Race of the 100kph hairdryers: solar-powered cars take on UAE challenge

The Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge will see 20 teams of students from around the world race cars in a 1,200km course around the country, to coincide with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January.
Twenty high-tech cars powered by the sun will take to the roads next January for the first Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge race. They will race 1,200 kilometres to the finishing line outside Adnec. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Twenty high-tech cars powered by the sun will take to the roads next January for the first Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge race. They will race 1,200 kilometres to the finishing line outside Adnec. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // They don’t generate much power, but boy can they shift.

Twenty high-tech cars powered by the sun will take to the roads next January for the first Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge. They will travel for 1,200 kilometres in a race to the finishing line outside Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, to coincide with the opening ceremony of the World Future Energy Summit.

The cars’ solar panels generate about as much power as a domestic hairdryer, but advanced aerodynamics and lightweight materials propel them past 100kph.

“The car itself has a support team running so many computers you’d think you were in mission control at Nasa,” said Dr Nabih Bedawi, the event director.

Teams from universities and educational institutes around the world, including the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, will take part in the race.

The cars will be designed, tested and driven entirely by the students, using the latest renewable energy, aerospace and automotive technologies.

“We have been exploring the addition of a solar car challenge in the Middle East and North Africa for several years now,” said Dr Hans Tholstrup, president of the International Solarcar Federation and organiser of the first World Solar Challenge in 1987.

“The emergence of the UAE as a leader in the region for future energy is quite evident and Masdar is a great example,” said the Danish scientist. Masdar is Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company.

Dr Tholstrup said the competition rewarded technological and engineering expertise, rather than driving skills.

“All these technologies have made great contributions to the development of the new electric vehicles and hybrids on the road today. The Abu Dhabi Challenge won’t be any different,” he said.

The Petroleum Institute has brought together 15 engineering students to create a team for the race, led by Dr Fahad Al Maskari, director of the Solar Car Project at the institute. They will be the first from the UAE to compete in an event of this kind.

PI will work to build their own vehicle built with the assistance of Tokai University. A team from the Tokyo institution built the Tokai Challenger, which won the 2009 and 2011 World Solar Challenge races in Australia.

“I am excited and anxious at the same time, because our time limit is short, but I’m more excited because it’s an opportunity to learn from one of the most prestigious universities in the competition and we want to prove that we can also do well,” said Dr Al Maskari.

A key objective is to share international knowledge of solar power with universities in the UAE, he said. “This is not just about bringing the car, but it’s about learning the technology behind it, and gradually we will be independent and completely by ourselves.”

The institute aims eventually to develop a vehicle to compete at the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

The solar car challenge began in 1982 when Dr Tholstrup drove a solar-powered vehicle from the east to the west coast of Australia in 20 days.

He realised the potential, attracted attention from the engineering community and invited competition in 1987.

The Abu Dhabi challenge is sponsored by Adnoc and hosted by Masdar.

“We hope friendly competition from global universities will inspire local youth to pursue degrees in science-based fields,” said Masdar’s chairman Dr Sultan Al Jaber.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae

Published: May 5, 2014 04:00 AM

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