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University of Michigan Wins 10 Day North American Solar Challenge

  • Friday, 29th July 2005
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

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The University of Michigan won the 2005 North American Solar Challenge (NASC) in just under 60 hours earlier this week using only solar energy as its power source.

The University of Michigan’s car, Momentum, made the 10 day trip from Austin, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, in a cumulative time of 53 hours, 59 minutes and 43 seconds, for an average speed of 46.2 mph. The average speed includes time spent driving through traffic in cities and towns as well as on open highways.

The University of Minnesota placed second in the race with an unofficial total time of 54:11:35. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology placed third with an unofficial time of 56:34:43. Rankings are preliminary, subject to final review and approval.

The North American Solar Challenge is an educational event in which teams compete to build the best solar-powered cars. This year’s event started in Austin July 17 and followed U.S. Route 75 and the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) to Calgary. At 2,500 miles, the NASC is the longest solar car race in the world.

The U-M team earned its fourth national championship—the most of any university—since competition began in 1990. This is the eighth-generation solar car. About 20 other university teams participated in the race this year.

“”I congratulate everyone who helped bring another North American Solar Challenge victory to Michigan,”” said University President Mary Sue Coleman. “”This success represents some of the best qualities of the University of Michigan: Cooperation among different schools and departments, support from industry and alumni, and perhaps most of all, the talent and dedication of our students. The University community is thrilled and extremely proud of this great team that defeated some very capable opponents to win this race.””

The 2,500-mile race, which began July 17 in Austin, Texas, and ended in Calgary, is the longest NASC to date, traveling through six states, three provinces and two countries.

The students on Team Momentum have been designing, fine-tuning and promoting the car for two years.

Momentum has one seat, three bicycle tire-sized wheels, and the driver has to lay flat with only his head peaking through a tiny bubble. The price of the construction is estimated to be more than $1 million.

“”It looks pretty strange, but there’s a trade off between the array of solar cells and aerodynamics,”” said Don Nguyen, a sophomore electrical engineering major who worked on Momentum.

“”We don’t see any near future in solar cars, but we’re promoting the technologies and the idea of being friendly to the environment.

Momentum achieves a top speed of 70 mph. It weighs less than 700 pounds, driver included. But it uses no gasoline at all and has an energy-efficiency equivalent of 1,600 miles per gallon.


The vehicle, which uses Ashland’s Arottol 2001 resin and gel coat for the tooling, is made with a carbon-fibre epoxy body.

In early 2004, Advanced Pattern Works was given the opportunity to participate in the University of Michigan 2005 Momentum Solar Car Project. As part of their support for the program, APW fabricated 8 individual mould plugs made from 20 lb tooling foam to donate to the Solar Car Team. These plugs were then used to create the fibreglass body of the Momentum Solar Car, which was publicly unveiled in January 2005.

“”We are proud of the engineering and other U-M students who led this year’s solar car team to victory in Calgary,”” said Ronald Gibala, interim dean of the U-M College of Engineering. “”Team Momentum spent two years perfecting this vehicle, and it’s wonderful to see their hard work and dedication rewarded. The College of Engineering and the University community look forward to another great performance by the team at the World Solar Challenge this September in Australia.””

The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Resources Canada, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, TransAlta, University of Calgary, CSI Wireless, AMD and Manitoba Transportation and Government Services.

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