UKZN solar car streets ahead of the pack

2014-10-08 00:00

HITTING the road almost two days after the official start didn’t stop the local university team from breaking records in the Sasol Solar Challenge.

The biennial solar challenge saw international varsity teams driving alternatively fuelled vehicles from Pretoria to Cape Town over eight days, ending last Sunday.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal team were the first South African team over the finish line, and third overall behind teams from the Netherlands and Turkey.

UKZN team managers Clinton Bemont and Kirsty Veale, both lecturers in the mechanical engineering department, supervised a team of over 25 undergraduates and two master’s students to design and build the car, which sports six square metres of photovoltaic panels feeding into a 21 kg lithium-ion battery pack.

“It would power your geyser for about 1,5 hours,” said Bemont.

But the car, named iKlwa after the short stabbing spear said to have been invented by King Shaka, nearly didn’t make it across the starting line.

Two days without sleep doing final adjustments, power cuts and a broken trailer all played a role.

“It was an unfortunate series of events which eventually ended with someone flicking the wrong switch at the wrong time just half an hour before the start of the race,” said Veale.

According to Bemont, it took a day and a half to repair the short-circuited battery monitoring system.

“We only got going at lunchtime on the second day of the race. We didn’t think we stood a chance.”

That they did was “because our car was very, very good”, said Veale.

“It was better in terms of aerodynamics and energy efficiency. It could compete on the international scene.”

iKlwa is capable of a top speed of 130 km/h.

“The fastest we did was 110 km/h down a very steep hill,” said Bemont. “But it’s not about how fast you can go, but how far you can go. Most of the time the speed was between 70 and 80 km/h.”

What the other teams did in eight days the UKZN team did in five and a half, and they are now the current record-holders for the longest distance travelled by a South African team.

Veale said iKlwa proved a point: “Technology is changing, and this car shows us we are going in the right direction.”

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