UJ pushing tech boundaries with solar racer

2014-04-10 11:25
UJ has significantly improved on its solar challenge entry. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

UJ has significantly improved on its solar challenge entry. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - South African university students are pushing the boundaries of technology in developing a solar racer to compete in the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge.

The University of Johannesburg's (UJ) Solar Team have given the public a sneak peek of their Ilanga II solar powered race car which is intended to push development of the technology.

"The Sasol Solar Challenge is a platform to foster research in alternative energy and fuels, to develop local expertise and encourage industry participation and community engagement on environmental issues," said Nickey Janse van Rensburg, a Mechanical Engineering Science lecturer and academic.

Solar challenge participation consists of running the vehicles over great distances, relying only on power from the sun and reserve batteries.

In the 2011 South African solar challenge race, UJ also participated, but the Japanese team from Tokai University wowed competitors with their vehicle valued at over €3m.

Serious challenge

The difficulty of the race is highlighted by the fact that both the University of Stellenbosch and UCT did not field cars in the race and it is not yet clear whether the institutions with prestigious heritage will field a vehicle for the 2014 race in September this year.

But there is lots of work left before the UJ team can consider mounting a serious challenge against international teams with many years of experience.

"The 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge is not just a race, the endurance challenge is focused on the longest distance covered, time, maximum speed and solar energy generated. The pre-release of the shape of the vehicle is merely a teaser of what is yet to come," said UJ Solar Team spokesperson and project manager, Warren Hurter.

As the cost of fuel continues its upward momentum, many have turned to alternative technologies to power the next generation of cars.

Racing is an ideal moving laboratory that pushes the development of critical technologies like battery power and solar cell development to produce sustainable alternative energy solutions.

The UJ vehicle is a product of collaboration with a number of departments and as well as students from international institutions.

"UJ has also broadened its reach by incorporating the skills of international engineering exchange students," said Janse van Rensburg.

Ilanga II will be officially unveiled in July and participate in a solar race qualifier in August 2014. The 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge starts on 27 September in Pretoria and ends in Cape Town.

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