Japanese solar car wins global race

The Global Green Challenge evolved from the World Solar Challenge, where solar, hybrid, electric, low emission and alternative energy vehicles race 3000 km from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia. The event has been held every two years since 1987 and there are two elements, of which the solar race is viewed as the pre-eminent solar car event in the world.

The team from Japan's Tokai University, driving ‘Tokai Challenger,’ maintained an average speed that was higher than the winner of the previous four races, the Dutch Nuon Solar Team. The car was equipped with Sharp multijunction solar cells developed for satellites and the solar cells have a combined output of 1.8 kW with solar conversion efficiency of 30%.

The single-passenger car can reach a maximum speed of 150 km/h and is covered by 6 m2 of solar panels. With 19 members of the team, one driver won the Paris to Dakar rally in 1997. Tokai University has crossed the Australian desert three times (1993, 1996, 2001) and recently won the 4200 km South African Solar Challenge.

There were 38 solar cars from 17 countries, including Australia, Canada, Netherlands, China, United Kingdom, USA, Turkey and India, and participants from GM Holden, Volvo, Hyundai, Suzuki, Skoda, Ford, KIA, BMW and HSV.

The solar race component is run under the established regulations of the International Solarcar Federation. Solar cars are limited to 6 m2 of cells, and participation is open to teams from universities, technical institutes, private entrepreneurs and past participants.

At the University of New South Wales, the Sunswift IV was the first Australian car to cross the finish line. 60 students raised AU$280,000 for the event and contributed 10,000 hours. Their three-wheeled, hand-built carbon fibre solar vehicle cruises at 90 km/h and can reach a top speed of 115 km/h using 1.3 kW.

The CSIRO Technical Innovation Award went to the University of Michigan; the Safety Award to Principia College; the John Hoerner Spirit of Event Award to Nuon Solar Team; Design Award to HS Bochum - BoCruiser; Best Newcomer to Istanbul Tech University; Adventure Class to Osaka Sangyo University, Southern Aurora and Goko High School Hiroshima; and the Challenge Class Silicon to University New South Wales.

Non-solar cars competed in the Eco Challenge to demonstrate high levels of efficiency on a closed highway. An all-electric Tesla Roadster set a record distance of 313 miles on a single charge.

The victory by Tokai Challenger is the first by a Japanese team since 1996 when the event was won by Honda Dream II. Honda had also won in 1993.

The Tokai team went to the lead position at the end of the first day, 17 minutes ahead of Michigan University’s Infinium and the Nuon Solar Team entry The Nuna V. By the second day, their lead was 56 minutes and 2 hours 23 minutes in day three.