not need to go back to the drawing board.
RealScience
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011
The difference is that successful scientists at least approximate basic factors like the volume of helium (or H2 or vacuum) required to provide a given amount of lift before they leave the drawing board.
kaasinees
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011
Every team is free to buy/use any type of solar cell (or other part) from other countries. There's no rule saying the car must be a wholly domestic product.

You are wrong.

http://www.solarw...-regels/

they changed the rules since 4 years ago, adding rules and we could no longer use our space-grade solar panels. thats when we started losing.
Pirouette
not rated yet Oct 25, 2011
well, there's always another race in two years. . . . .good luck to us next time.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2011
thats when we started losing.


ah...must be why the Netherlands team is so advanced. Them being all sooooo superior in research on solar cells and all.

and the US team hasn#t won before those 'unfair rule changes', either. not since the very first solar challenge. have any more lame excuses for that? Can't you just accept that there may be teams around the world that can compete - and win - on stuff with the US? Other countries do good science too, you know.

BTW: what's the point of posting an article in dutch? What's that supposed to prove?
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2011
...as if these challenges are about 'winning', anyways. These teams are in it for the learning, testing and advancing of solar powered applications. you certainly won't hear any of the 'losing' teams complaining about unfair rules or somesuch.

Only an outsider without any appreciation for technological innovation and the friendly competition that spurs new innovation coul mistake this for an event where 'beating' others matters.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2011
ah...must be why the Netherlands team is so advanced. Them being all sooooo superior in research on solar cells and all.

Don't be a smart-ass.
I merely stated that some rules in this competition are unfair, like the limits on solar panels. It's fine to set a rule for solar panel surface area but not if it is linked to the efficiency of the panel, that is bogus.
BTW: what's the point of posting an article in dutch? What's that supposed to prove?

Use a translator? I thought you were a smart ass.
The article is Dutch, because its hard to find an English article that is down to earth and on to the point about this challange.
Them being all sooooo superior in research on solar cells and all.

We aren't superior to anything, we do a lot more research than you know about.
and the US team hasn#t won before those 'unfair rule changes', either

Wow, they should win because they are great researchers right? Hypocrite much?

Do you know anything about the challange at al
antialias_physorg
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2011
Wow, they should win because they are great researchers right? Hypocrite much?


Nope. You argued that they haven't won because of a recent rule change. I said they haven't won before that, either, so it can't be the recent rule change that caused it all those years.

Your argument simply doesn't hold any water.