ASU students design solar car for competition


The Appalachian Online

Josh Wharton

A team of Appalachian State University students and faculty has spent the past year designing a solar-powered race car. They plan to begin building the car this summer in hopes to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the end of July.

The team also plans to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix next summer, which will serve as the pre-qualifier for the American Solar Challenge.

Senior founding member Dan Blakeley says the team remains optimistic even though they are not sure if they will be able to finish the car for the race in July.

“If we make the race, that’s awesome; if we don’t, we don’t consider it a failure,” Blakeley said. “If we don’t race this summer, there’s a 99 percent chance we’ll race next summer.”

Blakeley said the team will still attend the race this summer even if they do not have a car to race.

“It’s an international event and, even if we don’t go with a car, we’re going to go to the race to learn as much as possible,” Blakeley said.

The team is in the final design stages and preparing to build once they get the materials.

The Iowa State team donated a shell of one of their previously made cars.

“This is a big deal for us to be able to partner with somebody who has been around for so long,” Blakeley said. “Not only are they partnering with us to give us a car, but also they’re literally a phone call away so we’re able to call them when we run into problems.”

The Iowa State team also has extended a shadowing offer to the ASU team, in case they do not finish the car in time to race this July.

“Iowa State basically told us, ‘you can shadow us the entire time, be part of our pit crew, and learn as much as you need,” Blakeley said.

The team was able to establish its partnership with Iowa State at the Solar Car Conference at the University of Michigan in March.

They also attended a high school conference on a similar topic in January.

Jeremy Ferrell, the team’s faculty advisor, said this project is about more than just racing a solar-powered car. The project aims at raising awareness for solar-power and how feasible it is as an alternate form of transportation.

“Transportation is a big user of energy, accounting for about one-third of our total energy use,” Ferrell said. “We feel like on a very large scale that moving transportation in a sustainable direction such as solar-power is really the way of the future.”

The competition aspect of the team’s goals brings in more attention and effort.

“Putting a team forward that builds something like this is definitely a platform to talk about these broader issues,” Ferrell said. “People are learning a lot about really important details along the way like how to build these systems, design work, engineering work, and outreach work.”

The team has taken on an interdisciplinary approach, pulling students from many different departments in order to achieve their goals.

“With all of our major problems that society faces, we have to go across disciplines,” Ferrell said. “So, a project like this, that is very technologically heavy, needs all of these other skills poured into it.”

Story by Josh Wharton, News Reporter