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SA solar race: NWU ready to defend title

2014-09-18 08:46

NWU'S 2014 CHALLENGER: The North West University's Batmobile has gone into retirement, paving the way for its new car, the Sirius X25, set to compete in the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge. Image: North West University

POTCHEFSTROOM - It may not have been the most elegant vehicle on the road but the solar-powered ‘Batmobile’, as it was affectionately known by its student creators, was certainly effective on the road.

It powered a group of Potchefstroom Campus Engineering from North West University (NWU) students to joint first place and four records in their first attempt at the Sasol Solar Challenge, an international event in which university students design and drive solar-powered cars.

The 2014 race (from September 27 to October 4). will see students from around the world battling it out. Not a drop of petrol will be used along the way and contestants are allowed to charge car batteries with DC power before the race starts but once on the road, the sun will be the only source of energy.


NWU's Batmobile has been retired, paving the way for a new car for the 2014 Solar Challenge - the Sirius X25.

Team leader Albert Helberg said: “The competition rules change to take technology advances into account so you need to build a new car every time. The Sirius X25 is being built entirely by students, has a total weight of only 140kg and will be able to reach speeds in the excess of 100km/h.”


The new car will also be a one-seater with just a a steering-wheel, brake and accelerator pedal along with various compulsory light switches.

Raynard du Preez, a electrical engineering masters student in charge of electrical design and battery management system said: “There are no luxuries like a radio or aircon, the challenge is to build a car with the most power within the weight limit – and within budget.”

Mechanically, the new car will be similar to its predecessor but will be lighter and more aerodynamic.

Its electrical system has been redesigned, including the solar panels, battery system and the electric motor, Du Preez added: “We’ve done a lot of research to find the right battery chemistry and have decided on lithium polymer, one of the newer and best battery chemistries.”


Du Preez is one of four postgraduate students who will be taking turns to drive the car in the solar challenge.

The route will take challengers from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth via Bloemfontein, ending in Cape Town.

The NWU team is aiming to travel a total distance of 5000km by driving extra “loops”- these are optional routes of 58km to 132km held in small towns along the way. The greater the distance a car travels in the challenge, the more points its team can score.  

In any event, the NWU team want to spend as much time behind the wheel as they can. The reason? Du Preez comments: “It’s quite fun to drive a solar car, but it’s a great feeling knowing that you are driving a car that could potentially change the future of the automobile industry."

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