Georgia Tech Students to Race Solar-Powered Car Cross-Country

The price of gasoline won't be a worry for a team of Georgia Tech students when they race cross-country this month along parts of historic Route 66 in a solar-powered car they built.

About 30 teams from around the world will compete July 13 - 23 to see who has the fastest car in the American Solar Challenge, a 2,300-mile race between Chicago and the Los Angeles area. The winner will be the car with the best cumulative time. The race is sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

With students behind the wheels, the high-tech, high-efficiency solar cars will cross the Great Plains, climb the Rocky Mountains, dart over the great American desert, and dash across the finish line in Southern California. A dozen students make up the Georgia Tech team, called the Solar Jackets. After months of designing and building their car, the team is ready to see how their car will perform on the road.

"This is our first time building a solar-powered car," said Team Leader Nathan Melanson, a senior computer science major. "We're looking forward to seeing how it does."

The car - almost 20 feet long and seven-feet-wide - holds a driver and one passenger. The team members will rotate those responsibilities. Dozens of solar panels cover the car's body and act as the charger for the car's 144-volt battery pack. Students on the team represent a number of schools at Georgia Tech, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, aerospace engineering and physics. In addition, a graduate student studying photovoltaic (solar) cell manufacturing was an integral part of the team.

Weather and energy management play an important role in the race; the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days also allow the cars to "fill up" their batteries for cloudy or rainy days.
The cars generally travel at highways speeds and are required to obey local speed limits.

The event begins at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry on Sunday, July 13 and is expected to wrap up 10 days later in Claremont, Calif. It will follow Route 66 at much as possible, with checkpoints in Springfield, Ill.; Rolla, Mo.; Joplin, Mo.; Edmond, Okla.; Sayre, Okla.; Amarillo, Texas; Tucamcari, N.M.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Gallup, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Kingman, Ariz.; and Barstow, Calif. before reaching the finish in Claremont.

This is the second American Solar Challenge. In the 2001 race, the University of Michigan's "M-Pulse" crossed the finish line first, completing the trip in 56 hours, 10 minutes and 46 seconds, for an average speed of 40 mph. According to the DOE, improvements in solar cells and batteries could mean an even faster race this year.

For news and reports from the road, including daily standings and photos, visit the American Solar Challenge Web site at www.americansolarchallenge.org.