Appalachian’s Solar Vehicle Team gets ready to race

What started as a project to make a solar-capable golf cart has led to race car aspirations. Appalachian State University's Solar Vehicle Team is on the fast track to compete a solar-powered car in the American Solar Challenge's Formula Sun Grand Prix in summer 2016.

The team is made up of students studying appropriate technology, physics, technology education, biology, architecture, interior design, music industries, and sustainable design. Faculty members David Domermuth, Chris Tolbert and Jeremy Ferrell are joining in the students' efforts.

Students in Heather Preston’s Public Relations Campaigns class are also working with the team, setting up events to help raise money and awareness.

In November 2014, Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative awarded $24,090 to the Solar Vehicle Team from its student fee-supported allocations for renewable energy projects on campus. The donation was matched by Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability for a total of $48,180. This money will help the team buy the tools and materials needed to build their solar-powered race car.

While the team is currently focused on the Formula Sun Grand Prix, the competition is not the point of their efforts.

“It’s not just to compete. It’s more to raise awareness that solar vehicles are an option,” founding member Dan Blakely said. “The technology just needs more funding, more interest and more demand.”

After the race, Ferrell and Blakely will conduct research on the car the team builds and develop a curriculum that supports the building of all solar-powered and solar-charged vehicles.

Getting set to go…

Currently, the team is in the final design stages, which includes developing sketches, sizing materials, purchasing parts and laying the groundwork for the months to come. The team also hopes to partner with students from the Université d’Angers, the French university that worked alongside Appalachian in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014.

The team attended the Solar Car Conference at the University of Michigan in March, where they met with 21 teams from around the world. The conference, which was sponsored by the university, Innovators Educational Foundation and the International Solarcar Federation, was a valuable learning experience for the Appalachian team.

“We learned a lot about batteries, battery protection, solar cell lamination, aerodynamics, suspension, body design, roll cage design, and much more,” Blakely said. “It was quite a steep learning curve, but I know we all came away with a lot.”

...after starting as a class project

The Solar Vehicle Team started in fall 2013 in a class led by adjunct professor Christopher Tolbert, who also leads the Electric Vehicle Team at West Wilkes High School.

The team formed while conducting an assignment for Tolbert, and spent their spring 2014 semester continuing to research the possibility of creating a solar race car and setting goals for the year to come.

The team plans to continue their collaboration with Tolbert’s West Wilkes Electric Vehicle team in preparation for the 2016 race by sharing shop space and knowledge of the fabrication process.

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