Petroleum Institute unveils its solar car in advance of race

The institute's entry will compete with 20 other international university cars in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge next month.

The solar car that will represent the UAE in the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge in unveiled at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Worth four times the price of a Ferrari, the solar car built by the Petroleum Institute was unveiled on Thursday in the lead-up to the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge next month.

Ready to compete for the top spot, the vehicle is capable of hitting speeds of up to 150 kph using solar energy alone.

Dr Fahad Al Maskari, director of the PI Solar Car Project, said the vehicle is the culmination of an 18-month journey that has taken his team around the world.

“Today is an important milestone,” he said.

“The students in the team have worked to the best of their abilities and pushed themselves to the limit in utilising their knowledge and experience, and in applying it to the project in hand.”

The Petroleum Institute’s entry will compete against 20 other international teams in the inaugural four-day timed road contest, covering 1,200km of the Abu Dhabi emirate.

“It’s an excellent engineering project [in which] to put all our knowledge into practice and develop our skills for future work,” said Dr Maskari.

“The team put a lot of effort into the project over their senior year.”

This is the first time the UAE has taken part in a worldwide solar competition.

Over the past three decades, these contests have showcased the technology and speed of cars powered by solar energy.

The PI solar car team leader, Alatqa Al Hanaee, a 23-year-old Emirati, said it was the team spirit that got the car into competitive shape.

“When we started almost a year-and-a-half ago it was only a handful of students,” said Mr Al Hanaee. “Today that team has multiplied. This is the culmination of blood and sweat. This is what engineering is all about.”

The car incorporates some of the latest technology available in the fields of motorsports and solar energy.

Mr Al Hanaee said that like other competitions that incorporate cutting edge technology, the application of developing the systems paves the way for future consumer products.

“People always ask me what is the objective, what is the point?” he said. “If you look at Formula One, how that technology trickles down to the industry, this is – for the future renewable energy industry – Formula One. This is where it starts, and the technology trickles down.”

Qualifications and time trials for the four-day contest take place on January 15 at Yas Marina Circuit. The next day, the cars will speed through the heart of the capital and head towards the desert region.

On the final leg of the challenge, on January 19, the teams will drive back to the city, to the finish line at the First Gulf Bank Arena near Zayed Sports City.

Mohammed ben Sulayem, ambassador to the project and 14-times Middle East Rally Championship winner, decided to forgo his speech as he took the podium.

“I just heard that Aston Martin will be using solar technology in their races,” he said. “This is a sign that this is not just a one-off project; this is something to be sustained and proud of.”

Mr ben Sulayem said the PI solar car will shape the team’s future.

“We can only see something, we can only see good coming out of this. Eighteen months of devotion to the solar car – this is huge. Imagine the commitment and the challenge that they face,” he said.

“I wish them all the best.”