Volkswagen Group South Africa: Solar Car


Volkswagen Group South Africa: WSA-NMMU solar car ready for the challenge

With the move towards ‘Think Blue’, Volkswagen Group South Africa is leading the charge by supporting the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) dream of racing a solar car in the 3rd South African Solar Challenge on 18 – 29 September 2012.

Volkswagen Solar Car

The solar car, which has been named ‘Photon’ was unveiled today, 3 September 2012 at NMMU in Port Elizabeth by Tom du Plessis, Director for Production at Volkswagen Group South Africa. ‘Photon’ will be competing against a number of international teams from countries such as Japan and Netherlands.

In May 2011, Volkswagen made a substantial financial and technical contribution towards establishment of the project, which has culminated in the VWSA-NMMU Solar Car team participating in this bi-annual event.

“Volkswagen is excited to be involved in such a unique project with the NMMU engineering students. Renewable energy will play a significant role in the future of the automotive industry and by embarking on such a project, the students will gain valuable knowledge that they can bring into the engineering field,” said Du Plessis.

Volkswagen has also provided the team with three vehicles – Crafter, T5 Kombi and Caddy – which will be used as support vehicles during the two week race that will cover over 5 000km.

Clive Hands, project leader of the VWSA-NMMU Solar Car team, said: “Our team consists of both local and international students from multiple faculties studying at NMMU. They have all voluntarily participated in this exciting project since its inception in May last year.”

“The solar car has been designed to be a light as possible utilising composite technology in both the monocoque and the body shell to minimise rolling resistance. The CFD techniques have enabled the design of the body shell to be aerodynamic to ensure that drag is reduced to a minimum,” added Hands.

“All sub-systems have been designed and manufactured to reduce energy consumption as much as possible. The car will travel the width and breadth of South Africa with its 6m2 solar deck producing power not more than it takes to run a hair-dryer,” concluded Hands.

International Exchange student, Arne Kloeblen, who heads the electrical side of the team said, “The panels we used for powering the car are 6 square meters of monocrystalline silicon, similar to those used for regular photovoltaic installations. They cover most of the top of the car and have been custom built to fit onto the car. A battery pack of lithium ion cells usually used for laptops or power tools has been integrated to supply enough power in case the heat from the sun does not provide sufficient energy to maintain the desired travel speed. In this instance, tunnels, inclines and bad weather are less influential. The drive is a highly efficient brushless DC motor that is able to use the supplied power to the max.”

With just over two weeks left before the start of the South African Solar Challenge, the team is working tirelessly to finalise testing, preparation and required tweaking to ensure that ‘Photon’ crosses the finish line without any problems.

“The team has been putting in long hours so that ‘Photon’ is ready for the challenge in the next few weeks. We are confident that all of our efforts will pay off. We want to thank Volkswagen who have generously given us advice, assistance and time in this huge and unique challenge,” added team leader Matthew Fish, a BTech NMMU Mechanical Engineering student.