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Sci-Tech

Germany gears up green for solar-powered race car

Technicians at the Bochum University of Applied Sciences are revving their new BOcruiser solar-powered engines for the World Solar Challenge in Australia. The solar car racing event showcases cutting-edge technology.

Four-wheel BOcruiser covered with solar panels

The BOcruiser could also be called a "solar sedan"

Car technicians at Bochum's University of Applied Sciences are gearing up for Australia's pre-eminent showcase of alternative energy vehicles that kicks off on October 24. While winning the cross-continental race is not really their objective, daring to be different is.

"We probably won't even arrive on time, but that doesn't matter. What we're really interested in is demonstrating that people can use these rather normal-looking cars to drive across Australia," said Professor Friedbert Pautzke, of Bochum University of Applied Sciences.

The Solar World No. 1 model has a yellow underbelly, blue solar panels on top, and design that swoops up in the back

The Solar World No. 1 model

While the school has been building electric cars for nearly a decade, energy from the sun has been powering the latest cars. The new BOcruiser, with its four wheels and round form, has become the most normal-looking of them all. Former models, such as the Mad Dog, Hans Go or Solar World No. 1, were more reminiscent of skateboards than automobiles.

Harnessing the sun's energy

This year, the BOcruiser has to prove that it can complete the two-week, 3,000-kilometer (1,860-mile) solar car race across the Australian continent by employing its two wheel-hub motors developed in Bochum. The motors are powered by solar energy.

"The BOcruiser is covered with solar cells, six square meters (65 square feet) in all, and the sun constantly recharges the battery," said Pautzke. "If the sun doesn't shine enough, then the car has to be plugged into an electrical socket and recharged."

Lucas Bretfeld is one of the 40 students in the team of computer specialists, electrical technicians and mechanical engineers who developed the Solar World No. 1 two years ago.

A politician stepping out of the BOcruiser as students look on

Students in Bochum are proud of their creation

"I skipped some lectures to be able to work on that project," Bretfeld recalled. "You can't help but wonder how things will be in Australia and that motivates you to do your best to accomplish something in the race."

Like Bretfeld, Pautzke - who is Germany's first professor of electric mobility - is also passionate about building electric cars and is thrilled that his students are so dedicated.

"Normally, professors stand at the front of a lecture hall and try to motivate their students," he said. "But after they've attended lectures for six hours straight, they're not very interested. So we've always tried to create projects in which students have tasks and must work toward a goal. That way, they stay motivated and can also compete on an international scale."

Steady speed to reach the finish line

Having won the "Best Design Award" for the Solar World No. 1 model at the World Solar Challenge in Australia in 2007, Bretfeld and his fellow students have been racing to get the BOcruiser ready for this year's competition. Reaching a maximum speed of 120 km/h (75 mph), however, the vehicle isn't exactly a race car.

It must maintain an average speed of around 40 km/h to make the 3,000-kilometer stretch from Darwin to Adelaide without having to recharge. That's the theory, anyway.

A Dutch model from 2003 that looks like a space ship

Earlier models, like this Dutch one from 2003, bore little resemblance to cars as we know them

"I'm certainly a Michael Schumacher fan, but that wasn't my motivation for participating in the race," said Bretfeld. "I think electric cars have a future. I enjoy working on a project that may help get internal combustion engines off the streets and get us all driving vehicles that use clean energy - that's my dream."

Professor Pautzke, for his part, hopes to be able to drive an electric car to work at the university in the near future. But there is another problem that must still be solved: Electric cars are clean, but also quiet - so quiet, that pedestrians and cyclists may not be able to hear them.

"At some point, noise will have to be built into the cars - probably normal car-like sounds - and people will be able to download them from the Internet, just like they do for their cell phones. People may even end up giving their electric cars the 'vroom, vroom' of a Ferrari!"

Author: Suzanne Cords (als)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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